We know change is hard, but as people we are quite good at it. It doesn’t always feel great and it can be scary, but to live is also to change. Routines and rhythms surely provide stability, but they also provide traps that make us think what we are doing is all that needs to be done. Discomfort tells you way more than comfort. Discourse raises awareness where the same tells you almost nothing. Divergence delivers opportunity.
We don’t often talk about this dynamic, but people thrive on, get energized by, and deep down want change. Where things get tricky, however, is that almost no one on the planet likes to be changed.
COVID-19 wasn’t a choice. It presented us with a forceful new agenda, and we didn’t even have time to accept the meeting invite. It was just there, in our life, and now we are here wondering what happened and what this means for our future.
At this very moment, it may not feel like it, but I want to remind you that you have control over what happens to you. We can forgo dialogue about the “new normal” because that is just the part of your brain working hard to provide you with comfort. Do you really want things to revert to normal? What if instead of waiting for things to go back to the way they were, you unleashed your inner human and made things the way you wanted them to be?
The absence of change isn't comfort. It is complacency. Do you let things stay, or do you shape them into something better? This pandemic is hard, and people are scared, grieving, and worried. But the time to retreat is not upon us. The time to create and reset is now. We have a unique opportunity to change nearly anything we want about ourselves, our workplaces, careers, our professions, and our world. The change was forced upon us, yes, but what happens next is entirely in our very capable human hands to create.
We are truly standing on the edge of a new beginning, should we choose to accept it. We are now seven weeks after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic. For some of us it has been six weeks of working from home, of sheltering in place, for others even more. And after our quick and reactive initial response we must ask ourselves, what is my role in creating what happens next?
We keep hearing everywhere that it will not be “business as usual” and there is lot of chatter about when “we return” to some sense of normality. But that normalcy, whether intentional or not, let COVID-19 happen and if we learn anything from this, it is that we should fight with all we have to forge something different, and better. Otherwise, we may have wasted the good that may come from this avalanche of change.
"This very moment gives us a window of opportunity to use the discomfort to our advantage—not to fall victim to it, but to lead through it as we anticipate, reinvent and create that new normal everyone is wondering about."
– Scott Cawood, president and CEO of WorldatWork
It is true that people are afraid. That is now a part of the landscape and must be factored into all plans for our future. Once local businesses reopen, people will look for comfort in how they shop, dine and interact. Social distancing will be prevalent and handshakes and high fives may only happen for a while in the air. The truth is no one really knows exactly what it will be or feel like, but we have gotten better at navigating the unknown and this is a capability long underutilized for the average human. And even longer for an organization's leadership.
This very moment gives us a window of opportunity to use the discomfort to our advantage—not to fall victim to it, but to lead through it as we anticipate, reinvent and create that new normal everyone is wondering about. The one thing COVID-19 has reminded us is that work, and everything about it, is a pillar of our society and how we approach it, interact with it, embrace it, and reimagine it make all the difference in the world.
As people and leaders, being the drivers of our personal and organizations’ path forward is crucial — but not by using only our past skills and ideas, but by forging new ones. Our organizations’ resilience will depend on our ability to create our own future, that new normal everyone is talking about. How quickly we accept the realities of COVID-19 and pivot to create our new realities, will be the new bar for leadership. Here are three ways to shape our future:
- Don’t just let it happen. This is not the time to be an observer. Dive in now. Navigating through the storm by forcibly determining your path is very different than being a recipient of it. We cannot remain still. This is an important time to create and innovate. Get weird. Think differently. What perspectives can you use that you haven’t relied on yet? What are the needs and gaps we can fill through new products and services? How can we leverage the restrictions and fears to create new opportunities to better serve our employees, customers and communities? If you design the approach to respond to these changing landscapes, it has the ability to speed up the recovery and drive change for the better.
- Seize every opportunity. The worst approach we can have right now is one that is waiting to see what happens. Adjusting our focus and looking for opportunities within the chaos will open a wide range of new, and better possibilities. I have seen businesses seizing the opportunity every day. Many restaurants that did not have an online order capability rapidly implemented that change to continue operations. Breweries began making hand sanitizer. A magic supply store crafted protective shields for retail stores. What these businesses all have in common is that they didn’t sit idle waiting for the impact of change — they used it to drive even more change. They learned, and they evolved. This is a moment to take advantage of the time and invest in reskilling and upskilling our workforce. The needs and demands will be different in a post COVID-19 reality and we can be different, too!
- Reimagine the future. During my keynote speeches last year, I shared what the future of work would be like. We discussed how the speed of change is faster than we think and how organizations must continue to partner with, not fight, artificial intelligence. I shared how office spaces were shrinking, remote work and flexibility were trending to exponentially increase, and a host of new ways the world was working.
And yes, the speed of change is certainly faster than we think, as it took a pandemic all of eight weeks to wipe out much of what we knew about work and life. What we thought might be achieved remotely is indeed being done remotely; and what we thought would be hard to do remotely is also being done remotely. Aside from those essential industries and jobs, most of our workforce is working from home. Many organizations are implementing increased flexibility plans and making accommodations for employees who are sick, taking care of ill family members, or dealing with childcare issues and home schooling. While these changes were already happening at increasing speed, COVID-19 accelerated the pace.
Our task now is not to revert, but to go forward.
About the Author
Scott Cawood, Ed.D, CCP, CBP, GRP, CSCP, WLCP is the president and CEO of WorldatWork.