Here's Why We Must Not Go Back To 'Normal'​
Michael DeVenney
September 27, 2021

This week was a struggle for me. I felt the ground shifting again and I needed to stop and find my footing. We are in a time of unprecedented change and uncertainty - it can feel overwhelming. Things are ‘opening’ a bit, but I do not want to go back.

A photo online this week jarred me and stayed in my thoughts. It was a simple picture of four friends – older, white men playing golf with the caption reading something like ‘feels so good to be getting back to normal’. There was nothing normal about that image – it reeked of age, gender, racial and income inequality. How could they not feel what was wrong with this picture? This is not normal!

Our eyes have been opened and we cannot go back to seeing the world with our eyes wide shut.

Yes, I want the health threat lifted and a return to financial stability for everyone. But in the past few months, we have changed to literally give our world some breathing space. The social injustice of the system has been laid bare and we cannot look away. And with distancing came the ability to spend time and connect with people who mean the most to us - our family and friends. We discovered a pace a life that fits better without an exhaust-filled and angst-ridden commute.

No, I do not want to go back to that normal.

We have learned we can make tremendous strides in short periods of time. That we can change to meet the needs of those around us. And we can see and hear all the people around us.

And now that we are here, we need to keep the sense of drive and urgency, and humanity, to keep moving forward – not falling back.

As a bit of a personal analogy, I live with a mental health issue, complex PTSD. Some would say it could be career-ending although for me it has been career-enhancing. There is uncertainty, ambiguity, and nothing seems at all normal at times. But I would not go back to when I ignored and suppressed everything. It was not healthy. Living through this at times messy headspace has led me to be more reflective and listen to different perspectives so I can I truly see.

We need that same reflective and inclusive sight, gained from seeking those different perspectives now in our lives and work. The possibility is there to take a meaningful step forward that will make a difference that matters now and in the future.

As business owners and leaders of organizations and corporate divisions move into the next phase there is a reasonable sense of urgency to recover and strengthen revenues. We want to hunker down with our senior teams – the people we always talk to – and figure out our next steps. And then we will be clear on how to save the company, our people, and our customers. If we do, we are just repeating the past.

But this is also where we can keep driving change. We do not need martyrs right now, we need leaders who are open and seek the perspectives of all in the company, no matter their position or role. Everything has changed and everyone has opinions worth hearing. This is a time when we can reach out and authentically seek to understand what has changed for people, what is affecting them, and what they see in the future for us.

And I do not mean ‘engagement’ – one of the more overused words in our business lexicon. Let’s move beyond asking about being engaged and go to a conversation about understanding what may lie ahead. We are not checking boxes we are opening the box up. We want to know how the people who work with us see the business, what is most important, how they want to work, the dynamics they are feeling, and what will help them perform and contribute at their best. With those fulsome perspectives, leaders can make sense of the way forward.

Asking questions is a mark of strength, not weakness – leaders do not need to have all the answers, often, they need to ask the right questions. Asking what people see and feel does not say you are unclear or uncertain, it says that you care about their input. Being included and feeling a part of the future will support revenue recovery and growth.

We have an opportunity on a personal level in our businesses and teams to be inclusive and bring people together to shape the future, one where people at all levels are seen and heard. Some leaders have told me they do not have time for this exercise and know what they need to do already – I disagree.

I used to think I knew as well and then I looked up and found out how little I knew, and what I could learn by asking and listening to the people around me.

Let’s not look to the past and go back to normal, let’s gain a full perspective and find a new way forward.

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