How to Plan for a Bright Future

Eric Stutzman

future, looking ahead, planning, development, innovation, workplace culture, leadership, management

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a tsunami of changes to sweep across our world. The working world as we know it has been forced to change by government policy, and it will continue to change long after those policies have been revoked. We are living at a singular moment in history where we must make a choice between three options about how we will move into the future.

In the three options outlined below, I describe how we can either fight change, drift with change, or steer a course for ourselves, and how each option asks a different set of questions. Each of these options is already being chosen, but I believe only option three positions organizations to survive and thrive over the long term. Which option are you choosing? Which questions are you asking?

Option 1: Fight Change

Like a captain trying to steer their ship into an oncoming tsunami, some will resist changes in the work world in a vain hope of returning to an idealized yesterday. This will look like organizations trying to do business and provide services in exactly the same way they did before the pandemic.

They will be asking questions like:

  • “Was/is social distancing really necessary?”
  • “Who can we blame for how things have gone?”
  • “How can we get back to business as usual?”

Staff will be asked to return to work as though nothing has changed. This will create resistance and unhappiness when people realize that their workplaces have not kept up with society-wide changes in expectations such as physical distancing, cleanliness, and remote access to products and services.|

We can either fight change, drift with change, or steer a course for ourselves.

Option 2: Drift with Change

Others will find themselves adrift in the tsunami-like a ship with no one at the helm, the captain and crew simply trying to ride things out without capsizing. These organizations will conform to the changes in societal expectations, but they will be slow to adapt. Their actions will be reactive to the new circumstances and many opportunities will be lost.

They will be asking themselves questions like:

  • “What can we do to survive?”
  • “What must we change?”
  • “How can we keep doing what we were doing before?”

Staff will be asked to think about how they can adapt the way they do the work. They will feel nervous and worried about whether their workplaces will survive. The focus of their work will be on fixing and tweaking existing products, business protocols, and services. Leaders will be focused on helping staff adapt to today.

Option 3: Steer a Course

My hope is that most of us will make a choice to take control of our destiny and steer a course for ourselves, working with the changes that have been forced upon us by the tsunami. Organizations who steer a course will position themselves to thrive.

These organizations will be asking themselves a totally different set of questions:

  • “Given society’s changed expectations, what can we offer right now?”
  • “What is the new world we imagine for our organization and how are we going to get there?”
  • “What opportunities do we see?”
  • “What strengths do we have from which we can build our future?”

Staff will be asked to be part of the innovation process to creatively imagine and shape the future of their organization with their leaders. They will be expected to step out of their patterned comfort zones by leaders who feel a sense of urgency to change now. Patterns of work and interaction will change, but it will be thought out and based on a set of values and a vision for a better future. Leaders in these organizations will work with staff to embrace the changes and step out of their comfort zones as they work with tomorrow in mind.

A final thought:

In order to survive and thrive, we must choose the third option. At ACHIEVE, we are trying to embrace it. Like everyone else, we’ve been hit hard by COVID-19. We’ve certainly asked some questions from the first and second options because we want to return to the great year we were having, but we also realize that the world is changing fast. Because of this, we are now intentionally asking ourselves the questions from Option 3. In fact, last week all staff took part in innovation meetings because we need all hands on deck with everyone thinking forward.

What questions are you asking?


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Author: Eric Stutzman
Managing Director, ACHIEVE Centre for Leadership

Eric is the co-author of ACHIEVE’s book, The Culture Question: How to Create a Workplace Where People Like to Work. The book is available on our website.

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