There is an understandable desire to get back to something like “normal” as soon as possible, but this needs to be balanced by recognising that the old normal was part of the problem. So what’s key for organisations seeking to make the new normal significantly better than the one we so recently left behind?
This article considers three linked areas that cut across organisational and environmental boundaries, seeking to put forward a more joined-up and sustainable approach for organisations approaching the “post-covid” era.
Better Strategy: Perhaps an obvious number one, but worth explaining and expanding. By better strategy I mean developing and communicating an overall plan that sets out a destination or outcome plus a means to achieve it. It should include a “live” action plan which is prioritised (doing the most important things first) and proportionate (shifting effort and resources between priorities to achieve maximum effectiveness).
We have a tendency to react to situations with a series of tactical initiatives, each logical in isolation but lacking in an overall, joined-up, coordinated approach.
A well-thought out (and communicated) strategy builds confidence, boosts contribution and productivity and both encourages and focuses ideas and innovation. It is very important that everyone understands the question “how does this help?” – what is my contribution to the delivering the strategy and why does it (and therefore why do I) matter?
Particularly as organisations have become, and are likely to remain, more geographically dispersed this notion of “contribution and value” (linked to goals, training and personal development) will become critical to motivating retaining talent and boosting productivity.
More Sharing: Again, this one is multi-levelled, ranging from internal team structures, processes and communication through to improving collaboration on global issues including sustainability.
Building from the strategy piece above, when we have a clear vision of our goals, destination and route we need to establish a team capable of delivering our aims. While this will undoubtedly contain some key individuals, we need to establish the broadest concept of shared endeavour and enterprise across the entire organisation.
As a core to this I have always tried to encourage an initial response to any issue (large or small) of “how can I help?” – a simple question which not only supports whoever has the issue, but encourages them to retain ownership of it with assistance and the real sense that their problems are shared with a wider team.
We are also increasingly aware of the global nature of existential threats that mean we are all vulnerable to something taking place on the other side of the world. The butterfly effect is truly with us and our only counter to it is sharing knowledge, skills and ideas. It may be that some of our international organisations are less than perfect, or that the alliance and sharing of data between academia, science, international governments and commerce is difficult to manage and maintain, but it is precisely this sharing that offers us the best chance to thrive and survive.
Improved Sustainability: This broader notion of collaboration to aid our survival as a species is precisely where my third concern for the new normal sits. If we fail to recognise the impact our “normal” activities are having on the planet then the crisis we will inevitably create makes the current one minor by comparison.
Not to diminish the clear tragedy of the deaths, disruption and economic impact there are some cautious positives from the current situation. We are seeing an improved respect for science and scientists as individuals and institutions turn around projects in months that would normally take many years.
We have seen that collective responsibility can be encouraged and lead to massive changes in behaviour. We have also seen that those changes can directly lead to environmental improvements. What we have not yet seen is that those changes are literally “sustainable” – i.e. that they endure beyond the crisis.
What’s needed is not just a minor slowing or reducing of current damage, we need a significant reversal of trend towards truly sustainable energy and behaviour. This means shifting from a selfish, myopic and short-term view based on cost and convenience to one of “how can we reduce harm and improve outcomes?” in order to take a broader perspective.
To achieve this we need to embed the key question of sustainability into every organisational plan and decision. If we do this globally across every organisation it becomes the new normal. That sounds overly ambitious, but if we insist on it as individuals, employees, stakeholders, investors and most importantly as consumers then it will become an essential part of every organisation’s operational and strategic plan. We have seen that governments can significantly change people’s behaviour – now we need to show that people can significantly change the behaviour of governments and organisations.
What will the new normal look like? Will we have a plan, a shared set of common goals that include a new attitude towards our shared home planet? Maybe not right away, but I believe this is a unique opportunity when we should take responsibility for making a new start on sustainability as we start to seriously think about “what’s next”.
About the Author: Ewen Anderson BSc, MMS (Dip), CIO @ Px3
With a background in psychology, management services, consultancy and enterprise IT, Ewen is a passionate believer that the right technology used in the right way can significantly reduce environmental impacts, engage users and improve productivity. He is CIO of Px3, a company on a self-assigned mission to help organisations balance people, planet and productivity by promoting sustainable IT strategies. Px3 has set itself the goal of removing the CO2 emissions equivalent of 100,000 cars from our atmosphere by 2050.
Ewen can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org