The New Normal: What’s Changed?



Written by;

Steve McNally

HR Professional



A big crisis asks big questions of people – and organisations.

How every single enterprise responds to the global health crisis of a century will determine their level of future success; and perhaps even their very survival.

It will certainly dictate every employer’s ongoing relationships with their employees.

So what’s changed for you and your people in the past two months? What do your employees now want, feel and need? What does the future look like for them – and for your organisation as a people business?

We’ve talked to many Heads of HR, OD and TA across Wales, the UK and beyond; and it’s clear that creating the sense of a safe, confident, engaged workforce will be critical to organisations wishing to return with momentum and purpose. It’s also evident that the role of HR has never been more important – or under the spotlight …

Visible Leadership – if not now, then never.

This is the time for strong, involving leadership that helps your people feel safe and supported. In other words, it’s time for your senior leaders to step up and lead. That means authentic conversation with your employees and walking the talk through decisive action that safeguards people’s health and jobs. This needn’t be Churchillian or overly-dramatic in style. It can even be creative and light-hearted. The website matches a best-practice hand-washing graphic with the lyrics of any song in the world – a prime example of how a fun idea can help you win hearts and minds, while helping your people to protect their wellbeing.

The latest global research from Karian & Box, published as the crisis broke, details compelling evidence that motivating your people is all about interactive, face-to-face leadership. Finding ways to get your senior leaders and line managers to interact with your people despite the current obstacles – and ensuring they are being seen to do that – shows empathy, transparency and makes your people feel part of the present and the future. It may also mean developing new leadership skills; and that skillset could be the defining feature of your future C-Suite.

Business News Wales asked Trevor Davis, Managing Director of the insurance software platform INSTANDA, how he sees ‘the change’:

“Organisations are only just beginning to emerge from the impacts of the lock down and this is giving rise to a number of key challenges for businesses and leaders. But at a simple level they can be boiled down to a limited set of priority areas:

  • What do I need to do to get my business up and running again safely for my employees and customers?
  • What immediate actions do I need to take to maintain financial viability for my business?
  • Does the Covid experience present new opportunities to:

> Give better value and solutions to my customers, including attracting new markets?

> Enable my business to be more digital and thereby improve my efficiency and reduce costs?

  • What does the future shape of my business need to look like both in the short term and over the coming 12-36 months?

It’s critical to lead on all these points and to have open dialogue with your workforce and clients. It’s clear that leadership now is more important than ever and ‘how’ you operate is as important as to what you do”.

Engaging with empathy, to enable and empower. 

Looking after your people during a crisis is rooted in clear, empathetic, two-way communication. This is not just about sharing timely information transparently, but being clear about the decision-making process you’re going through – and involving people where you can so that they feel consulted, not commanded.

Ultimately, your new normal is all about creating a sense of collective purpose. People will be at their best and feel most secure if you actively engage them in the efforts you’re taking to mitigate a crisis and shape a future that’s understood. Where possible, this can mean empowering individuals or teams to act and contribute to activities which will have the biggest impact. If you really want to provide a bottom-up route for employees to share their concerns and volunteer areas for leaders to take action, plug in a ‘new normal’ platform such as As colleagues see their efforts rewarded, your company may see the benefits of collaboration for many years to come.

Sandra Dawson, Head of Recruitment at Quintet Private Bank, shares some of the initiatives being taken across its UK and European-wide operations.

“We’ve been conscious to engage continually with everyone across our organisation through a wide range of channels. That includes a series of weekly videos from members of our leadership team – who film themselves at home to connect with the whole population – and these fun, authentic videos circulate every Friday to provide personal, empathetic messaging around keeping healthy and safe, as well as staying connected and focused with our clients.

We’ve conducted multiple staff surveys to evaluate what we’re doing and ensure we’re supporting everyone, and the results continue to be positive, so we’re pleased to see that our people feel connected and cared for in these times.”

Purpose is the New Strategy.

We have seen the power of purpose in uniting workforces during this crisis. Those organisations who already enjoyed a strong and enduring purpose have rallied behind it. The life science organisations are prime examples, where many companies see their ultimate purpose not as producing drugs but in healing patients. Those life science companies are now collaborating with competitors on treatments, cooperating with governments – and even giving supplies away.

This is purpose playing out, and at the same time creating an environment of global innovation and service. For organisations that didn’t already have this purpose, they have effectively created one: the need to survive this crisis. Korn Ferry’s latest report “Accelerating through the turnaround” makes it clear that this is working for now, but it leaves a huge risk once the crisis goes away: “organisations in this position need to define a meaningful, customer-centered purpose and align their leadership and workforce behind it”. So here’s the question: what’s your purpose and do you and your colleagues all share it?

Jane Graham, Head of Resourcing at Somerset NHS Foundation Trust told Business News Wales how an organisation at the very centre of UK life has continued to reinforce and further refine its purpose amid the most extraordinary challenges:

“The NHS has a very clear and strong purpose which resonates with both our colleagues and the public. But Covid has forced us to think differently, to push traditional boundaries and develop new ways of working. There’s been a more visible recognition of the strong infrastructure the NHS has around managing and developing our talent – and a subsequent collective understanding around the benefits this can offer across the social care sector, too.

The core sense of purpose is still there – the patient is at the centre of everything we do – but the understanding amongst colleagues of how we need to work collaboratively across a health and social care system, to support our patients in remaining healthy in the community and minimising their need to come into hospital, has increased.

The key for us is that this is a sustainable change. The very process of developing relationships and different procedures – opening up access to systems and resources that NHS colleagues have readily ​embraced – has consolidated our purpose and shown a ‘new world' of what is possible to achieve.”

Upskilling & Re-skilling your talent.

Leadership, Engagement and Purpose on their own won’t achieve sustainable performance unless you enable and empower your people with the right skills and tools. Many if not all organisations were ‘deficient’ of the full complement of ‘necessary’ skills prior to Covid19 – partly as a by-product of the phenomenal changes brought about by the three technological revolutions (digital, mobile and social media) that have increasingly shaped the economy and business operations from 2005 onwards. This ‘lag’ went some way towards explaining the perennial talent and skill shortages that were so prevalent even during the 2008-13 recession.

If change has been a constant for decades, then post-Covid Change Management is a critical skill for any manager. Ask some honest questions. Are your managers equipped to influence their team and wider stakeholder group? Do they have the skills to take people with them to ‘land’ change? More fundamentally still, are they aware of “Self” in a world where VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Chaos and Ambiguity) has become the new BAU?

James Dalton, Head of Learning & Engagement at PeopleStory, sees a number of positives as well as challenges in the time ahead:

“The key thing to remember is that all and any Change can be managed  and embedded – and most skills can be coached, mentored and learned. Now is the time for organisations to address both their Leadership Development and Team Development, as well as the relevant Talent Strategy, Wellbeing Strategy and Employment Value Proposition for the new normal.

This is not about knee-jerk reactions, but seeing the current situation as a huge and energising opportunity to upskill and reskill your people, perhaps even re-shape your organisation and transform your culture. If your people are engaged, enabled and empowered, they can and will help you achieve all of that; and with the right learning both your leadership and workforce will be able to continually adapt and drive your performance, whatever the future holds.”

Reimagining your Workplace

All of the above will help you define your new way of working. Putting it into practice may take many baby steps rather than one quantum leap. Bentley, for example, is currently introducing around 250 comprehensive and wide-ranging new hygiene and social distancing measures under an employee programme called ‘Come Back Stronger’, as it phases employees returning to the workplace during May and June.

But don’t just focus on the practicalities, like tech infrastructure. As the report by Karian & Box stresses, the real risk is the disruption to team dynamics and line manager support that underpins psychological safety. For example, many of the physical cues that we give each other do not translate well across email or virtual messenger. There’s also a real threat to people feeling comfortable to speak up and share their ideas. But by defining virtual team working norms, rituals and practices you can mitigate this risk and protect trust within teams.

If you’ve engaged, enabled and empowered your workforce, they’ll come with you and be a part of the new entity. The key then is to evaluate the changes, regularly and on an ongoing basis. It’s important to accept that not everything will necessarily ‘work’. So be prepared for some things to ‘fail’, but make sure they fail quickly – evaluate and refine or replace new practices, reaffirming your employee involvement through ongoing structured feedback.

David Frost, Organisational Development Director at Total Produce plc, explains how his global organisation recognises that meeting a complex challenge starts through simple actions:

“We have seen how important it is to communicate regularly from the top of the organisation.  It’s not about platitudes, it’s about recognising specific actions that people are taking and thanking colleagues for their efforts.  It’s all about being sincere and down to earth.  This means that leaders need to be close to their people and to know what is happening on a day to day operational level.”

Next week, we’ll be looking at the practical changes you can make to achieve any necessary transformation – from putting Wellbeing centre stage to amplifying the voice of your employees; and even measuring any ‘gaps’ in your culture. Until then, let me and the rest of the HR & People community know your thoughts and what’s changed for you, at [email protected]