Last week in the U.S., the CDC announced that fully vaccinated people “can resume activities that you did prior to the pandemic.[i]” Does that mean everything can go back to “normal”? And if so, can we as individuals go back to the way we were? The truth is all of us will have different reactions to what has happened over the past 14 months — and to what lies ahead. So much of what we have learned and discussed about leadership over the past year will continue to be relevant as leaders take on this next transition back to normalcy. So, while we might be ready to ditch the restrictions, let’s make sure to hold on to some of the important lessons we’ve learned along the way.
In March 2020, Insight Experience Founding Partner Amanda Young Hickman wrote: “While we have no idea what the next 7-60 days hold for the spread of the virus, we do know that teams and employees will go through a change curve about the disruptions in their day-to-day lives. These disruptions won’t be resolved by next weekend.”
This change curve framework is originally attributed to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a Swiss-American psychiatrist, who developed these ideas as a result of her work observing her patients’ response to grief and bereavement. During the pandemic, this model continually offered a reference point for leaders as the virus upended daily life and operations. And this model continues to be particularly useful now that the world, which has become so united under the banner of business, has become so disparate under COVID. Global teams who work together daily on the same projects are not facing the same pandemic realities at home; leaders have to be ultra-aware that not everyone on their teams is at the same point in the change curve. Referencing this framework can help us lead appropriately for each team member, whether they sit in New England or New Delhi.
This model also extends far beyond the virus and will remain a critical model as businesses begin to open their offices, change strategic direction, undergo mergers and acquisitions, and continue to adjust to whatever “new normal” might lie ahead.
Just a couple months later in May 2020, Insight Experience Founding Partner Nick Noyes weighed in on strategic thinking, writing that it is “inherently an iterative process, but we tend to naturally think of the sequence as scan-frame-challenge. Whatever our thinking before now, in the wake of the pandemic we are experiencing a massive Challenge to our assumptions. This is calling for us to rapidly Re-Frame our thinking about the issues, options and decisions at hand.”
The pandemic challenged leaders to reframe and address challenges in a way they likely never had to before. The reframing, the adaptation, and the cultural shifts we experienced in the past 12 months are likely to shift further — but are unlikely to vanish altogether. The answer is not to revert to how things were before, but rather to apply this strategic thinking framework to new and upcoming business challenges as we enter a new normal. It will be critical in recognizing new opportunities.
In October 2020, Insight Experience General Manager Karen Maxwell Powell shared her thoughts on the thrill of including more visits from senior leaders in leadership training sessions, given that virtual learning makes such visits more attainable. She wrote: “The inclusion of senior executives in leadership development has long been the summit in program design. If they can be included, it’s a huge win; the presence of an executive more senior than the audience signals endorsement of the content and brands the program as a visible, worthwhile effort.”
Industries and companies this year learned that there are many such benefits to the virtual working environment they were forced into in 2020. As Plato said, necessity is the mother of all invention. Taking a step back and using constraints as a driver for innovation is a mindset that can continually increase innovative solutions for clients and customers alike.
Taking the time to reflect on the challenges of the last year and understanding the lessons learned can be a powerful first step in moving into the new normal. We hope that from this challenging time some of that learning can serve as a silver lining and guide us all to a more fruitful, healthier 2021.
Krista Campbell is a Senior Associate Consultant and Ashley Perry (coauthor) is an Associate Director at Insight Experience, a Boston-based firm delivering contextually rich business simulations and learning experiences to accelerate and integrate leadership, business acumen and strategy execution.