There’s so much advice coming at us. It’s boom times for purveyors of my least favourite grift: the futurists. Since 2010, you give them money, they show you a video of drone pizza deliveries.
There they are on the mid-morning TV show couch, doing their futurist jazz hands, saying: “Everything is changing! At an UNPRECEDENTED PACE!”
Any conference panel that has a futurist should also have a historian, to inject perspective on how humans have actually behaved before, and probably will this time too.
I’ve said it before, but futurist fees should go into a trust fund. In 10 years, if more than 25% of their flaky predictions prove true, they get paid. If not, it goes to charity.
Get business news first
Sign up to SmartCompany’s daily newsletter
Don’t trust certainty in 2020
Here let me be a futurist:
After COVID, office space will be thing of the past. Workers have had a taste of the work-at-home life and they like the flexibility. They’re more productive without all that wasted commuting time, and they can design their own day around work-life balance. They get judged on their results, not just time spent at work. It’s a win-win situation, except for business landlords. Offices are so over.
On the other hand:
The isolation time only highlights the collaborative value of the workplace, bouncing ideas off each other all day. The subconscious team building that just comes from being around workmates. The blessed lack of child, pet and liquor cabinet distractions. An end to that never-clocked-off feeling.
And workplaces are where you learn the big-picture skills. Leadership, empathy, wisdom — you don’t get those without daily face-to-face contact with lots of people. So if we keep working at home, the whole organisation is trapped in 2020 for-evahhhh. Workplaces are back baby, and we’ve never appreciated them so much! *jazz hands flourish*
So which is it?
We don’t know. Probably a bit of both.
That’s the thing about this stage of the virus times: it’s still early days and nobody really knows how it’s going to make people behave.
Customers and staff will tell you what they’re going to do, and it’s an incredibly bad predictor of what they will actually do. Even in normal times. Particularly when you ask them their intentions one by one, but they behave as a herd.
You can take an educated guess, but nobody really knows what’s going to happen. At the moment, the greater the certainty of someone’s prediction, the stronger the probability that they are just full of bullshit.
They’re just preying on people’s deep need for someone to tell them the rules in a confident voice.
You can’t predict what’s going to change, but there’s no doubt some wild-ass change is going to happen; some of your competitors won’t survive the aftermath. Good management right now is setting yourself up so you’re well-placed to act when some of the smoke clears.
So who’s going to come out of this strong?
1. People who can deal with change
You kinda know if this is you or not, and it’s hard to move from one camp to another.
Some people just aren’t comfortable without a clear roadmap in front of them, and a laminated list of rules in their hand. Without those rules, chaos will reign and we will all be eaten by wolves.
Others find it weirdly exciting. Change presents opportunity. Something more interesting could be just around the corner. And it’s better to seek forgiveness than ask permission. This will be a handy mindset to have over the next 12 months.
If you’re change-averse, I know it can be hard, but try not to drag the chain. This is not the time for telling your employer: that’s not my job. Right now you’re pretty lucky to have a job, so don’t be the one that stands out as a roadblock to recovery.
If you are an employer, identify your change pirates and give them some leeway. There will be opportunities out there that could define your business for decades, if you can spot them early and act.
2. Companies that can act fast
This has always been the advantage of smaller businesses over large ones, but bad economic times can put the smallest business into a state of fear paralysis.
Businesses start assembling layers of management like the Soviet Politburo over every decision. Capex decisions on buying six new laptops get treated like you’re a city deciding whether to build an extra airport.
Here’s your job as a manager/owner: make decisions that make money. If your business is stocked with people whose mission is blocking or delaying every decision, what are you even doing? If your business is going to do nothing for ages, maybe that’s the right call, but it would be much cheaper to do it without those people.
You don’t have to be the first company to jump in with the post-COVID innovation, but you’ll need to be quicker than most. Are you in a state to do that?
3. Companies that value initiative over process
Companies that are entirely run by process, laid down in the rule manual and enforced by inflexible sergeant-managers, will find it harder to be post-COVID winners. Right now, they’re hankering to get back to how things were, like fundamentalist religious scholars. For them, the ‘manual’ is the one truth and is not to be fucked around with.
Process will get you up to a certain level of reliability, and will stop you pissing customers off with your incompetence. But doing what you do from a list isn’t some amazing competitive advantage. It creates no magic.
Competitive advantage mainly comes not from what you do, but the way you do it. That’s a much harder trick to pull off.
Through COVID-19, people have been experiencing things from business they’ve never seen before: empathy, flexibility, responsiveness, willingness to negotiate. They would like that to continue.
If your staff have the freedom to use their own initiative, it’s a positive cycle. Happier clients. Better staff want to work with you. Margins rise. Good times. Or at least, better times.
What should you do?
It’s time for a bit of change training for all of us.
We’ve all been in a Groundhog Day routine. Even your dog is bored of you and that same route you walk each day. Every day is the same, and weekends have no meaning. You know when they release long-caged animals into some green paradise and the animal just loops straight back into the cage because it feels secure in there? That’s all of us right now.
Start making little variations, like meals or exercise routines or the times you do things. Watch a different TV channel. Walk the dog anti-clockwise. Wear something that’s not tracksuit pants. It’ll help prepare your animal brain for re-entering the world.
The opportunity times are drawing near.
This article was first published on Motivation for Sceptics.