The experience of this lockdown has become almost unbearably diverse. I'm talking to a friend who works in the ICU. To another friend in Barcelona who already has four sick people in his family and is worried about whether there is still room in the hospitals. I am hearing about people who lose loved ones and have to bury them alone. About where things are really tight at home because nobody from the outside is allowed to help anymore. About the restaurant owner who generates no income and for whom it is unclear how long it will go on. And so on.
At the same time, the lockdown is a welcome break for some. People react differently, emotionally to rationally, wait-and-see to activist, focus on past, present or future, pessimistic to optimistic.
All in all, it’s not so easy to strike the right tone. I think about the future, am optimistic - is that adequate? Or is this just my strategy to deal with what is frightening?
Thinking about life-after-lockdown
How much longer will the lockdown last? - Probably another few weeks. Beyond the pandemic and all the threats, I think there is an opportunity in it. Because in all the horror, there are also positive things. New habits that we should maintain. After all, there is the magic number of 40 days that new habits need in order to become stable patterns of action. Or the classic seven-week fasting, suitable for the Easter-days this week. You could think of the lockdown as a "reset" button, as a period of fasting that takes its time.
So, I imagine we have seven weeks. We're about halfway there. In some places the main focus must now be on crisis management. Elsewhere, there might be room for other topics. A kind of productive division of labor, we take care of the present, and the future that is being shaped currently.
Therefore, whoever has the space to look ahead, could now make a plan which (positive) changes to work on in the next weeks: more cooperation across silo boundaries. More efficient work processes. Become more agile, flexible and powerful. More energy for innovation across the organization. A culture of continuous learning. Further digitalization. - Just to give you an excerpt of the questions we have dealt with in projects in the last months before Corona.
These are relevant issues, and they will remain relevant after Corona. The only thing is, that the previous approaches are not working at the moment. They are failing on the one hand because of the profane reality of colleagues being spread over tens of home offices. One would have to do the prepared kick-off, the workshop virtually, that is possible, but then you need to redesign it so that it works in the virtual world. On the other hand, crisis management still has top priority everywhere, there is little mental space for the long-term transformation issues.
Day 0 will set the course
Nevertheless, however long the lockdown lasts, the day will arrive when everyone will come back to the office, the factory, the shop. Day 0: this day decides whether the Corona crisis was just that for us, a crisis we want to get over with as quickly as possible. Or whether we have understood what an incredibly impactful transformation impulse can emerge from this period.
What happens on day zero? - The mood is tense to excited. The diversity of personal experiences of the last weeks meet - sadness, shock, relief, joy, everything comes together. Before you know it, you ignore the personal sides of the experiences. You greet each other, talk a little, not sure what you should ask and what not. Off to your desk to see if everything still looks the same as you left it. And then, in no time, everyone resumes work exactly as before, as if nothing had happened.
It is the unavoidable gravity of the existing. The sociologist Erving Goffman has explained this phenomenon by the fact that people always strive to be competent actors. In order to be able to act competently, I need a definition of the situation, which also determines what formal and informal role I have here, what is adequate, what is appropriate and what is not. The gravity of the existing offers just that: a negotiated definition of the work situation: this is how we do here, and thus offers security.
Security has its price – innovation always has to work against gravity, which is why they are often so difficult to realize. Here is exactly where the unique opportunity of the lockdown lies. Rarely have we had to improvise to such an extent, to redesign situations, to rethink the rules. For example, just a few weeks ago, it would have counted as lack of professional standard on my part if my six-year-old came into my home office while I am on a video-call. Now everyone understands, he is stuck at home and forgot I am on a call.
If you look carefully, without ignoring the horror and suffering, you will discover an inexhaustible offer of collateral beauty everywhere around you. If you then take a closer look, you can discover interesting initial approaches, seeds for the long-term transformation projects you have on your agenda. Cooperation across silo boundaries? - Rarely have colleagues from IT been so valued as in recent weeks. Seldom has there been so much solidarity, people helping each other, standing up for each other. New learning culture? Digitalization? - There has been massive learning, new digital instruments have been introduced, even the team meeting is already working quite well in virtual space after the third iteration.
If you can take on this perspective, you have understood that masses of memories of a possible future are being created right now. You can see the beginnings of the desirable new, even if it is still small and unimpressive. With that, you are halfway there.
The other half lies in day 0.
An Agenda for a Memory of the Future
So, may I suggest the following division of tasks: we need some people to deal with the crisis management. Absolutely. Then, some folks to keep the work going. Lastly, I believe we need some people to think about Day Zero.
My agenda for this project would be:
- Discover what is emerging: A look at the last few weeks, with attention to the positive deviances. In which concrete situations do we see approaches for productive new action from which we want more? Where do ideas emerge that we want to make bigger? Where might there be people whose talent suddenly becomes visible in a new way? - The art is to see the potential, what could become of it, already in the imperfect, smallest version and expression of an idea or action.
For example: under the impression of the crisis, the improvement projects of the logistics department at a grocery retailer are not discussed endlessly anymore, negotiating department interests, but shops, operations and distribution pull together to get the goods onto the shelves, no matter what. Good is what works. Or: the strange colleague who has been working from the home office for years because one would rather not see him in the office, now invites colleagues to short tutorials on how to use the digital instruments for working from home, on his own initiative.
This phase is about first impressions, stories, pictures, seeing what is there.
- Analysis of Key Moments: What is at the core of this emerging new ways of doing? And in which concrete, everyday moments does, or could it show itself, during the lockdown and afterwards?
In the examples given: logistics and operations no longer pursue the respective area-specific interests but connect towards the larger goal. More people from both departments talk to each other to coordinate, and they are determined to make it work. Senior management drops thinking in department specific KPIs. Or: because the need for understanding the digital tools is so imminent, people fill the available space and organize their own learning in an efficient way, and even the oddest colleague suddenly makes his knowledge available to the others.
This phase is about understanding, analyzing what the conditions for success for the new are, and in which concrete moments these conditions are created.
- Invitation to all: The Day 0 Team invites all colleagues to follow the above steps themselves before Day 0. One could develop a digital tool for this, or simply ask a few good questions. What is crucial is to invite everyone to draw their own conclusions, and to make the ideas of what you want to keep beyond Corona so concrete that they are actionable. Thinking in key moments helps to do this.
- Staging Day 0: The day 0 Team creates a framework for the day so that a new tone is immediately set. All teams have already redesigned their first team meeting in advance, the first steps. What does the project update with different departments after Corona look like in concrete terms when we rethink it? The goal: the first version of all key moments is immediately different on day 0.
In the examples: The people from Logistics and Operations meet on Day 0 and evaluate what worked so well during Corona. They agree to say goodbye to department specific KPIs. And they try out to tackle the next project in Corona-style, just like that. Or: Day 0 offers a festival of open, self-organized learning opportunities.
The essence here is to use Day 0 to create a new experience of what is possible.
Day 0 is perhaps the greatest opportunity for creating transformation we will get in this decade.
Are you in to make it happen?