Whatever You Do, Don't Go 'Back to Normal'

All that really means is reversing the innovative transformation you've undergone.
Whatever You Do, Don't Go 'Back to Normal'
Image credit: Justin Paget | Getty Images
Entrepreneur Leadership Network Writer
Founder and Principal of HPWP Group
6 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

If you’re like most entrepreneurs, you experienced a moment of clarity when the pandemic became reality. Suddenly, the weight of what was happening hit you. You had to acknowledge, “Well, things are going to be different.” With little to no information about how the crisis would impact your industry, customers and business overall, you were forced to pivot or adapt your regular operations.

No business was left untouched by the pandemic. It pushed our world off the edge of stability and routine and into a new era of innovation. Already, traditional industries such as travel, legal and finance have made leaps and bounds in their technology adoption and workplace flexibility — all out of necessity.

‘Back to normal’ actually means moving backward

The pandemic served as a catalyst for change. It pressured businesses to get further ahead of trends, think differently and pivot accordingly. As a recent Barrett Values Centre survey put it, “The degree of transformation we have seen in the last six weeks would normally have required at least five years to take place.” For example, remote work shifted from a “privilege” to a responsibility. Having seen how much more productive their employees are at home, companies are reacting by becoming more individually flexible.

Related: How the Coronavirus Has Changed the Future of Work

But already, many are asking, “When will we go back to normal?” That line of thinking is damaging to your business and your industry as a whole. The silver lining to this crisis was the innovation it sparked and encouraged. Going “back to normal” is just that: moving backward and reversing the transformation you’ve undergone. In some ways, this pandemic marked a major wake-up call to society, similar to World War II’s wake-up call to the terrible power of prejudice or climate change’s wake-up call to the need for more sustainable solutions.

Related: What If the New Normal Is Better?

In the case of the pandemic, entrepreneurs experienced a wake-up call to practice breakthrough thinking. The status quo didn’t work anymore, so businesses were forced to adapt their cultures and processes to modern technology, society and less hierarchical structures. These changes likely affected everything from your operational workflows to your sales approach.

Sidestep the traps of regression

Growing pains are natural, but they’re worth it when change is long overdue. And because you’ve already made the necessary adjustments and pivoted your business, it’s time to let go of your dream of returning to normal and embrace transformation. To do this, you have to avoid the traps that entice you back into old, irrelevant ways of thinking. Below are three common traps you might run into as well as advice for how to evade them.

Trap #1: Ignoring your employees’ voices

In traditional hierarchical organizations, leaders and employees are separated by a chain of command. This structure creates silos and limits productivity and innovation. But because the pandemic forced many companies to pivot overnight, leaders had to work more collaboratively with employees. They encouraged open communication and feedback while they navigated changes.

As a leader, it’s vital that you continue to encourage employees to think creatively and speak up. Just keep in mind that many employees have become timid. I was once in a meeting with six different managers who wouldn’t say anything bad about the company. People have been conditioned to follow the status quo, so it will take some effort to break through.

You’ll need to facilitate opportunities for discussion and help your employees feel comfortable voicing their opinions. Company meetings won’t cut it, which is why IQTalent Partners has eight small groups meet every eight weeks to talk in a relaxed environment. That’s what will keep you moving forward, not an ineffective echo chamber.

Trap #2: Taking a cookie-cutter approach

What works for one employee won’t necessarily work for the next. For example, extroverted employees such as your salespeople have a harder time working remotely without human interaction. And parents with young children might be pulling out their hair trying to entertain, educate and take care of their kids full-time while also working normal hours.

If you spent extra time listening to employees at the start of the pandemic, don’t go back to a distanced approach. Keep having one-on-one meetings with employees. Ask them questions like, “What barriers are you facing right now?” and, “What schedule do you believe is the most productive for you?”

Just make sure to take into account the individuality and personal situations of your team. General surveys and policies won’t work for everyone, so leave the final decisions up to employees. Twitter, for example, is letting employees decide whether they’d prefer to work from home “forever.” The more you trust your employees and offer them solutions that fit their lives, the more engaged and aligned they’ll be with your culture and vision.

Trap #3: Getting too comfortable

It might be tempting to view the Covid-19 pandemic as a crisis to overcome so that you can get back to normal. However, if you do this, you’ll miss out on a chance to permanently change for the better. It’s all about perspective: Is the glass half empty or half full?

Don’t get too comfortable. Take advantage of the solutions you’ve been forced to come up with and continue brainstorming new ways to improve your business. Motivational and educational speakers can help foster new ideas, and meetings that you cut or shorten free up valuable time for innovation. After all, organizations spend about 15 percent of their time in meetings. What could you accomplish with an extra hour per day?

The trick to changing your perspective is breaking out of the “run” mindset. If you’re only focusing on the bottom line — sales amounts, client numbers or overall revenue — you’ll be blind to your employees’ (and your company’s) overall potential. Instead, ask yourself, “How do I take this asset that I’m only utilizing 10 percent of and maximize it to 90 percent?”

Related: Bouncing Back: Taking Care of Your Team After a Company Crisis

No one knows how the next phase of Covid-19 will affect businesses. However, it will likely continue pushing leaders toward a more innovative, digital-friendly world. By avoiding pitfalls to old ways of thinking, you can ensure that your business remains viable and competitive for years to come. What steps will you take to maintain your company’s momentum?

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