None of us knows what the future holds. But at least prior to March, we had logical bases from which to de-risk decisions.
In the space of a few months, the logic behind our assumptions no longer feels solid. We’ve ripped up our plans. What will happen, when things will happen, and how long things will take to happen are all less certain. We are recreating our what to do’s, how to do’s, and when to do’s one day at a time.
Back on March 17, NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman referred in an OpEd piece to BC and AC – Before COVID and After COVID as “our new historical divide.”
Before COVID the pace of technological change drove everything else
Tech-driven change, as complex as it has been, now feels simple compared with the many dimensions of change triggered by COVID. Who knows what ‘After COVID’ will look like, or more disconcerting, when we will get there?
What is certain:
- Tomorrow is going to look dramatically different than today.
- Some habits and practices may return, but we are not going back to the BC world.
No matter how much we may want to revert, things we counted upon and cannot control will be gone, other things will change, and there will be many new things that we cannot yet even imagine. We will let go of things that used to seem vital, behaviors will change (they already are changing!), business models will die and emerge, and globally society will reshape around different norms.
The AC world will be an even greater departure than what we experienced post 9/11
I think back to how much the world changed in 2001. Then, out of extreme fear, I had avoided getting on a plane for months. I remember what a rude awakening that first trip from curbside to the gate at Newark Airport was — my water bottle confiscated, my manicure scissors (a very special set from my mom gifted to me as a teenager) disposed of because I had mistakenly packed them in my carry-on, the “wand exam” in Security because I was the ‘nth’ person in line, so subjected to an extra special check.
How can we prepare when we don’t know what we are preparing for?
There is one foolproof control mechanism we can all deploy at the front-end of our future plans. Even before implementing return to office plans that assure employee safety, redesigned customer experiences that meet new needs, and tactics that stabilize disrupted supply chains, get clear on your brand’s purpose. Why you exist. Why you matter to the world.
Affirming your purpose will give focus to how you navigate the BC to AC change – it’s a step that won’t clarify everything for which you need to be prepared, but it will make clear to everyone where you are going. That counts for a lot.
Purpose-driven brands achieve 12X the returns in the long run over other brands. In the AC era, as we face unknowns that will force us to make decisions under uncertainty, purpose will be an absolute must-have. Yet, only 27% of customers can name a purpose-driven brand.
Why besides massive ROI leverage is purpose essential? According to a study published in Harvard Business Review, only 28% of employees report that they know their company’s brand values. Getting people back to the office creates a long list of issues. Aligning people to a new direction will be a taller order, where you can succeed if everyone knows why they are there, why the brand exists, and where they are heading.
At a refreshingly fast-paced interactive be radical workshop I attended recently, breakout groups developed and shared purpose statements in just two minutes each. This assignment will surely take longer in the real world, but the exercise proved that it can be accomplished with speed.
Be brief. We applied a framework proposed in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. Aim for an 8 – 10 word declaration of:
- What are you doing – a verb
- For whom – the target beneficiaries/users/customers
- What do you expect to get out of it – the outcome for your target
We could all use more clarity right now
Right now, we could all use greater clarity. A good purpose statement provides utter clarity around what you are doing. It sets a North Star, telling your team, vendors, partners, other collaborators towards what destination to head, what they are doing and why they are doing it. It beats command and control operating because it is far more practical, agile and empowering.
Best of all, a good purpose statement allows you to say “NO” – it helps you be clear about your choices.
Crystallizing your purpose now or pulling yours out and making sure it still works, will help with all of the decisions you are making daily even in the face of tremendous ambiguity about what even the next few months may bring.