Forget ‘New Normal,’ Think ‘New Nimble’


We’ve all struggled on many fronts this year. Some have dealt with loss – of health, of a family member, of a job, of a familiar routine. Some have dealt with becoming schoolteacher in addition to parent. Some have struggled with isolation or boredom. One common challenge we have all faced is a heightened lack of certainty. The pace of change and the elements in our lives that change regularly have both increased dramatically. Our new normal requires us to develop a new nimble in our approach to just about everything. Here are some concrete suggestions for dealing with this new shifting landscape of our professional lives, and ways to build resilience in the face of change.

1. Ask more questions.

Some elements of our work lives function by routine. Those routines allow us to make certain assumptions about how things will work, which makes us all more efficient. Our routines have been replaced with new ones, but the new ones keep changing. It took your firm three months to settle on a virtual platform. They picked Zoom. You got on board and learned all the features. Three weeks later, your IT department issued security protocols that disabled the Chat feature just when you learned how to share documents. Now, all meetings require unique passwords to enhance security and protocols around keeping cameras on or off keep shifting. The same types of changes have occurred with rules for when we can go to the office, how much we can spend on updating our home office, which client just switched to Teams and how to use Docu-sign. It seems every time you get used to doing things a certain way, the procedures evolve.

Since we can no longer trust routine, we have to get used to confirming processes and protocols. I spend a lot of my time teaching people how to ask open-ended questions. Now is the time to ask a few closed-ended questions. Try the following:

Can I assume we are still following X?

Just so I can get you what you need, does Y still apply?

Have there been any changes regarding Z?

In our prior lives, these types of questions would have seemed nit-picky and trivial. Now, they just help us all function more efficiently. If you ask these questions with the right tone of voice you’ll come across as thoughtful and strategic, and you won’t be surprised by the seemingly random change that’s occurred since you last blinked.

2. Plan ahead more than usual.

I’m a last-minute type of person. I’m flexible and very comfortable winging it. That serves me well in normal times when the occasional last-minute issue arises. It doesn’t work well when changes are swirling around every issue every minute.

Now, we’re all dealing with modifications that arise last minute, last hour, yesterday and last week. The last-minute snafu will be when your colleague’s internet goes down in the middle of an important client pitch. For that, your natural flexing and steady calm will come in handy. But if you didn’t also prepare for the fact your client switched platforms, the government regulator you are meeting with has implemented new protocols or your school district’s blended schedule means your 10-year old is now home and needs your attention, you’ll be pulled in too many directions to focus well and won’t be your best self on the call. Our job in the new nimble is to minimize the number of things that can arise at the 11th hour. That means planning ahead more than usual.

3. Trust your team.

Our human nature makes us assume that what’s happening to us is unique. Whatever challenges we are each facing, we need to remember that those around us are dealing with their own vortex of variables. Executing on the demands of your day is only possible if those around you are doing the same with theirs.

If you have built a solid team, if you trust both their competency and their integrity, the way you stay nimble with your own issues is to trust them to do the same with theirs. As their leader, your job is to support others. Ask, “What do you need?” instead of, “Did you remember to do X?” Ask, “How are you doing?” and “How can I help?” instead of, “Did X get done?” and “Did you meet the deadline?”

There’s a scene in National Treasure: Book of Secrets where the team of four heroes is on a platform balanced at the center. They need to move in tandem, some toward the center and some away, to keep the platform balanced. It’s a dance, one that involves coordination and trust. Your team is on that platform. As their leader, call the shots, then trust them to make the right moves for everyone.

4. Minimize the number of variables for your team.

While the ground keeps shifting – and it will for a while – good leaders will reinforce those things that haven’t changed, which will create some stability for those we lead. Remind your team that the group’s values and mission haven’t changed in spite of the chaos swirling around us.

Go overboard in talking about the elements of our work lives that remain constant. “My door is always open” wasn’t just a platitude in the old world; your door was always (or usually) open. What does that sense of accessibility mean in the new nimble? Do you welcome unplanned calls from your team to let them know you are still accessible, even from a distance? I’ve been the managing partner of my firm for 11 years. One of the nicest calls I’ve received in the last nine months was from a much younger colleague who, instead of scheduling a call and sending a meeting invitation, just called me to say, “Happy Birthday.” She felt the freedom and the license to just call as if she were popping her head in my office to connect for a brief moment. We have endured so many changes this year, it was great to feel that our open-door culture was intact. (Thank you, Kayla.)

As leaders, it’s our responsibility to buffer the chaos to our teams. Your team will feel more inspired to be more nimble in the moment, more flexible in their responses, if they know that the core principles of who you are collectively haven’t changed, and that you have their back as they stick to those principles.

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