What to do when there is only “New” and there is no “Norm”

culture change

And here we are… not quite 6 weeks into 2021, and already the world is all shaken up.

Think Brexit (now a reality), the attack on the US Capitol, a new US President, Solar Winds, GameStop… and the ongoing pandemic that is extending its reach with voracity.

Back in 2018, Nik Gowing and Chris Langdon in their book ‘Thinking the Unthinkable’ wrote, “We are travelling through an unchartered, catalytic stage in a dramatic new process of breath-taking realignment. There is retreat from previously widely accepted norms… that shows no signs of ever going away. Instead, it is generating often-panicked handbrake turns to left and right, plus surprises at every junction or road sign.”

An uncertain tomorrow

Written only 3 years ago, consider where we are now… waking up each Monday and wondering what surprises the week will bring to roll us further off the axis of stability that so many yearn for. We’re told to accustom ourselves to this “New Norm” – when actually each day seems to bring “New”, and any sense of “Norm” harks back to a bygone era.

It’s not surprising that one of the greatest consequences of the pandemic is the mounting effect on mental health and wellbeing. Not only that of individual people, also the collective effect on teams and whole organizations, families and communities, countries, and the world generally.

In his new book “Think Again – the power of knowing what you don’t know”, organizational psychologist and Wharton professor, Adam Grant writes that “under acute stress, people typically revert to their automatic, well-learned responses. He goes on to say, “That’s evolutionarily adaptive – as long as you find yourself in the same kind of environment in which those reactions were necessary.”

Finding new ways of engaging

But the environment has changed, is continuously changing. Today’s world requires us to come up with new ways of dealing with the present. We need to discover where we can find some steadiness in the midst of pervasive uncertainty for the future. This means we have to move out of our habitual ways of thinking, turn away from yesterday’s solutions, recognising and carrying out a culture change and collectively find a different way of engaging with this world.  

Uncomfortable? Yes. Optional? No. Not if we wish thrive going forward.

Given that not much from the past will help us going forward, as individuals, as leaders, teams and organisations, what can we do?  

  1. Recognise your culture and when it is time for a culture change

A first step to changing our thinking is to recognise how we have been thinking up until now and identify the personal and cultural ‘Norms’ we’ve taken on. For individuals, these are reflected in our own beliefs and can also be values. In companies these are the behaviours reflected in the lived and experienced culture (often contradicting the values espoused in the annual report). This might even mean looking into a much-needed culture change.

  1. Realise your unconscious patterns

Look for the cognitive and behavioural biases that are in play – those deeply ingrained (often unconscious) “autopilot” thinking and doing patterns that govern your habitual responses. There are more of these than we realise, and they can be very dangerous.

  1. Look for all forms of bias you exercise

Add to these other forms of bias, such as confirmation bias (when we see only what we expect to see, ignoring all alternatives or evidence to the contrary), and desirability bias (when we believe what we want to believe and conveniently disregard anything that conflicts with this) – and in both cases will strongly justify our positions… It’s not difficult to see that there is a lot to work with!

Becoming more conscious

Today’s world demands that we become more conscious of our thoughts and actions and the impact of these, and intentionally apply some quality control techniques. It can be difficult to do this when we’re stuck inside them.

Fortunately, there are some effective ways of challenging and widening our perspectives pretty quickly. Here are five actions to take now to start the process, for yourself, and also collaboratively with your team.

  • Select a just a few from this extensive list, that seem to particularly touch a nerve. Ask how these are showing up in your world, seeking instances of where they do rather than where they do not.
  • For each, ask what the systemic impact of this might be – on people, on the team, on the organisation, on its stakeholders?
  • What are the consequences or unintended/intended effects, of this? How does this impact me/us?
  • How would I/we want to show up instead? How could I/we start doing this?
  • Who will hold us accountable and point out when we relapse? How will I/we express our appreciation to them?

And a sixth one: Always keep asking questions!

Although takes some effort, once thinking is stretched and expanded, it generally does not revert back. As long as you are sincere about changing and practice a culture change diligently, before too long it becomes habitual to quality-control your (individual and collective) thinking processes. The positive spin-offs (because nothing exists in isolation) include greater trust, stronger relationships, increased resilience and productive innovation!

Thriving requires changing how you think and what you do. The reward is finding how much of the steadiness and sustainability sought for the future is contained in this flexibility.

To super-charge your efforts, consider investing in Systemic Leadership Team Coaching. This is not your average team coaching. Rather, this is complex work that constructively addresses the complexity of today’s environment. The term “systemic’ is used to refer to the multi-layered, future-back, outside-in perspective that allows a deep picture of the team in its various contexts to emerge, with the interconnections forming patterns, relationships and influences. As much emphasis is placed on how the team leads change with their stakeholders as to how the team functions internally through their culture. Just one caveat, when making this investment, ensure the coaches you select are appropriately trained and experienced!

Continue the conversation…