2020. We knew it would be a decade like no other. It has certainly started off by meeting and exceeding our expectations. As the year hurtles towards its end, it is time for executives, employees and leaders to pause for thought. Before you stop. Sit down. Think about yourself and those around you. Work out what you can do to start 2021 off on the right foot.
COVID normal has become our only normal. Not one we wanted or worked for, but one we were dealt.
Just as our collective fears of this virus began winding down, the dam broke once again. Sydney is in the grips of a fresh wave. Familiar fears have resurfaced; we have been here before. You could hear the groan echo across Australia as the news got worse and worse. Borders going up. Permit systems in place. Families not home for Christmas.
When chaos strikes, people revert to survival mode.
However, as the stress and panic of COVID hits executives once again, one message must be kept in mind: The time for reactionary decision-making is over. If we respond to this renewed crisis in the same way we did the first and second waves, we will lose the opportunity to reflect on 2020 and carry this momentum into the new year.
Reflection can never be a secondary activity. It does not work that way. If you attempt to process your experiences while simultaneously juggling new ones, you inhibit your capacity to derive meaning from prior events.
2020 was a year of lost progress. 2021 cannot be the same. Executives must do everything in their power to be ready for what is to come. That means shifting your gaze from present day obstacles to the future.
And the best way to prepare for the future is to consider and learn from the past.
Reflecting on Collective Experience: The Royal Commission
Given the nightmare we have just endured, it is natural for executives and other leaders to forget just how much they and their teams have been through in the last few years.
The Royal Commission into the Banks and Financial Services Sector seems like an afterthought in comparison to a global pandemic. But feelings do not have a sense of proportion. So many of our colleagues and friends were drastically affected by these investigations and findings. Heads rolled and scars were left. COVID has limited our opportunities to process these events, learn from them and move on with these teachings in mind.
The majority of the issues that were revealed by the Royal Commission’s final report were of a cultural nature. Cultures do not change without attitudinal adjustment. That requires concerted efforts and strategies from management that filter down to employees. Unless executives and other leaders actively reflect on the report, look for concerning behaviours in their teams and take action to discourage harmful conduct through cultural evolution, we will continue to make similar mistakes. Since many of our organisations are carrying added economic pressures due to the pandemic, some employees will feel as if dangerous behaviours are permissible courses of action. We must heed these warnings from times passed so that we are not cursed to cut the same corners that caused massive structural problems in the first place. The only way to properly heed these warnings is to reflect and then plan for 2021.
Grappling with Individual and Team Exhaustion
Only when we slow down do we truly understand how fast we were going.
Since March, executives and their teams have worked at break-neck pace. Many people have been unable to pause and take a moment for themselves. Adrenaline has carried them through. But as our hormonal accelerants begin to fade, we will desperately need our energy reserves replenished so we can head into 2021 at full throttle.
An article published by McKinsey and Company entitled ‘Overcoming Pandemic Fatigue’ reinforces a similar message. It states “In 2020, we’ve endured a global pandemic, a massive economic crisis, and widespread social unrest. Layer on top of that forces that are fundamentally reshaping societies—technological innovation, business-model disruption, societal inequality, and workforce automation—and it’s clear that an epidemic of stress has been building, with the COVID-19 crisis as the tipping point.” This article invites us to consider what we have been through in 2020. In doing so, it seeks to draw our attention to the fact that we have the right to feel exhausted. Sometimes, it takes a moment of distance to truly realise just how tired we are. The stats back up this message of unrealized exhaustion. According to the same article, 75% of US employees and 66% of those based in Asia-Pacific regions report burnout symptoms.
Putting it all Together
The point of this article is a simple one: Executives must use the end of 2020 as a chance to rake over the past couple of years and begin planning for 2021. Introspection is key. Our experiences amount to very little unless we use them as a source of learning that informs our strategies for 2021. Listen to yourself and your team. Work out how much rest you need to make the most of next year. More than that, reflect on industry-centric experiences to inform your organisation’s recovery strategies.
If you wait until 2021 to begin reflecting and strategising, you condemn your organisation to the back of the pack. As wage subsidies are phased out and the true economic impact of the Coronavirus becomes obvious, executives will find it more difficult to think about themselves, their teams and their strategies for getting back to their position of primacy.
We implore all leaders and all executives to sort through their reflections and develop a well-informed strategy for themselves and their teams within the first 90 days of 2021. In doing so, they will ascertain areas of need in themselves and others and be able to focus resources on development so that these gaps are filled. Now is the time to seek assistance. However, the only way to know you require a hand is by reflecting on where you are and what has happened.
We cannot get lost in a cycle of impulsive responsiveness. Such adaptation guarantees that we survive but does very little in ensuring that we thrive.