What do they say to us?

Credit: @nibuihime

This Corona Crisis will be one more stimulus in big shifts in how we work and manage, and think, that are already rolling through work, organisations, and society. We hope that as much as possible of it sticks.

In the midst of this crisis, at Teal Unicorn we receive tough questions from everywhere related to: How do leaders lead to overcome the crisis? Rather than be a gloomy discussion, we also receive feedback from our clients that encourages optimism, not just about during the crisis, but also about what the world might look like afterwards. Here are some examples:

From the CEO of a factory:

My managers work from home. Managers get out of the way and let people who deliver value work. Minimize personnel. All the work relies on employees. We reduced the working hours, people are working remotely so they need to collaborate more. I’m just sitting and watching.

Despite the quarantine, everyone engages and cooperates more than ever. Economic metrics are no longer a priority.

Agile thinking has become more important than ever. We are witnessing an important moment of history, another Renaissance. The crisis is not all bad.

CEO of a fashion brand:

We’re flooded by orders. Normally, when we had big promotions, we got about 3,000 orders, but this time we got 10,000 orders. Workers have to work overtime continuously. We are doing better than normal. Everybody has more work to do and get a higher income. They said to each other “why is everyone saying that they’re in a crisis?”.

The boss of a luxury chain:

When facing the risk to business survival, this morning at my office:

  • The working groups are no longer separate from each other, whoever had more people flocked to help where there was shortage of people
  • A Kanban board of an entire office was set up at the common room
  • Making work public, reporting publicly on Kanban for everyone to know
  • Setting up meetings early in the morning and at the end of the day, taking them more seriously

I have not met a crisis like this, so I haven’t responded very well, but luckily I have learned agile thinking so I’m exploring and experimenting. I used to think everything must be perfect and has to be big. Now I try everything. I also changed a lot. The more I do, the more agile thinking I absorb. That’s what I feel I am gaining at this time.

During the crisis, many of our clients are internalising and using the principles of new ways of working that they have learned from us (they are at Blooms Five and Six for the training geeks amongst you), from the frontline to the C-suite.

Under the added pressure, and in the “wartime” spirit, people are collaborating to confront chronic problems that have until now seemed too hard.

They have been operating at more than 100% of the capacity of both humans and the system, so the performance was low, and the system costly. The crisis makes them deal with weaknesses in the system (which they normally cannot be persuaded to recognise). Now they spend time improving the system: optimising processes, eliminating ineffective policies, removing unnecessary approvals … In general, their work performance has increased significantly.

They are breaking down the barriers between siloed teams, learning to work collaboratively, to have each others’ backs.

Managers are learning to get out of the way, to move decision-making into the front-line, to the value stream, where staff are best qualified to know what needs improving and how to change it.

Our hope is that there is no way back from here, that once people have tried the new ways for themselves they will accept that they are better – in fact they’ll demand them. Of course humans are very good at falling short of the ideal, so no doubt much of it will fall back or degrade, but at a minimum we hope there will be some advances that stick. What we are hearing from our clients says they will.

At a deeper level, human consciousness has been at a tipping point for decades, a sea change in how we think. This crisis, the recession that follows, and the climate crisis beyond that will force major change in social attitudes, beliefs and culture. These new ways of thinking will roll through work, organisations, and societies, changing not just how we work and manage, but who we are.