Even in IT organizations applauded for their nimbleness during the pandemic, the focus on the future has slipped as a priority. Here is how you start to get back on track.

There is a visible and visceral difference feeling as you move around this spring. Many COVID precautions are still in place, depending on where you are, but there is a positive vibe that cannot be ignored. The mood is changing, and people are ready to explore.

While we haven’t yet arrived at what I would call a “new normal”, if normal ever returns, we are definitely ready to pursue a “new next.”

Are you and your team prepared for what is ahead, or have you become, as one client called it, COVID-lazy over the past year?

What it Means to be COVID-Lazy

COVID-lazy doesn’t mean that you haven’t been working hard. It is a safe assumption that over the past year of this health crisis  you have never worked harder to keep yourself, your team, and the organization stable and functional. That is how you were able to implement years of digital transformation initiatives in a matter of weeks.

Being COVID-lazy simply means that the details, small enhancements, and focus necessary to prepare for the future have slipped as a priority. As the senior leader at a client organization recently told me, “COVID-19 didn’t prevent us from paying attention to the little things that make us distinctive or from preparing for the future. It just gave us an excuse to let the urgency drop.”

Individuals experience this, too. The American Psychological Association released a study stating that 42 percent of adults surveyed gained more weight than they wanted in the past year. In terms of our weight, it turns out that COVID-19 is more like the COVID 25+. COVID didn’t cause us to gain the weight. It created the circumstances for it to happen more easily.

So how about you and your team? Have you become COVID-lazy? Has the pressure to just keep your heads above water created the excuse for letting important activities slide over the past year?

The answer is Yes if you identify with any of these statements:

  1. The challenges of navigating the pandemic have become a convenient reason to reject or ignore projects, initiatives, and strategies to propel your long-term growth.

  2. You (and your team) struggle with the energy and time to think about what is coming next because you are consumed with managing the day-to-day.

  3. Putting out fires is your new status quo. You are less strategic in your thinking and intentional in your actions.

I suffered my own version of COVID-lazy last year. Buying and renovating a new house in the middle of a pandemic drained much more of my energy and focus more than I anticipated. As a result, my great partners here at The Heller Report waited much longer for this article than I had planned.

It might be that way for you too. COVID wasn’t the only reason you lost focus in the past year. It was merely the “one more thing” that pushed you to the point of exhaustion.


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Make Your "New Next" Plan

What you do today to ensure your success tomorrow is critical. If you want to be better in the future, things must be different. Every leader and team probably need to change a little as they look to the future. The good news is that you might not need to change a lot.

Now is the time to determine the type of change you and your team need to pursue your own “new next.” Here are five from which to choose.

  1. Reset: This is the easiest change. It refocuses you on the path you were pursuing a year ago. A reset is perfect if you were already on a journey to be a customer-obsessed, collaborative, future-focused, nimble team. Begin the conversation by congratulating your team on adapting to change last year, and then use that as a springboard to reset for the future.

  2. Refresh: This is the organizational equivalent of paint on the walls, spring cleaning, and some new furnishings to bring you into the present. You might need to formalize the operational changes developed in response to the pandemic or rethink the old ways of communicating with your team that no longer make sense. Refreshing requires intentional effort, but it isn’t a major overhaul. The elements for success are there. They just need updating.

  3. Remodel: This is significant but not structural change. You might, for instance, update your strategy, optimize your processes, or change some people. At the end of the day, however, the vision, structure, strategy, and/or culture look both different and similar.

  4. Renovate: The difference between remodel and renovate is important. To use my home renovation as a reference, remodeling is adding new cabinets, counter tops, appliances, and backsplash in the kitchen. Renovate is raising ceilings, moving walls, and rerouting both plumbing and electrical before you begin cosmetic upgrades. Renovating your operation could include a total reorganization of your operating structure, transitioning to a new leadership philosophy, or transforming your culture. It is a significant investment in time, energy, and resources that yields a dramatically different operation when done well.

  5. Rebuild: This is essentially starting over. It is putting a new strategy, structure, and team in place on an existing piece of real estate. The address is the same, but everything else is new. This most often occurs in extreme situations such as a bankruptcy restructuring, purchase, or merger. A rebuild takes significant time, energy, and resources because you are building your new operation while continuing to use your existing one.

Becoming a little COVID-lazy is understandable. It might even be acceptable, considering the immense challenges of the past year. You have been running as fast as you can to stay in place.

The environment, however, is changing. You will now be asked to run even faster—and further.

You and your team are uniquely structured, optimized, and focused to achieve exactly the results you are delivering today. If you want to be better in the future, you will have to be different. If you want to be different, you must change to pursue your “new next.”


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