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CEO Insight- Coping with 'more of the same' and with 'never the same again'?

Olivier Herold

27 May 2021

While lockdown continues in some countries and eases in others, for now it still often feels like “more of the same”. At the same time, I have a powerful sense that whatever emerges after Covid will feel like a new world… things will be ‘never the same again’. The very question of what ‘sustainable’ means comes forcefully centre stage.

We haven’t cracked the ‘new normal’ yet, so we are deep into existing and investigating somewhere in the zones of ‘reacting to right now’ and of ‘what might the new normal mean?’ and ‘how shall we adapt to that?’

My hunch is that the pendulum has swung far in new directions and that there’ll be some form of new and different equilibrium that emerges.

What I’m seeing from the market, from our clients and in our business is an extreme short-termism. It’s been life 12 weeks at a time for more than 12 months.

This profoundly challenges the way we work and changes the business world.

So, how shall we stay successful and profitable in this environment? I’ve been reflecting, together with my colleague Gala Goncalves, on what sustainability could mean for organisations and individuals.

Taking ‘sustainable’ to mean ‘the use of natural resources when this use is kept at a steady level that is not likely to damage the environment’, we hit our first question: does this mean we’re aiming to plan for a way of working and being that is designed to continue at the same rate or level of activity without any problems?

Diving into that question Gala challenges: does it even make any sense to have a goal to continue at the same rate or the same level of activity? Or is there a need to accept that what is ‘sustainable’ is not the rate or level of organisational activity but rather the organisational journey, recognizing and embedding the learning along the way, to stay true to our values and purpose.

Gala rightly emphasizes that the rate and level are consequences of many unpredictable factors, which make it even more essential that we focus on our agility, rather than stay on those safe, familiar paths.

What do sustainable, scalable businesses look like in the new market?

We see real value in The Institute for the Future and the Global Environment Management Initiative’s 2019 report “Future forces disrupting sustainable business’, which identifies 4 forces that sustainable business will need to address:

  • New spectrum of meaning
  • New spectrums of time
  • New spectrum of resources
  • New spectrums of value creation

I’m fascinated to notice that much of this advice holds true in facing into the post pandemic world, in particular, ways that organizations can prepare themselves to address these forces.

Given the level of uncertainty and unpredictability that organizations will face, we believe that sustainable organizations will be those who:

care for and nurture the well-being of their employees, encouraging solidarity and support between colleagues to increase the sense of psychological safety in their culture

turn complexity into opportunities and have the courage to explore and create new benchmarks, offering enough stimulus and challenge to raise the energy level

whose leaders create space to explore and role model working outside of the box, recognizing & accepting one’s own powerlessness in the face of a VUCA situation, instead of pretending to be in control and forcing the system to react immediately. They will then use the space created for reflection to empower themselves and the organization again to ‘work with what is there now and what is not there anymore”

My profound conviction is also that the scalable organizations will be the those who embody learning in each and every one of their processes, making learning an integral part of day-to-day agility and reality.

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