One of my favorite books is Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. When I first read his book several years ago it put a new spin on lean’s perspective on waste and value by applying similar concepts to individual and organizational decision-making. I’ve continued to use and refine that framework ever since.
The idea of “what is essential?” has taken a whole new, deeper meaning as many of us deal with the chaos associated with COVID-19, especially business disruption and personal shelter-at-home requirements. “Essential” businesses are allowed to keep operating and we’re allowed to engage in “essential activities,” the definition of which can raise a few eyebrows.
Recreational cannabis shops are considered essential here in California, gun shops and liquor stores in some states, craft stores in some others. Hardware stores? Restaurants when grocery stores are open? Even Gemba Academy has received several formal letters from suppliers, they themselves deemed “essential” by some other entity, informing us that we are an essential supplier to them for online training and asking that we remain operating. We have, with work-from-home and appropriate safeguards in the video studios and offices.
If we are fortunate enough to be able to work from home, or perhaps especially if we’re not and are just passing the time at home worrying about upcoming bills, we are being forced to think about our lives in a whole new way. Similarly, leaders and owners of businesses and organizations are having to do the same. Most of us had given some thought to a great disruption – an earthquake, perhaps a war or terrorist event, but probably not a pandemic. Even though we had been warned.
Regardless, it’s here, and we’re living it. Some states like California that instituted a severe, early shutdown are seeing significant flattening of virus transmission that is preserving ICU capacity. Eventually other states will as well. We’ll eventually all come out of it, probably in multiple cycles of relax/re-constrain until we find the right balance that keeps infection rates low while waiting on an eventual vaccine.
That’s the current state. So what will be the future state? Does it have to be the “previous state” or is now the chance to reimagine and reinvent something better?
Jon Miller wrote a post a couple weeks ago, The Unexpected Benefit of Cancelling Everything, that touched on this.
This wave of cancellation and disruption we are facing is decreed by necessity and not by collective choice. In the weeks and months ahead when things return to normal, we have an opportunity to decide whether we bring back everything we cancelled as it was, or restart in a better way.
The first step is reflection – it almost always is. And what a perfect time while stuck at home, perhaps while taking a long walk around the neighborhood. How is your organization operating – or not? What has been shown as essential to that operation, or to the customers that define the value of your products and services? More importantly, what hasn’t been missed and what has been accommodated for in a different way?
Do you even need offices or is work-from-home effective in some or all circumstances? What could that add as perceived flexibility value by your team while reducing real estate costs? What have you learned in terms of coordinating and communicating project status, KPIs, and general required interaction between team members? At Gemba Academy we’ve used a daily video huddle between our office and remote team members every day for a decade. What suppliers have stepped up, and what can you learn from them? What customers have similarly supported you, and how? How does that change the value calculus?
Similarly, think about your own leadership competency – personal and professional. What are you learning during this massive disruption? What works, what doesn’t, and what skills do you have or wish you had? What is important to you as a leader? Have you been able to shift from managing people by the hours they spend in the office to what their accomplishments are? How can you better define those activities, and what success or failure looks like, to enable that – and thereby giving them more ownership and flexibility over their time – another value? Which team members have shown skills you hadn’t previously noticed, and which need some additional coaching or development?
How has the definition of value changed? How are the human aspects involved? One person on our team mentioned that, although she is very independent and enjoys working alone at home, she has really missed being able to give heartfelt hugs to family and friends. I think many of us have a renewed sense of the value of family and community. I know I have discovered I really miss just sitting in a coffee shop watching people, or enjoying wine and dinner with friends. A Zoom conversation just doesn’t quite cut it. How does this new understanding of value change our priorities – personally and professionally?
Based on this, what would a new future state look like? What changes and plans can you put into place to get there? What experiments – kata – can you run to iterate and learn to achieve it?
Many organizations will revert back to the previous state. They’ll be competing with organizations that create a new, more efficient and agile, future state.