How to Successfully Reach the 'New Next' Instead of Chasing the 'Old Normal' Why this latter-stage pandemic era offers an invaluable opportunity to move from rapidly adapting to boldly planning the future.
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After being involuntarily ushered into an altered modern reality by a pandemic that challenged our processes and tapped into and tested every resource, we've reached a critical point. We can now move out of a reactionary reality, but what's next? We'd be wise to prepare ourselves for that "new next," in part by normalizing the expectation of change — which will be constant, but not nearly as unpredictable and volatile as it's been over the last two years. As we recharge, many of us may be tempted to re-enter the pre-Covid-19 hamster wheel, but that would be a mistake: This next phase should be one devoted to reflection and clarifying values, then executing bold action.
Re-engage reflective and critical thinking
Some of the ways companies have shaped themselves in the past two years have been a function of adaptation instead of reflection. Rather than stepping back and asking what principles they truly want an ideal enterprise to embody, they've just been trying to survive. However, it will be critical for us to reimagine in the coming months and years as if we had a blank canvas in front of us — we need to re-engage critical thinking skills and dream again about what we want to create.
All of this translates into an opportunity to author more significant, radical change. But we'll need to take some time out to contemplate it. We need to do some internal work as individuals, teams and organizations. After completing this reflection, we can allow resulting insights to inform new, bold actions.
Become rooted in values
It's instrumental to distinguish what is essential, what is secondary and what is not important at all, but without reflection, we cannot determine what those distinctions are. The pandemic's universal stress, leading to the Great Resignation, brought to light critical elements of company culture that employees were keen to be rid of, whereas values like authenticity, "being more human," mental health and social justice were brought to the forefront. We must realize that these ideas are no longer revolutionary: They're table stakes.
To win in 2022, leaders must be laser-focused on a new environment and a different competitive landscape, and they must identify areas for foundational change. They will need to be thoughtful in formulating strategies to achieve this and eliminate any obstacles standing in the way. Lastly, if we remain over-indexed on issues like company culture without paying equal attention to how our customers have changed, we won't be positioned to win in the new next. Now is the time to slow down, reflect and develop actionable objectives that will enable us to stop reacting and start enacting.
Streamline and simplify
The pandemic has overly complicated many aspects of life, and so to regain our composure and competitive advantage, it's important to simplify — to re-consider the idea that less is more. This might mean skipping that dramatic new initiative; instead, consider what it will be beneficial to stop doing. Ask yourself, "What should we be saying "No' to?" We must embrace opportunity in a focused way that prioritizes highest-value initiatives rather than seeking to boil the ocean.
A license to be bold
Incremental shifts are insufficient to win in the new next. Cost-cutting, subtle enhancements and modest efficiencies will not drive sustained outperformance. Instead, we need to contemplate risks worth taking for our customers. It's these bold bets (that are not without risk, mind you) that can shape the future. The recent collaboration between Saks Fifth Avenue and WeWork is an excellent example. The latter company now manages co-working spaces in Saks's retail spaces, with an incredible eye for detail for their customers (spaces are filled with plants and organic food, among other touches). In this effort, both have targeted their customers brilliantly, and Saks has also maximized valuable retail space that might otherwise be a loss. Both have taken risks that are paying off.
Of course, strategic bets will not always pan out, but we now have an opportunity to author the future in remarkable new ways, rather than just adapt to it. And bold action will be more than just what we generate — it will also include what we say "No" to. We've gotten comfortable with incessant change, often at the expense of focus and clarity. However, now is the time to chart our own course as we move from rapidly adapting to boldly planning the future.