Crises are the mothers of invention, think of what came from WWI and II or how the Spanish Flu sparked innovations in preventative care for everyone, crises come in many sizes, and although not on the scale I mentioned we have in fact experienced plenty of them since the first wave of Covid-19 in early 2020. According to a recent survey, about 57 percent of U.S. consumers intended to shop online during the holiday proving the idea that we are increasingly living in an evolving balance between a virtual and a physical world on all fronts, not just in how we shop.
Add on top of this a global supply chain shortage, a fundamental shift in how we work now and probably into the future, and the unclear journey forward with the great resignation.
The need for leaders to re-invent a vast array of components has now been further amplified by the Omicron variant of Covid-19. Imagine being a restaurant owner in late October, excited about what might be your busiest time of the year and a return to hopefully more normal business practices.
With the Omicron variant of Covid it is becoming increasingly clear of how connected we are as a species on the planet, and it also further illustrates how fragile our idea of normalcy is unless we build ourselves to be agile.
As leaders, the Omicron variant has the possibility to show us that we cannot face a new world by overly relying on assumptions and ideas that dominated our pasts.
Omicron is not the first variant we have needed to react to, there have been seven previous variants discovered most notably the Delta variant which taught us so much about being prepared for the seemingly unknown, yes it it really an unknown at this point? If we look at the patters these variants cause in our ecosystems we can be better prepared to plan, manage, and thrive through them. With that in mind ask these three simple questions as you make leadership decisions throughout 2022:
1. How do you plan to coach your teams on picking up signals better in 2022?
2. Are you going to reward an agile mindset and behaviors, no matter what patterns it might break in 2022?
3. Are you prepared install a fail and learn fast, as your new management dynamic?
We all desperately want to get back to pre-pandemic normal at all levels, from work to home to even how we look at the world. Our emotional tendency is to go back to the patterns we have invested millions of hours in learning. If 2021 has taught us lesson for 2022 it is that we need to institutionalize agility far more across our companies.
Here are three key tactics you can use to help achieve success:
Pay 500% more attention to signals because they matter more than ever and coach your teams to do it too.
Traditional planning demands a long arch or perspective and an agreed set of formulas for performance. This is true for all elements of a business. Predictable patterns are the essence of growth and consistent delivery over time. We get used to the signals, the noise and will often have a pre-designed way to manage them. They all become familiar patterns. Even patterns created in the last year are comforting reminders of our ability to pick up patterns and learn.
In highly transformative moments it is vital to pay attention to signals. For example, your traditional operating formulas may see a hitch for a quarter. The challenge is do you respond fast enough to these signals (good and bad) and are your teams learning how to read these new signals in a timely enough manner and passing them through the systems? These signals could be staff fatigue related, customers shift based on their Covid experiences, relationships shift, etc. Imagine something as silly as knowing how to ramp up production of toilet paper back in January 2020 based on early reports from China on Covid? Being three to six months ahead of demand would have made a company a huge profit. This might sound like a foolish comparison, but that level of signal pick up is going to matter increasingly in 2022 as we learn from the signals Omicron and other variants will communicate to us.
Just be agile and live in the moment to learn and adjust.
The army talks about this as VUCA world. Volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous in nature. Just when we thought we had sorted this out at work, hybrid in nature and 20 months of succeeding together at work we now face more un-certainty, potentially more complexity and the potential for increased ambiguity as we head into 2022. Less than .5% of us have experienced combat situations. Yet these learnings are now going to apply to the other 99.5% of us. Situational awareness is increasingly important when patterns are new. Coaching agility is a conscious effort, and it needs a living process. For example, that means asking not just for an answer from teams, but for situational analysis before teams make recommendations on actions. It’s like an athlete trying to read the field during a play. Five seconds may not feel like an eternity but there are lots of things that can change during that five second process. Just ask Russell Wilson in Super Bowl 49.
We have a lot more than five seconds, so we need to increasingly be agile in how we assess situations. Are you coaching your teams to be increasingly agile in how they see the worlds of 2022?
Reward agility in thinking and actions.
Whether or not we choose to accept the world in front of us is transforming we need to re-train ourselves to understand how to build a resilient organization. But to build a resilience based on agility may sound odd. It is the essence of the military because unpredictability. It also means mistakes are going to happen at a far higher rate than ever before. The most digitally DNA capable companies (from the third wave of research for, The Digital Helix) illustrated that the very act of accepting that change is a constant was one of the most powerful indicators of economic success across sixteen economic and brand indicators. These organizations punched through experimentation at a higher rate and a deeper level than 87% of other companies. Agility needs to be practiced and not punished. Failure is re defined by not learning and not necessarily by old ideas like not delivering immediate results.
Even without the Omicron variant of Covid there is inherently more complexity around us, more so than ever before. That complexity has still not run a clear course (supply chain, hybrid work, great resignation, the virtual nature of life, etc.). Leading with an agile mindset can lead to pandemic success and constantly paying attention to the world around us is just the start.