What is your future normal?

man sitting in a couch writing something down on paper

Of all the phrases and words competing to become the top term of 2020, ‘pivot’ is a strong contender. Organizations in every sector are changing rapidly, being more nimble, and evaluating innovations—all of it important in the midst of a global crisis.

However, this is also the moment to carefully consider what your future normal will look like. This is different from the ‘new normal’ (another contender for 2020’s top term), which is more about accepting how life is right now. Your future normal is about the long term. It’s about building with intent the kind of organization you want to have on the other side of this crisis. What will you bring with you from before? What will you leave behind? What new ways of working and leading will you keep using in your way of life or culture? What will you do differently, value more, and care deeply about when you move forward?

This is a ‘Great Pause,’ a period unlike any other in our lifetime. We have set aside our culture of busy for a moment and focused on the things that matter most. Let’s not let it all be for nothing. Let’s create a better system that values the people that work for us, and commit to leading them in a way that helps them to bring their best selves to work. Let’s keep the sense of connection going that we feel in this time of crisis, even when we are isolated. Let’s bring the humanity we feel now back into our places of work. Let’s commit to retaining it above all else, even over policies and procedures that get in the way of kindness and empathy. Let’s do things differently so that engagement increases and people want to be at work.

This is not just a utopian dream now. Organizations have spent years resisting many things because they did not fit the dominant structure or mindset—flexible working, remote working, focusing on results over time, shared leadership. These ways of working that seemed impossible just a few months ago are now standard practice for many. It will be challenging to go back to the way things were and still have a satisfied workforce.

The impossible no longer exists. We know it’s possible to make big changes. We know it’s possible—and crucial—to give people space to look after themselves and their personal lives when they need it. We know that work can still get done when our employees are not all sitting in front of us, watching the clock.

Life has changed. Expectations have changed. As a leader, it’s crucial that you get ahead of the shift and help to shape it for the future health of your organization.

Here are five steps to creating your future normal:

  • Do some deep thinking about what you are learning during this experience about your people, your organization, and yourself. Start thinking about crucial aspects of organizational life that you pushed aside when your office was in constant reaction mode. What was morale like? How did you prioritize psychological safety? How will you need to prioritize it moving forward?
  • Identify what you want to keep doing. Write down all the things you were doing before that continue to work well for you now. Write down the things you have introduced during the crisis that are having a positive impact.
  • Also, make a list of the things that you now realize didn’t work for your organization, and clearly identify what you want to stop doing. Don’t focus on the how right now—it’s about the what and the why. The how comes later when you are in more of a position to make things happen.
  • Ask your team to do this exercise too. When the chaos slows down and life starts getting back on track, have a group session to share what people identified. Co-create your list of priorities for moving forward and then involve your people in figuring out how to implement it. This increases ownership and shows you are serious about embedding some changes. Larger organizations can do this too. Get creative. Invest in resources to help you if need it.
  • Commit to the list of what you will keep doing and use it as a guideline for making operational and strategic decisions. Use it in your team and leadership meetings to remind everyone about the changes you want to make and/or continue, together. Continue to track what’s working and share the successes and challenges along the way.

This is the moment when you get to decide what your future story will be. Use it well. Soon enough, your future normal will begin to form—whether you had input on it or not—and this moment will be lost.

This is the time for being brave, and for standing up for the things that matter to you and your people. This is the time to lead.

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Lianne Picot

Lianne Picot

Learning Architect at The Niagara Institute

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