Unmasking Truths

In many ways COVID-19 unmasked some painful truths about existing human organisational systems. Throughout the crisis people had to face the unintended outcomes that flow from human systems designed as a series of unconnected silos. Leaders have used the language of “service fragmentation,” “lack of coordination” and “silo orientation” for years. COVID-19 made leaders face the consequences of fragmented organisational human system designs. 

Both public and private sector organisations discovered that individual silos were dramatically impacted by other silos. The current component parts of the various private and public human organisational systems were never intentionally designed to create synergy, coordination and cooperation. Despite disincentives and the barriers, individual leaders across these systems pulled together. 

Collective Intelligence

On a very human level, many people and organisations were able to combine collective intelligence to solve real problems. They achieved remarkable results through actions that were executed within accelerated time frames. In the midst of all this, many individuals were going through this experience with a “third eye”; an eye that focused on the underlying systemic issues that were being exposed on a daily basis throughout the COVID-19 crisis.

Is this ‘pivot’ different than in the past? I think so. People are raising issues that go to the very heart of the assumptions upon which human organisational system designs of the past were based. They are asking probing questions about, delegation, roles, responsibilities, and accountability. In addition, conversations about psychological safety, emotional intelligence, engagement, empowerment, and employee wellbeing are focused on a future under construction.

Having a critical mass of leaders at a point where they are determined to actually change human systems is perhaps the silver lining in the COVID-19 cloud.

Rare Moment

This is a rare moment in history loaded with opportunity and challenge. Leaders have the opportunity to reflect not only on the lessons learned from COVID-19, but on past lessons learned about crisis management captured in a variety of studies and from emerging examples of best practices.

The key questions that leaders need to address is simple. How do leaders address the multi-layered human elements that face them? How can your understanding of what a ‘pivot’ means open new opportunities? The two-part question may be simple on the surface, the issues beneath are complex.

The good news is leaders are looking closely at things like organisational culture, effective collaboration, system relationships and organisational ability to change and learn. And they are examining these issues through indicators like crisis frequency, staff confidence and consumer satisfaction. Leaders cannot underestimate the impact of COVID-19 on the organisation and culture of work. The new mix of a human ecosystem of both physical and virtual workplaces significantly alters old relationship patterns.

Leaders cannot do it alone. A key possibility, and core capability organisations need is “know how,” which resides in people. Future focused leaders will continue the “people capacity know-how” conversations that took place during COVID-19. To maximise organisational effectiveness, they will take advantage of the known and unknown skills, talents, possibilities, potentialities of everyone in the organisation, and overcome the intellectual, emotional and systemic barrier that gets in the way. 

Sadly, and too often, creative solutions to challenges are opposed by a fortress mentality that equates change with threat, shifts in priorities as cutbacks, and internal and external collaboration with a loss of control. Transformation requires discipline and courage to separate old patterns, structures and processes which are no longer useful to human organisational systems that are being compelled to change. 

Before COVID-19 many leaders had accepted that the world was VUCA…volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. COVID-19 took this to a new level. Now is the time to deal with slow decision making; siloed and confusing structures that bog thing downs and remove layers of unnecessary bureaucracy.

Instead of thinking and acting as isolated silos under siege, governance and managerial leaders can choose to see themselves through another lens of co-existence and having the courage and conviction to do what is right. Addressing the unique challenges faced by each and every organisation requires a unique kind of humanising leader. One size does not fit all.

Now is the time to pivot VUCA to a Vision that is shared, with Understanding as a key building block to healthy relationships. This enables growth of Collective strength through learning that removes systemic and emotional barriers to possibility and potential Accomplishments for all. Now is the time to truly become a learning organisation.

As challenging and as immediate COVID-19 impacts were and are, leaders have the opportunity to use this experience to operate with more care, compassion, empathy, active listening, agility, and flexibility. The future way of leading demands new pivoting skills from all leaders. While many people and organisations achieved remarkable results through actions that were executed within accelerated time frames…a new future is now under construction.

Personal Reflections

  •  Reflecting on your personal COVID-19 lessons, do you have the courage to let go of existing mental models and ways of thinking? What is the level of your personal and organisational complacency? 
  •  Are you taking purpose seriously and elevating the value agenda?
  •  Are you looking to flatten your structure and turbo charge decision making?
  •  Are you ready to embrace your talent as being equal to or more value than your capital?
  •  Are you ready to reframe the conversation and narrative from “what is the matter?” to “what matters to you, with an ecosystem view?
  •  Are you open to change; are you open to learning; open to seeking and exploring a range of possibilities that they may not have thought about before? 

Adaptation…of material from the book “HUMANIZING LEADERSHIP” by Hugh MacLeod, FriesenPress, 2019.