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The Next Normal

The Harvard Business Review hosted an interesting roundtable discussion with five top CEOs, who collectively lead a workforce of about 217,000 people worldwide. 

They spoke about how they’ve adjusted to uncertain times, and how they are managing through the Pandemic. So many good concepts here, too many to list in fact. 

These 7 stood out to me (my thoughts in italics): 

  1. People want to see leaders as being humanCommunicate, show empathy, be vulnerable. I like how the CEO of Cisco Systems said “this is the time for leadership, not management”. 
  2. Manage the crisis by breaking it into 3 phases, the shutdown, the recovery, and the new normalEach phase has different needs. Many cut costs in the shutdown, but now is the time to start thinking about when to invest again. Will the VA come back to previous levels? For example, scooter lifts are way down at the VA while power wheelchair lifts are doing much better. Will that continue? Will Medicaid waiver programs be scaled back? Are we prepared for either or both of these possibilities? We are running different scenarios to be prepared, but these answers are unknowable at this point.
  3. Businesses can adapt and employees can work virtually. This shocked many including me. I thought collaboration and efficiency would have suffered in our company and it hasn’t. In some cases, it’s improved. Leads many of us to ask, do we need that office anymore? Can we hire people from other geographies and have them work virtually? For our business, some staff can work from home, but many roles can’t. Balancing these and keeping the team motivated will be critical.
  4. Speed will be expected. In many parts of our business, the Pandemic has forced us to be quick. Deadlines force decisions. Sign the deal, or put it off? Invest now, or wait? Decisions will be forced with less than the normal level of supporting information. 
  5. Keep investing, especially in customer-facing technologyCustomers are expecting more. Telehealth, remote patient monitoring, remote servicing, video training. Some believe we are just seeing the beginning of a major shift in how we work with our customers. I think we need to be prepared.
  6. Make employees your top priority, they will remember how they were treated. Employees are the lifeblood of the business, and especially with the racial unrest are feeling stressed and uncomfortable. I believe being transparent and sharing your plans and concerns frequently is critical to the ongoing mental health of the team. I am talking to more of our staff, and more frequently than ever before. These changes can only help our business. 
  7. Keep looking ahead for the “next normal”. The government spent more on stimulus than compared to virtually any event in history. How much government intervention should we expect going forward? Will supply chains fall back to national borders (and raise costs). I think we will see higher costs from international suppliers and supply chains will begin to refocus on domestic sources. At minimum dual sourcing will take a front seat and potentially force higher investments in inventories to avoid future stock-outs. Could this be the first of several pandemics? 

Lots of good ideas were shared in this discussion. Even though these executives run much bigger organizations, I believe the concepts are relevant to our smaller companies too. 



PS – Former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s 40/70 rule seems especially appropriate during these times:

Act Fast. Make a decision when you have between 40-70% of the details needed.

Former U.S. Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Colin Powell says you can’t wait for all the information, by then its too late. 

After you have obtained 40% of all the information start thinking in terms of making a decision. When you have about 70% of all the information, you should make a decision or it may be too late. Also, in the military, we are taught to only use one-third of the available decision-making time, so that our subordinates have time to go through their decision processes.