Toward A New And Better Normal

The pandemic has been painful, but the resulting change is not all bad. Here's a shortlist of less-than-useful corporate habits much better left in the past.

As we near the light at the end of this strange tunnel we’ve been in, most of us are in the process of trying to get back to normal at work. I’d encourage CEOs to leave behind some aspects of the old normal for a new and better one. Here are a few things that may be worth abandoning.

Over-Engineering. I have always been a big fan—and I mean a BIG fan—of the quick and dirty, 80/20 approach to project management, and I’m going to double down on it here. During these past few months, many of us have seen more good ideas than ever go from conception to implementation in record time with minimal over-engineering.

We seem to be getting more done with less polishing, tweaking and fretting—and it’s actually a lot more gratifying. This happened because our goals become clearer and the stakes become higher during a crisis, allowing us to ignore silos and find ways to create and implement solutions without overthinking, nitpicking and fear of failure. We’re not insisting on perfection but focusing on the essential elements of a product or program and moving quickly.

When this crisis passes, CEOs cannot allow things to slide back but should instead make sure that their newfound “essentialism” continues.

Professionalism. It’s time that we put more emphasis on personalism and less on professionalism. During this crisis, most good CEOs took a more active interest in the personal lives of their direct reports than ever before. They’ve seen their team members in pajamas during Zoom calls as they negotiated the demands of bored kids, noisy pets and disheveled homes, all while trying to work from the chaos of their living rooms. As the crisis recedes, many leaders will presume a return to the old boundaries, but they should reject that presumption. After all, the challenges in the lives of our people will not recede even when the virus does.

CEOs need to understand that when people grow closer during a challenging time, the prospect of backtracking is particularly painful and awkward. Leaders should leave behind the professional boundaries of the past and embrace more personal relationships with their people, even if their lawyers suggest otherwise.

Work-Family Compartmentalization. Along these same lines, many leaders I’ve worked with over the years, allowed a wall to build between work and family life. Too often, we keep work at work, assuming that our family members are too busy with their own priorities to care about a project we’re working on or a challenge we face.

One blessing of this time of homebound work is that many family members have a bit more appreciation for what mom or dad does at work. We should not let that fade. As we go back to the office and the physical separation of our professional and home lives, we should work hard to keep our families connected with what we’re doing, both for them and for ourselves. It will make us happier people, which will inevitably serve our organizations.

Handshaking. This one may seem relatively insignificant—even to fly in the face of being more personal. But there is something about shaking hands that seems more about protocol than genuine relationship-building. In the spirit of discarding non-essential formalities— and the spread of germs—perhaps the end of the handshake will mark a time when leaders embraced a new essentialism and abandoned unnecessary activities that prevented us from being more human and more effective.

The point of all this is much bigger than making seemingly small cultural changes. It’s about taking this unwanted and painful experience and having the wisdom and courage to make the world of work better for having endured it. So, here’s to a new and better normal.

Let’s make the most of the changes wrought by the pandemic.


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