We have a running joke in our extended family that my husband, Brad, loves sloths.
I couldn’t tell you when it started, but whenever it’s time for gift-giving, he receives Sloth-themed items. Sloth cards. Sloth dish towels. Sloth Christmas pajamas.
It’s a joke now, but before that, it was simply an outdated, legacy narrative. At some point walking through a zoo he probably said, “Cute sloth” and from there the story spun. For a while, we all really believed it until Brad set us straight.
It makes me wonder, in this time of radical reinvention—of our businesses, our ways of working, our lives—what legacy narratives might we be holding on to? Which, if dismantled, might unveil entirely new possibilities for living, working, and finding joy?
Post-pandemic, many narratives no longer hold true—either because they’re simply outdated or because they’re no longer the best way of doing things. The question is, will we stick with these stories simply because they’re what we know? Or will we embrace the unknown and radically reinvent ourselves?
Here’s a simple checklist of 13 different facets of your business that might be ripe for reinvention.
Before you can begin to change anything, you have to first question what you are working toward and why. This “North Star” dictates all transformational efforts that follow. So, in a world where everything is different, it’s worth asking from the beginning whether you are fighting for things to remain the same, or if your vision is to embrace the unknown and adjust accordingly.
While no one loves a re-org, it is worth considering whether your organizational structure is enabling your current vision and strategy, or whether it’s a relic of an earlier era. For example, if you’ve always organized by function, but your strategy is becoming much more region-specific, it may be worth the pain of a re-org to better enable autonomy and collaboration at the regional level.
These are two types of processes: the kind that improves already established ways of working (Nassim Nicholas Taleb would call these “fragile”), and the kind that is designed to support new and still undefined ways of working (“antifragile”). If your organization is focused on improving unquestioned, legacy processes, what you gain in incremental efficiencies you lose in long-term exponential growth—because your processes aren’t headed in the right direction (going back to your North Star).
4. Physical Space
Every organization in the world right now is questioning what it means to have a “workplace.” Do you have to have a physical office? Or can a workplace be a Slack channel and a Zoom room? Is your organization holding on to “the way it used to be” or designing for the empowered workforce of the future?
Rituals are something we stress quite often in our work at SYPartners. It’s not enough to say, “We want to change,” and then to hope the words stick. The importance of rituals is to instill the act of change into the daily habits and routines of those involved. No ritual, no lasting transformation.
If your talent strategy is based on “culture fit” and not “culture add” you are missing out on a whole swath of diverse talent who are instead making your competitors smarter and more robust. It may be that your answer to the question, “We like to hire people who…” is part of a narrative that might be ripe for reinvention.
7. Leadership Behaviors
Anyone, in any role, can in some way be a leader today. The key, however, is to lead by example and not just “by narrative.” You must own the small piece of transformation you want to affect, and then embody it for others to observe and learn from. What does “being a good leader” look like in your organization? How might that definition be changing?
What you measure gets improved. If you or your business continues down a path of measuring legacy milestones in legacy models, then you may reach “success” on paper but simultaneously feel disconnected from the realities of the world.
In a COVID and post-COVID world, it’s likely that what matters to your employees has changed. While pay was and will ever be important, rising in importance are things like 4-day work weeks and all-company weeks off.
How do you communicate these changes externally? Notice whether your organization is speaking about the past (“We hope to return to…”) or the future (“We look forward to…”). If you speak about the past, chances are, you will continue to attract talent and customers who value the past, and if you speak about the future you will attract talent and customers who value the future.
Times of radical change also offer opportunities for radical invention. Is your organization continuing to adapt its offerings to the changing wants and needs of customers? Like any human on the planet, your customers are profoundly different today than they were in February of 2020—their relationships to home, to work, to consumption, to leisure. Aligning internally on how your customers are different will help you show up differently for them.
In the early 2010s, there was a massive shift that moved brands and organizations from legacy channels—print, radio, TV—to radically new channels like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. As new channels begin to take hold today, it’s worth questioning where on the spectrum you sit: are you an early adopter? A late adopter? How long before the cost of not changing becomes greater than the cost of changing?
13. Brand Identity
Finally, your brand identity is how you communicate the previous levers to the external world. It is a reflection of your North Star, your perspective on where the world is headed, and the talented individuals driving you closer to that future. How do you want to show up in the world?
Who do you want to be?