Rethinking BAU Beyond the Crisis: Retain, Refine, Restore, Reflect

April 2nd, 2020

It is already clear that the Covid-19 Pandemic will have a long tail impact. Even if current constrained conditions for many of us are relaxed it looks like it will be some time before accustomed freedoms are fully attainable and perhaps a year or more before business is back to pre-crisis levels – if ever for some businesses in some sectors.

Meanwhile many of us and our organisations will have adopted operating models intended to ‘see us through the crisis’. While many may need to revert to models similar to those which existed pre-crisis, other organisations and people are rapidly learning to work from home, to blend working with supporting others in their households, assisting their children with general learning and formal education, supporting elderly relatives and neighbours and understanding the benefits those things can bring. Notwithstanding the difficulties and challenges of home-based working in particular for some loss of social contact, there are time and cost benefits in not-commuting, environmental benefits in working remotely rather than travelling (reduced demand for transport energy, at a guess, more than offsets increased energy demand for digital comms). In this period when doing it the old way is not an option it may be simpler than usual to permanently to change our ways, it is alleged that Churchill first said “we should never let a crisis go to waste”.

There is much talk of the need for ‘lessons learned’, for reflecting on decisions and actions taken in crisis mode and, commonly an assertion by senior leaders that such an event must never be allowed to happen again. This of course is nonsensical. First such events will always happen because we are not omniscient. Second because our ‘lessons learned’ are embedded in the heads of those still working in the organisation (or gone elsewhere) rather than built in to the architecture and systems of our organisation. People have memories, knowledge, sometimes wisdom, but those things are not retained by the organisation but by those people. Organisations only have records unless they embed the learning by adapting systems and processes based on the knowledge and experience of their people.

If we want to genuinely ‘learn lessons’ we need an intelligent organisation, one which uses information about its people, itself and its past performance to improve itself and to guide its identity through the behaviour and values of the people who give it life.

In order to secure the knowledge gained thorough the current compelled situation we need to start embedding it now. To begin that process we should all consider how we are currently working and in relation to each activity, do four things:

Retain: decide that the new way of working is to be THE way of working for the future, consolidate the process and systems changes, provide help and support to those who need it, articulate the business and personal cases for it. Make it stick.

Refine: take the new way of working, address its deficiencies (there are bound to be some) in process, systems, technology, communication, financial impact, improve it further, provide help and support to those who need it, articulate the business and personal cases for it. Make it stick.

Restore: recognise that we must revert to the old way of working, address its deficiencies (there are bound to be some) in process, systems, technology, communication, financial impact, improve it further, provide help and support to those who need it, articulate the business and personal cases for it. Make it stick.

Reflect: everyone, but managers and leaders in particular, need to reflect on the experience of managing and leading through a crisis, to consider what they have learned about themselves, their colleagues, their organisation, customers and clients, to recognise what they have learned and embed that learning in their future ways of leading.

The future is not a given, it will be what we collectively choose to make it.