If you think nothing will change as a result of this pandemic, then you may be deluded. Strong words I know, but fitting for these strange times.
The last time there was a global crisis of similar (but different proportions, 70 million deaths) was World War 2. The people who lived through that, our relatives, were changed for ever. Our current situation shares several aspects – Fear, disruption to normal life, communities pulling together. Out of that global conflict came the NHS and the Welfare State, and now there is once again a focus on this service and a universal gratitude.
There was a shared experience of working together, looking out for each other, sacrifice, going without and ‘make do and mend’. This affected mindsets of those who had lived through it for ever.
There have been subsequent generations, who are defined differently ‘Baby Boomer’, ‘Generation X’, ‘Generation Y’, ‘Millenials’ if you buy into that sort of thing. Go and search it up, the characteristics may have some resonance, even if they are defined slightly or very differently dependant upon who you read. My stance is that there are some universal truths in this, but just as importantly there are at least as many individual differences.
This brings me to our current crisis. Some have loftily said “We’re all in the same boat”. This is not true. We all have different challenges, different resources – practical and psychological, and we have different people around us and different hopes and fears. I prefer the more accurate analogy “We’re all in the same river, but we’ve all got different boats, or maybe no boat at all.” And we all arrived in the river from our different personal or generational different points, well, differently.
However, this shared experience will change us, separately and collectively.
There will be financial and psychological damage. There will be different reflections on our own individual lives, there will be different expectations going forward. Sure, some will want, and can’t wait for a ‘lets get everything back to normal’. Well, that’s not going to happen. Social distancing will be around for some time. People will have opened their eyes to living their lives and finding their purpose in different ways.
And when work restarts, in whatever shape or form, with whatever economic challenges, it will be different. The economy will bounce back – it always has, we’re not still in the Great Depression are we? – and there is an opportunity for a different work.
A healthier work, a work where people’s talents and creativity (so evident practically, socially and Tik Tok-ily) can flourish. Where lives are richer, and at the same time £s poorer. Where what’s really important is obvious and not blurred and lost in being so busy.
Now if leaders think that the 9 to 5 will return, then they are somewhere between so wrong, and being blinkered to a new opportunity. People will want even more clarity of purpose from their leaders, they will want even more trust and empowerment, they will want more authenticity in communications and role modelling of collaborative and community behaviours.
In short, the things that we know are important in leading organisations and in leading society will be even more important than they have ever been, at least since WW2.
But before then there is the re-connection, the re-engagement, the clear communications and empathy that is needed right now from leaders and their organisations.
And this will challenge the comfortable well known structure of work and place and perhaps working time. HR departments will be challenged like never before to respond to different requests. Forward thinking organisations will continue to embrace and engage the talents of their people, providing stubbornness on vision and flexibility on details (to paraphrase Jeff Bezos), providing psychological safety to allow people to de-prioritise, and to improve their work with lessons learned through this crisis.
However, many will find this challenge overwhelmed. It will strike at their very beliefs about work and their cherished processes, and they will struggle. Struggle to adapt or struggle to impose the norm back on their people, reaping what they sow with dis-engagement, damage to their employer reputation and staff turnover.
But being positive for a moment, there is always hope. Hope that we will come out of this. Hope that there will be lessons earned. Hope that work can be even better and a place where people and organisations thrive and grow.
So on this 4th May 2020, there is A New Hope.