Preparing Ourselves for Change
My wife is passionate about her alma mater. This week, she was texting friends about booking a house near campus for next year’s reunion weekend. “Really?” I asked. Her college is working on a plan to return students to campus in stages this fall. They plan to provide individual dorm rooms to each student and reduce the time physically spent on campus. Should we be putting down a housing deposit for an event that brings over a thousand people to a small town in New Hampshire a year from now? What would need to change for that event to occur?
I don’t enjoy being the voice of doom at home or in the office, but I’ve been surprised by how many people have picked an arbitrary future date for life to become normal. I’m not claiming to have inside information here, but I think we need to begin planning for a very different world. We’ve been focused on just that for the past two weeks at More Vang, and I thought it would be helpful to share our thinking.
Remember the email I sent a few weeks ago about modifying our office to get everyone back to work? Yeah, that went nowhere. Our survival depends on the health of our production facilities, and we simply don’t know enough about this disease yet. The risks of increasing employee density in the office for the sake of facetime aren’t worth the cost of closing plants due to COVID-19 infections. At the same time, working remotely full time has its drawbacks, especially when trying to explain significant changes to our practices. I’ve found a healthy solution for that.
In 1982, management guru Tom Peters wrote In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Best-Run Companies. In the book, he coined the term Management by Walking Around. I’ve decided to adapt that practice to our new COVID-19 reality. For the past two weeks, I’ve been walking my favorite trails with different More Vang departments. I can conduct two weeks’ worth of watercooler talk in two hours, and with a bit of structured homework, we can have meaningful conversations about the changes taking place at More Vang. It’s also quite beneficial for our wellness efforts.
On our most recent walk, we began thinking about you. How will the new normal change your business? I find it helpful to adopt the perspective of your customer. How will changes in my behavior alter my interactions with you? We came up with some broad new truths.
- The world has adopted a decade’s worth of technological progress in three months. Even my Luddite parents have figured out how to buy groceries online. Our retail clients and those that have been slow to build online tools and services will need to adapt quickly.
- Our workspaces and work habits are going to change forever. I don’t think we’ll ever walk away from the office entirely, but working from home has become a viable option for many of us. It will change the purpose and the footprint of our office space.
- It could be years before we feel comfortable walking into a ballroom, strolling a tradeshow floor or attending a college reunion. We have many clients that depend on revenue from meetings and events, and while I’ve been impressed with their ability to move these services online, much still needs to be done to provide a similarly valuable experience.
- We are going to be living in a contracted economy for some time, and all of our business goals and costs will need to be adjusted accordingly. Much of this pain has been deferred with PPP loans and deferred payments; when the money party ends, we will all need to be lean and focused.
- The social movements that are sweeping our country right now—Me Too, Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ+ rights—have expectations from corporate America. Our customers need to see more than our words; they expect action. Explaining and acting on our beliefs will be an essential component of our business plans going forward.
For the few of you still reading this, it probably doesn’t sound like an easy road ahead. So let’s think back for a moment. Look at what was valuable in your organization 10 years ago. How did your business create revenue and explain its value? I’ll bet it looks a lot different than today, and this proves that you’re up for the challenge of our new world. We’ve all been evolving our businesses and ourselves. Being an optimist isn’t about happiness; it’s about the hard work of changing. We’ll do just that.