Phoenix in Waiting

Reflecting on what’s changed and what hasn’t during the COVID-19 pandemic

Last year, some friends of mine opened a craft restaurant and brewery. They do a great job at both kitchen and keg, and things were going well. As you might expect, their business changed dramatically and suddenly due to COVID-19 mitigation measures. But some things didn’t change. They still make great food and beer (you just have to pick it up and take it home), and they still have an engaging presence on social media. 

A week ago, we here at Smith had made it to the finalist stage of a significant RFP opportunity, and we were planning to do our last presentation in person. Of course, we had to switch to conducting that meeting virtually. We do virtual meetings and pitches all the time, so this wasn’t a big deal. The venue wasn’t what we planned for, but our core messages and ideas were the same. 

When I call a colleague to discuss a project or do some brainstorming, the same spirit of cooperation is still there. The same energy. The same commitment to quality. 

When I walk to my office each morning (don’t worry, it’s just me in my office and it’s a short walk through my neighborhood), I see neighbors have begun placing rainbows in their windows. Some neighborhood kids have been leaving chalk drawings in driveways and hiding small painted stones along the sidewalks. My typical suburban neighborhood now sparkles with art and whimsy. Who knew?

Some apparel companies have adapted to our new work-from-home reality with the “new business causal.” 

All this got me thinking. While the broad-based slamming on of the economic brakes is up-ending businesses and people’s lives, it’s worth taking a moment to ponder not only what needs to change but also what hasn’t changed and what new things are only now being revealed.

I’m not typically one to race for the silver lining, at least not without first acknowledging what the dark clouds portend, but it would be a mistake not take advantage of this extraordinary opportunity.

While our current situation is not tenable for every business and certainly not for every individual, we do have a chance to learn something about ourselves, our employees, and our organizations. 

What about your organization — what tools, skills, practices, and behaviors — proved themselves to be immediately obsolete in the face of this change? Which ones have proved to be indispensable? 

What new things have you had to learn? What old habits had to be broken?

If the world were suddenly back to normal, what discarded things would you welcome back and what would you leave behind forever?

This is more than a thought experiment. While the world certainly can’t continue in a state of “extreme mitigation” forever, it’s not likely that everything will fit neatly back into place. Not only are communication infrastructures being put to the test, so are the brand identities, values, missions, and visions that flow through them.

This is a chance to reflect on what you thought made your organization a successful business and a great place to work, and on what makes it so in the absence of whatever “business as usual” is for you. If nothing else, it’s a test of what will help you and your organization endure the next crisis. It would be worthwhile to jot these ideas down and reconsider what the true soul of your organization is and how it’s communicated moving forward.

Though usually in not such dramatic fashion, the world is always changing. It’s reassuring to see people meet challenges head on with grit, creativity, and flexibility. While we may inevitably pause in shock when a calamity confronts us, I’d like to think we’re really just working out how we’re each going to rise from the ash.

More Ideas