Leading a mid-tier business in the new normal

Yet again we are facing significant change and new challenges as the restrictions continue to ease, workplaces open again, and long-term working from home becomes normal practice for some of us.

Leading a mid-tier business in the new normal

Yet again we are facing significant change and new challenges as the restrictions continue to ease, workplaces open again, and long-term working from home becomes normal practice for some of us.

I’m a lucky one – my daughter’s nursery is opening on Monday, making working from home a functional experience. For others, a disrupted and difficult pattern of WFH is likely to continue until September.

We have survived full lock down, but we should not forget the dramatic change it had on our lives and the lives of all of our team members. For many (up to 10 million workers), they are still being paid to be at home on furlough which has been a lifeline both financially and with regards to childcare. Coming back to work may be psychologically and practically difficult.

So how can you steer your business into a new settled state as quickly as possible, taking advantage of the benefits of the new normal and managing the challenges?

The Continuum

I’ve been thinking about each area of change as a continuum that companies have been moving along, starting with pre-covid, through full lockdown and partial reopening and then looking forward to the new normal.

What worked before, may or may not work well in the future, and some parts of your business will have already changed significantly, or will need to change soon.

Here are some of the continuums:

Work location and

Our businesses are shifting from office or site based to home or remote based. From full days concentrating in the office to shifting hours to fit them in.

Face to face communications have become telephone or video conference, perhaps the odd socially distanced walk for some! Wide social interaction with colleagues has become regular team meetings online and almost no connection with other teams in the business apart from a quiz here and there.

Every business needs to work out what works now and should be maintained into the future, and what needs to shift again to deliver the best results. The impact of each of these on the lives of individual employees should not be underestimated.

How we measure

Previously many businesses measured performance by looking at people’s input. Without extensive technology, we are becoming much more output focused. Management by walking around has become KPIs or tech oversight. Team performance may have shifted into looking at individual’s performance. Management attention has shifted, and many are not skilled or experienced in managing in a different way.

It is unlikely that every team in your business will fall into successful long term remote working patterns without reviewing what is and isn’t working, and learning some tips and tricks to do it the best way possible.

Business Planning

Like many of our clients, at People Puzzles we are really focusing now on planning the rest of 2020. We went into crisis management at the end of March, and spent a good number of weeks forgetting about regular reporting, and dealing with the fall out of all the changes. Reforecasting, re-budgeting – whether you are in rapid growth or being threatened by Covid – all take management time and attention.

Now is an excellent time to revisit long term strategy and vision instead of the short term planning panic many of us were in. It is a time to face the reality of where the world is and get positive and optimistic about the future and where your business can thrive going forward.

Access to
Prospects and Customers

In a pre-covid world, many of us, including my business, heavily relied on seeing people face to face, attending networking events, and doing face to face sales meetings. Our marketing messages had been slowly developing for years. And suddenly all of that changed.

After we went through the classic shock and denial, we are now firmly in the new normal. How does it work to sell to people you can’t meet, and prospect in a completely different way. What are the messages in a world where some businesses are growing exponentially and others are experiencing an environment they never thought they would operate in?

If businesses can get their messaging right, and make selling online work really well, it could have hugely beneficial impacts for your marketing and sales for the long term.

Imagine needing 20% fewer sales people to do the same job? No car allowances? Seeing 10 customers online in a day instead of one? Are you thinking strategically about what you are going to learn from the current experience and take it into the new normal, or are you going to go straight back to old methods as soon as you are able to?

What does this all
mean for how your business is organised?

Firstly it is important to make sure that your organisation structure works for you in the new world. Start with your business purpose, your strengths and opportunities. Build the right framework for delivering the right work to your clients. Who is your top talent and how can you leverage them? How are people accountable? What are your competitors doing? How are you winning the hearts and minds of your team so that they are on board?

Then get into the practicalities of your team. What structure do you need to succeed in the new normal? If you have furloughed staff, you may already know you don’t need them all back, and if that is the case, I would encourage you to get on and run your redundancy processes. After all, we don’t want our teams sitting around at home on furlough blissfully thinking they are walking back into work on 1 August and you already know you have nothing for them. They could be using this time to rethink their future, upskill and look for an alternative.

Secondly, the change of the last 3 months of this year is not over. Organisations and team members that can cope well with change are going to succeed the most in the coming year. Consider training and developing your team’s skills and abilities in dealing with change, resilience and adaptability.

Thirdly, continue to focus on high expectations and high performance. This is still tricky as many people are very unsettled, isolated and parents are busy home schooling their children. But we need leaner, more effective businesses going forward, which means shared expectations of outputs with our teams. If our leaders and managers throughout our teams are on the same page, we will have a much better chance of bringing our people with us.

Finally let’s not forget to develop ourselves. I don’t know about you, but I’ve realised quite a lot about myself during lockdown. I have a tendency to think my life is harder than everyone else’s, which I think is quite easy as a CEO. But it isn’t necessarily true! At least we have all the information, are making the decisions and have autonomy. It is easy to think that our teams have it easy, but actually some of them have no control over whether they will have a job or not by the end of the summer, they may have lost loved ones, have a much harder home life, or much less to live on.

The old adage, “You can’t understand someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes” is particularly true during lockdown. As a busy CEO, we have no idea what someone else is experiencing unless we ask, and the one thing we can assume is that this hasn’t been easy for anyone.

In shape for the
new normal

Getting ready for the new normal will take lots of listening, discussing and communicating with your team. It requires ongoing change. It won’t happen overnight, and you will never get to anything being perfect as the world will change again.

The upsides of focusing your attention so your business is fit for the next stage are huge. If you and your senior team are on the same page and aligned, you will able to be purposeful, inspiring, empathetic and lead your business forward with courage.

Ally Maughan
Ally Maughan

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