The Big Reset Revisited: Global Transformation Is Here To Stay

When I first wrote about The Big Reset in March, I discussed the transformational potential of the Coronavirus. Well now that we’re nine months into the pandemic, it’s clear that the transformation is real. So rather than talking about going “back to work” or “back to normal,” it’s time to accept the future, and just get on with the path ahead.

The Three Transformations: Economic, Social, Cultural

There are three transformations taking place, and they are all connected to each other.

The first is the economic transformation, which I call the emergence of The Pandemic Economy. People still want food, entertainment, healthcare, and connection – so we’re delivering these services in a digital way. I won’t belabor the idea, but the reality is that digital delivery of everything is happening at light speed.

Do you want to see a movie? Stream it from your phone. Do you want to take a course? Go online and enroll, start, and join your students. Do you want to go out for a sandwich or coffee? Open the app, order it, and have it delivered (or pick it up – it’s there with your name on it). And say you want to travel for vacation? You can do that too – on a newly disinfected safe plane (much safer than it used to be) or use VR or another tool to explore your dream destination.

This has been profound and amazing to watch. Hospitals and healthcare providers (even eye doctors who get right up to your face) have created an entire ecosystem of digital health, digital doctoring, and digital diagnosis. I went in to get my shingles shot the other day and the nurse was standing in the parking lot with a mask on ready to just “inject and go.”

I had to spend a day at a local hotel this week (PG&E decided to shut off power for hot weather and fire risk) and the whole thing was digital. I checked in, went to the room, and did my work without ever really interacting with a person. It was fine and the room was immaculate and safe.

As HR or business people, it means we’ve been busy. We’ve been buying and implementing digital tools (Microsoft, ServiceNow, SAP revenues are growing explosively), we’ve been redeploying people to new roles (our new Resilience Business Performance research shows precisely how), and we’ve been developing new safe workplace protocols at light speed. And we’ve really been learning how to improve wellbeing, psychological safety, and mental health at work.

Which leads me to the second transformation we’re in: the social transformation of our lives.  A lot has been going on here.

On one hand, we’re all becoming nicer to each other. Every zoom call starts with people checking in on each other, and we’re all very forgiving when people have kids at home, power outages, or other family issues to deal with. In fact one of the “ten keys to transformation” we discovered in our research is “taking care of employees’ families” – a new part of HR that has now gone mainstream.

And part of being more kind and forgiving is really listening to the issues of racial injustice, income inequality, and diversity. Our new DEI working group (please join us if you can) is overflowing with conversations and I do believe Heads of DEI are one of the fastest-growing (and toughest) roles in HR.

By the way, we are launching a major research study on DEI and I encourage you to join.

On the other hand, however, there’s a rough edge to our social lives too. In many cities, disaffected people are angry (on the left and the right) and it’s very clear from the data that income inequality has gotten much worse this year. Blacks, Hispanics, women, and other minority groups are often the essential workers in our society and they have suffered the most. As have young people, by the way, so in a sense the youth of our society has entered a brewing period of unrest.

We read stories about people carrying guns, joining militias, and increasing anti-semitic and racist behavior. And today some politicians seem to want to bring the country to war with itself, which creates a sense of anger and frustration. For me, living in California, I’ve reached a point where I think the US political system itself is just flawed. And this creates a feeling of powerlessness and rage too, which I know many of you feel.

In general, however, these political firestorms are a reflection of everyone’s desire to make life better. We become tribal when we see things getting worse, when in reality everyone really want to be friends. There is a massive disparity between what I see on TV and what I see in my neighborhood. People where I live are more friendly, helpful, and generous than I’ve seen in decades. And here we wear masks, with a focus on both safety and respect, and it just feels good. (Masks can be a happy thing.)

As Clinton said in his inaugural of 1993, “There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America.” Collectivism is always our biggest strength.

The third change is the transformation in global culture. In a world where global forces are unstoppable (Coronavirus for example, but also global warming), the theme of collectivism starts to grow. You can argue about masks or the impact of carbon on the environment, but you can’t argue with a fire, tornado, hurricane, or pandemic. These problems are what the military calls “violent, asymmetric, unpredictable enemies” – so we need to band together in response.

In business, this has been an amazing thing. Every company I talk with tells me stories of how people are more connected, working in cross-functional teams, and more focused on purpose and mission than ever. If your CEO doesn’t understand this I’d guess your company is not doing well – but if he or she does, there is enormous energy to harness here. Let me give you some examples.

Sainsbury’s, the UK department store chain, rallied around “Feeding the Nation” and got more than half their employees to redeploy their jobs so they could deliver food and services in a safe and local way to their citizens. Target, one of the most fascinating companies in the world, has rallied around its mission to “help ALL families enjoy the joy of everyday life” and the company has reinvigorated its entire workforce with a focus on inclusion, purpose, and productivity. ServiceNow, a company thriving with demand in the pandemic, has shifted its entire focus on “safe workplace” solutions and its employees are as excited as any I’ve seen. And companies like Norton Healthcare and many other hospitals are spending more time on teamwork, collaboration, and digital tools than they have in decades.

(Read The Big Reset Playbook for more stories.)

This Transformation Will Stick

I constantly get asked “are these changes going to last or will we go back to the way things were before? What will stay and what will go back?”

I’ve come to the conclusion that this transformation is real. We are NOT going back to where we were last year.

Yes, we may start slowly getting on planes and traveling again – but this new digital life, the increased care for others, and the growing collective culture is definitely going to last. Yes, we have a tumultuous political period ahead, but once we get past the Trump era, I believe the world will shift to a “roaring 20s” period ahead, and we’ll look back on this time as a positive transformation for us all.

For many of you this may sound like an idealistic idea – and if you’ve lost a loved one, lost your job, or feel alone I understand. There is much pain in the world today, and politicians are using it for propaganda every day. But let me offer a different view: the number of good things happening is massive, and we’re moving in the right direction.

My wife and I often talk about politics, and as we talk about the huge US debt, the poor governance in the Federal Government, the potholes in our streets, and the fires in our community – I always come to the same conclusion: big changes only happen when big problems arrive. And we are at that time.

The pandemic is a cosmic gift, one that is forcing society to transform. With every drop of pain and suffering we see, there are floods of empathy, growth, and change in response. I think 2021 is shaping up to be a pretty exciting year for all of us, so start your plans for the future now.

Join Us

We are going to be continuing The Big Reset groups throughout next year (with a new name coming soon), so if you’d like to join us please send us an email. We convene five-week sprints (one hour per week) and you get a chance to talk with 20-30 of your peers on a variety of strategic issues. It’s all part of our Academy mission: learning and teaching organizations how to make work better for everyone.

And here is the latest research we launched this week:

Business Resilience:  The Ten Keys to Pandemic Response

The Big Reset Playbook: Stories of Pandemic Response

HR 3.0:  A New Focus on Employees (developed with IBM)