A Summary of The NextGen Enterprise’s Oct. 20th 2020 Thrive-in Session. Hosted by Luc Bretones and David Autissier.
As an expert in Change Management, David Autissier is well versed in organizational transformation and constantly learns from the shifts happening around him. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s followed his work, of which there’s plenty, as David is also a university professor, business consultant, researcher and even the director at IMEO (a French acronym that roughly translates to “Managerial Innovation and Operational Excellence”). So when he offers advice on how companies can prepare themselves against future crises, while simultaneously reinforcing their current structure, it’s worth listening to.
After a quick introduction, David starts our session with a quick anecdote comparing European and American research labs, to highlight the two, very different thought-processes that he’s witnessed, pausing to note the importance of having one’s work published (and therefore peer-reviewed) in French academia, to segue-ways toward his experience of the first and then second, French corona lockdown: In an effort to not only fill his suddenly-vacated days but also prepare for what the post-pandemic world would look like, he began writing down his thoughts and observations... which led to a startling amount of parallels between what his managerial expertise had taught him, and the situation unfolding across the globe! Indeed, the virus had accelerated a previously-noted, yet slow-moving change that was already shifting business interactions away from the classic “20th century” management style, towards a long-awaited Tipping Point.
This means that the adaptations these organizations need to adopt, to keep up with an ever-changing marketplace, begin with a better understanding of what exactly should be provided by said structures, be they private companies, or public institutions like the (French, in his example) government. Beyond the outdated “Maslow Pyramid” model, today’s leaders must therefore offer three elements to resist the constant vagaries of the business world: First there’s security, which was embodied by the proliferation of propagandized rules, sanctions and mask-related mandates during the corona lockdown. Second comes the need for a plan that maps out and sets up an understandable, trustworthy future, by way of a shared vision... which is now taking shape on the European continent in the form of curfews and timetables stretching into next year already... And finally, comes the indispensable need for gratitude and validation, which arises when certain parts of a company (or society) are leaned on more than usual, due to budget constraints, deadlines or, in this case, a pandemic focusing on “essential workers”.
Which brings us to the next logical question, when dealing with notions of organizational resilience, namely: How can one balance the sudden increase of “work-from-home” situations, with the natural, human need for face to face interactions and camaraderie? The answer circles back to the idea of colleagues sharing a mental map in times of conflict and stress, so that each participant knows what the overall goals, direction and obstacles are, even without regular, in-person meetings. David again points out the eerie similarities between his solutions and the effects of months of covid isolation, by noting how each person seemed to have their own facts, sources and knowledge about the virus, which caused confusion and stress between individuals and in society in general, as there was no solid, grounding narrative to “officially” corral the flow of emotions or information. David then takes a step back to re-frame the conversation in a more poetic light: without a common understanding between colleagues, neighbors, friends, etc., there won’t be any social cohesion... in the same way an orchestra can’t make together unless there’s an awareness among the musicians of what others are playing and when.This empathy for everyone’s role validates their efforts, which also echoes the intrinsic human need for gratitude, expressed earlier,when focusing beyond immediate gratification towards a greater cause.
Returning to his original notion of resilience, David mentions how demonstrating productive, beneficial patterns in times of crisis can help colleagues cope with the onslaught of exterior stressors, either by sharing regular, informed guidelines (as governments did more of, during the second virus wave); providing “Reality Artifacts”, which David explains as things to hold on to, when our normal bearings are removed; or,when physical presence is possible, “leading by example”. By promoting a healthy, productive mindset and structure, the workspace will become familiar and welcome no matter its final shape... especially when combining this reassuring framework with constant positive reinforcement, illustrated in David’s example by focusing on little gains, rather than where errors have been made.
Before opening our session to questions, David finishes by sharing his thoughts on what he envisions as the most beneficial work-culture for the immediate to medium-term future. He evokes a hybrid system of home-office presence, existing within a shortened, three to four day business-week. This would save some semblance of camaraderie and social contact, which is essential both on a human and business level, due to the nonverbal interactions and emotional connections that happen during face-to-face conversations.
When then asked about a hypothetical manager’s new role in this possible future, David continues by saying that managers will always have a position and role to play, as they remain the “guardians of the collective”. He goes on to explain the term as the time-keepers and presence-checkers of the group, and compares them to a conductor from his earlier orchestra metaphor: they open and close activities to maintain efficiency, maintain an attractive collective narrative and mental map, guide personnel towards their best, most productive selves. In tune with our very troubled times, the conversation inevitably turns political during the Q and A portion of the session and, while opining on whether or not companies should strive to become more or less political, according to his previous statements on the paramount importance of creating a strong narrative within an organization, David wisely leaves the answer to the public as he signs off: which way do we envision the next step in businesses, as our actions build the resilient organizations of tomorrow.