Reconsider the Future

During lockdown we held some conversation sessions with our client and network community on “Reconsidering the Future”.People really valued the space to reflect and think before lockdown opened up, and particularly the approach of sharing some mindful moments in silence as we considered these questions. This was reflected back as valuable and an important leadership practice, to take a moment of pause – “to notice what is truly needed for me before responding, not just reacting. “

We structured the dialogues as an open conversation around these questions

  • What are you learning from this time?
  • How has what you are experiencing personally changed you ?
  • What do you not want to go back to ?
  • Of the changes that have happened what do you see organisations wanting to embrace in the future ?

Here are some of the themes emerging

  • Disruption and transformation – Covid-19 has made the impossible, possible and shown how companies can achieve faster transformational change in 5 weeks than in the previous 5 years. This has busted the myth that radical change needs a long time and complicated / extensive planning – faced with “crisis” conditions organisations have re-engineered their business and undergone massive restructuring in an amazingly short time.
    • Stories we heard included – how the crisis suited highly operational businesses, in the “front line” like major food retail businesses, who rose to the challenge, and enacted their disaster recovery plans. A feature of this was bottom up learning and initiative taking from staff in stores around the world. We discussed the need for a pause now to reconsider what was the systemic learning beyond this for leaders?
    • Others talked about the rapid and innovative collaboration between NGOs, organisations and the power of local community groups springing up in neighbourhoods, whether in UK, Kenya or Switzerland.
  • What is the leadership we need now in a post covid world? How do we move beyond leadership in a crisis?

We reflected on how people had sprung into action initially in a “flight/ fight” mode, but also shown that the “tend/ befriend” impulse was strong, an example of a more humane leadership emerging. Having a virtual window into everyone’s homes had helped people break down barriers and rounded out how they were seen as people. Leaders were valued most highly, who had communicated regularly in virtual town halls in an authentic and honest way, even when there was little clarity on what might happen next. Leaders have had to let go of control to allow rapid innovative responses to the crisis.

In one session we reflected on the Barratt Covid-19 values survey what is being valued by organisations and the people in them now is a shift from performance and control to  adaptability , working together and people focus . This is based on a shift in addition to personal values towards the focus on wellbeing, caring and making a difference. Striking findings also suggest a gap between leaders who are focusing on agility, sustainability and innovation, whereas employees are looking for direction and communication as well as trust and engagement. This may in part reflect the perceived need for certainty in an uncertain world.

  • Repurposing of business

In our conversations many of us talked about our hope of the potential opportunity arising from Covid-19 of Building Back Better, in terms of a green recovery to tackle the climate emergency and the proliferation of initiatives we are seeing across the business world, UN and NGOs, such as and . People talked about how the pandemic had made them even more aware of deeper systemic crises around climate, poverty and huge inequalities and their concerns about the economic impact of redundancies and job losses globally as we emerge from lockdown.

Since then we have experienced the global wave of protest sparked bv the shocking death of George Floyd in the USA, and how this has galvanised support for Black Lives Matter from brands and companies around the world and we have committed our support and to working on our own re-education .  (It is perhaps no co-incidence that the crisis of Covid-19 has enabled a “seeing into” other crises such as systemic racism).

However, we are aware of the tension that business is facing under extreme pressure, some sectors in crisis, some busier than ever. Participants felt leaders needed to pause and reflect as the sessions were enabling them to do. The question remains are most businesses still in survival mode and unable to take time to look at these deeper questions?

  • Collaboration across polarities in a virtual world

Many talked about the paradox of being isolated physically and more connected at the same time working at home, with a growth in networks to connect to  but also how that would impact collaboration across complex organisations , noticing the tendency to shrink one’s circles of interaction, and the zoom fatigue and overload from days spent in virtual meetings . How will the connections be made across silos or between leadership teams? These might have happened informally in the office, now more circumscribed within diarised meetings you may not be invited to. We discussed the impact of the lack of personal face to face connection on relationships and strains that may show in leadership teams. The temptation to have reinforcing silos in organisations is even greater in a virtual world.

Organisations faced with a greater unifying purpose (e.g. supporting the NHS, saving our sector, etc) have found it easier to collaborate around the “WHAT” needs to be done rather than haggling over things like ownership, price and egos which normally get in the way.

  • Resilience – this was a strong theme, and the need for attention leaders need to pay to mental health and wellbeing within organisations. People shared the “corona coaster” of emotions they had experienced in the lockdown, and now some anxiety about new uncertainties. For some people they said their perception of time has shifted, although they were also learning the need for boundaries to mark a difference between work and home time when only working from home.

The sense of  gratitude for front line staff and key workers and help from the community was forefront and awareness that in a sense we have gone through a collective trauma, whilst this has shown up huge inequalities , such as those who have a garden, access to the outdoors and those not forced to go out to work for a daily wage and put themselves in danger from Covid-19.

Over the weeks we ran the sessions we noticed a shift to anger and frustration at chaotic emergence from lockdown, and for some a sense of loss of the calm space they had found. There was also a sense of having kept going and then realising when something small went wrong how disproportionate anger could emerge.

  • What we valued and do not want to go back to – many of those joining the conversations felt strongly they did not want to return to daily commuting, and could not see themselves taking long haul flights, which had been a big part of previous life. The advantage of home working included less stress from travel. What was now valued by most was connection to nature, the sound of birdsong, the urge to grow food in their gardens and to have a daily walk or exercise, as prescribed by some governments, which has actually enabled people to feel healthier.

So, having been privileged to “host” these conversations we were left with a sense that organisations are at a cross-road as they emerge from Covid-19 restrictions. Will they try to revert to the “old normal” (which of course had many failures for many people) or will they truly learn from their experiences and enhance the capabilities of their people by removing unhelpful restrictions and delegating more to their people who have displayed such agility and resilience to make rapid transformation a reality. In reconsidering their future will they truly learn to respond rather than react? Will you?

To discuss any issues arising please contact

Fiona Ellis

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