Review, Rethink, Respond: How to Reinvent Your Post-COVID-19 Business and Workplace

So many people have been saying they just want things to return to where they were pre-COVID-19.

Here’s a reality check for you: it’s not going to happen. So many things have changed in the last few months that the ability to return to “normal” has expired.

However, this doesn’t mean that we have to settle for how things are right now. Instead, senior leaders and employees can use this global reset as an opportunity to develop a stronger, wiser and better organization. The approach can best be delivered through the three words I learned from my family each New Year’s Day: Review, Rethink, Respond.

In my big Italian family, New Year’s Day was a day of celebration. After an always remarkable dinner, my dad (an engineer) would have us take out pads of paper, pens and start the process of getting our New Year’s resolutions ready so we would make the most of our new year. We would first be instructed to Review – to look at the year that just ended. What did it tell you? What did you learn from it? What worked and what didn’t work about it? With greater clarity about where we were at that moment, we were instructed to look to the future – to Rethink. We were reminded that a new year is a blank canvas, an opportunity to invent or Rethink what we want to have happen. It could be to do more of what worked over the past year, or to address and improve the things that didn’t work. When we were clear of where we were and what we wanted, Respond was the last step – to build a plan to close the gap between where we were and what we wanted so we could have a clear direction to work on achieving our goals.

This was our habit, so I guess it is no surprise that as a certified coach, I use this approach with all of my clients. This 3-word approach can also help any organization wisely and successfully land on its feet, post-COVID-19. Here is what I have been sharing in my Vistage program, Engaging and Retaining Talent in Crises and Beyond.

Review. At the start of the year, everyone was actively advancing progress on the 2020 strategy, marching up what I call “Hill A.” We kept our nose down and worked diligently to get to the top of the hill. Then COVID-19 struck and tumbled most of us off our hill. Now at the bottom of the hill, we have the urge to start racing back to where we were.

But this is truly an interruption. And with interruptions, they force us to stop. Consider using this unsolicited stop to Review where you were and where you were headed. Stop and notice what worked and didn’t work with Hill A. Some things were going well, but there were many things that were not. This moment to stop actually gives you the opportunity to develop an inventory of what belongs and doesn’t belong in the future version of your business and workforce. What was working and not working in your leadership, workforce, employee engagement, customers, suppliers, results? Take a moment to take inventory and know what is true for you.

Rethink. The COVID-19 interruption to work and life has given us the opportunity to realize that though we were racing up Hill A, Hills B, C, D and E are all other options, other opportunities, that we may have otherwise missed. So, even though Hill A is an option, don’t run back to where you were until you Rethink what else is possible that may not have been a few short months ago.

Consider these questions:

  • Based on how COVID-19 has affected you and your business, what new directions, opportunities and options are now available – whether by choice or by mandate?
  • What do you now know and consider about how and where work in your organization could be done?
  • What do you now know and consider to keep your employee and stakeholders engaged, safe, performing and loyal?

Create scenarios of what your business could look like, calling them Hills B, C, D and E. What if you started offering a service or product that was never part of your sales mix before – this is Hill B. For each Hill or business scenario you create, ask, how should work be done that will provide the service response you commit to that also accommodates the safety and needs of your employees? In each Hill or business scenario, you may need your workforce to deliver work in a different way – remote, not remote, remote but not at home. Whatever you consider, you will need to assess how you will be effective at managing and coaching them, what new software may be needed, how to deal with the office space (changes or elimination).

Use what worked and didn’t work about Hill A (because you took the time to Review) to determine what belongs and doesn’t belong in any of your future scenarios. After all, the reason for building scenarios instead of defining one path forward is that we don’t know where things are headed. Having a variety of options – of things that you have been Rethinking – can help you move faster once the post-COVID-19 world becomes clearer.

Respond. Up until a few months ago, I think most people would see the Respond portion of the 3-word approach as creating an action plan to achieve the specific goals for the new year. But as COVID-19 has shown, our world is always changing and life is, as a result, always uncertain. So, instead, Respond means gathering information and details in each of the future scenarios (Hills B, C, D and E) to start to understand each – the cost, the benefit, the changes, the impact – so each scenario can be wisely assessed at some point in the future against the other scenarios.

Put it into Practice
Review the business. Rethink the future business scenarios. Respond by building out the business scenarios, and for each scenario, Rethink what your workforce will need to look like to make that scenario successful (how the work will be done). Then Rethink how you will engage and retain that workforce since talent is still the driver of all performance. Once these details are defined, Respond by gathering information about cost, benefit and impact to be able to have a logical, mindful and process-driven approach to landing on your feet, post COVID. Be aware of your – and your team’s – urge to race back up Hill A. Don’t miss the opportunity the interruption of COVID-19 gave you to Review where you were, Rethink where you could be, and Respond with intention to become a better organization, employer, supplier, industry leader than you were before. Tough times make many of us want to retreat to the normal and the comfortable. But if you can fight that feeling, tough times also give us an opportunity to ask the question, what could make us better?

By Jay Forte

Consider reading Your Workforce Approach Should be Based on What You Deliver to Customers, Not Just What Employees Want

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This article originally appeared on Vistage‘s Entrepreneurs and Small Business Network. Membership is required to see the post on the Vistage site.

How to Move Forward When You Don’t Know Where You Are Going

As a language major in college, I spent part of my junior year in Europe. A semester in Florence was followed by the summer in Paris. The period between the two programs gave me the opportunity to roam through Europe with a backpack to see places I had only heard about.

Sounds exciting, right? Not for me. I’m a planner, so I frequently found myself frozen about where to go because I didn’t have a clear direction.

So, my fellow planners, raise your hand if you love knowing where you are headed so you can create and implement a plan. Needless to say, my hand is up high.

Now raise your hand if jumping in feet first and figuring things out on the fly works for you.

Good for you. And quite frankly, this is where we are at the moment. We are in a world where our old definition of normal is gone and we don’t quite know how a new definition will look.

So, how do you navigate in a world without a clear direction? Consider these three ideas.

1. Get a solid footing. It is difficult to move forward when your world is still moving. You still have people you need to communicate with and continue to communicate to. Ensure you have a crisis team and that they are clear of their role in getting you through the crisis. This includes ensuring your people are safe, your financing and aid are figured out, your expenses are under control and your balance sheet is managed. Ensure proper and timely communication with customers, suppliers and stakeholders. Get stable. Then, catch your breath.

2. Gather information. Then, set up your plan-ahead team. This is different from your crisis team because their focus is on information-gathering. Stop and notice what about your organization worked well and didn’t work well before and during the crisis. Don’t judge it; just notice it. Things that worked well can give you an idea of what to lead with in the new normal. Things that didn’t work well can be improved because any situation, including crises, provides opportunities.

Don’t limit your information-gathering to your organization. Stop and notice what is going on around you because of the crisis, as well. How are consumers acting? How are people communicating? What do people need, want or choose most? What challenges became clear during the crisis that won’t go away without attention? What opportunities did the crisis create for you, your people and your business? Take inventory. Now you know what is actually true versus what you believe to be true.

3. Create future scenarios. Since we don’t know where we are headed, flexibility and adaptability will be your best allies. Start first by building or imagining several possible future scenarios, based on the information your plan-ahead team gathered about your organization, the workplace, the world and trends. You can’t wait until everything becomes clear; the plan-ahead team needs to envision a future through the clouds and fog of the current moment. This ensures the organization starts thinking and planning in several different directions to be able to respond when the fog clears. The worst thing an organization can do at this moment is sit back and wait to see what will happen.

Consider, also, that the organizations that act nimbly and responsively will set themselves apart as the visionaries when things settle. Having thought about the direction things may go can accelerate a response and help you become a shaper of what the new normal becomes. How could your organization step up and lead in this period of confusion, in a way that is responsive and successful?

So, how do you move forward when you don’t know where you are going? Get on solid ground. Understand what is going on. Build scenarios of where things could go. Then stay close to information as things change to be able to add new scenarios or modify the ones you have until you start to develop some clarity about what the future looks like.

This is how I navigated my time in Europe. At the start of each day, I took a breath to stay calm, I took inventory of my resources (i.e. cash, time), then I created options for the day. Though my plan for the day was to visit Milan, bumping into a friend who was on his way to Madrid allowed me to be flexible and respond as my world changed. Madrid became my new destination, and I knew I had the time and the resources to make it happen.

Seems like this approach could serve us well at the moment.

By Jay Forte

Consider reading Define Your Edges

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