What new normal?

People have begun to talk about the ‘new normal’. We all need to focus on a post-pandemic future in an optimistic way. But it’s already becoming a tiresome cliche and, worse than that, I doubt that the new normal will be very different from the old.

You see, human behaviour is driven by the need to survive. The primary function of the human brain is to keep us alive, and it does that by recognising patterns in our surroundings. If sitting in the top left chair in the boardroom meant I survived a gruelling meeting yesterday, guess what? I’m going to take that same chair tomorrow.

There’s much to admire in what Governments around the world – with the exception of Tanzania – have done to try to protect their citizens. Much of it has been wrong, as history will tell us. But,what would you have done, put in a position of national responsibility?

However the human truth is that, as soon as protective measures ease, even the most compliant citizens will go back to the behaviours of before. 

So it will be in the world of work, unless those of us still fortunate to be employed make a deliberate effort to change. And I’m addressing employees as much as leaders because one thing COVID-19 has temporarily opened up is two-way communication inside African businesses. Top down has had to meet bottom up. So, seize the opportunity to table suggestions.

Those of us who work in offices have always known that corporate culture was pretty unproductive. So many peculiar routines and habits. Meetings for meetings sake. Colleagues escaping the workplace or hiding from supervisors like oversized schoolkids! Intrigues, affairs and distractions of every kind.

One thing we’ve learned from remote working is to focus on outcomes, not attendance. Many of us have got better at being on time for calls, and delivering on deadlines. In Trays have been cleared, and projects closed off. It hasn’t all been fun, but perhaps we can take some of that extra productivity and job satisfaction forward.

And what about the traditional department – the basic organisational unit of the Industrial Revolution? After 220 years, don’t you think it merits a rethink? How about smaller teams grouped around customer needs rather than traditional siloes? Team meetings twice a week, with a team ethos that makes colleagues responsible to one another for the work they complete in between? 

And what about distributing authority more widely? Only last week I worked with a divisional team who realised this had to happen if they were ever going to resolve customer problems completely. Radical thinking on work culture?  You bet. Now is the time for it.

Chris Harrison leads The Brand Inside




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