The new normal vs the new necessary

The Directors Event, in partnership with BCX and part of the Sunday Times Top 100 Companies profile, will be live-streamed on October 20 2020

14 October 2020 - 10:20
The ‘new normal’ is in essence the ‘new necessary’, writes BCX.
Image: 123RF/Dimitriy Shironosov The ‘new normal’ is in essence the ‘new necessary’, writes BCX.

The author and journalist James Lane Allen wrote: “Crisis does not build character, it reveals it.” Allen lived in the late 19th and early 20th century, a time that had crises of its own, but he could have been speaking about 2020: the Covid-19 crisis has revealed our weaknesses and strengths, as we react to the greatest challenge we will ever face in our lifetime.

Across all aspects and levels of business, government and society, it is this strength of character that has, and will, determine how we as leaders plan, innovate and forge a path for all South Africans to live a semblance of the life they once knew as “normal”. It is this character, this particular sense and enviable trait we have as Africans and South Africans to “make a plan”.

It is this character we will need to draw on to be brave enough to transform our ways of working and living, to revive and transform the economy, to slow the devastation of climate change, to ensure we emerge from this pandemic stronger, more capable and wiser than we were before.

That’s why BCX is a partner of The Director’s Event, a forum of leaders and experts where honest, forthright, sometimes brutal and often optimistic opinions are shared and debated, and where solutions are sought and found. It is the largest boardroom in SA, a necessary and vital event and space.

The theme of The Director’s Event is building a sustainable new normal. New Normal. We have heard and read those two words every day during this crisis. The New Normal is the undiscovered country in this pandemic. Everything is new. We are finding and implementing new ways of doing everything, from working to socialising, from shopping to banking, from watching sport to receiving education.

The leadership playbook for 2020 has been ripped up by Covid-19. Leadership during a pandemic requires calmness and focus, as well as the honesty and bravery to assess and reinvent both yourself and your business on a continual basis. Each chapter during this crisis brings new challenges and demands. What worked yesterday may not work today, and it certainly won’t work tomorrow. We must seek the opportunity and see the potential of a modern SA.

The “new normal” is in essence the “new necessary”. We do not know exactly how, when or even if Covid-19 will disappear. That is just one reason we cannot return to the way we once did things. We cannot return to the “old normal” because there is an absolute necessity for us to transform SA if we are to guide this country to a place where it can compete and thrive in the global economy.

Covid-19 has given us the necessary push to change. It has forced acceleration of the digital transformation of Africa, and SA in particular. Work from home is part of the new normal. During lockdown, employees have quickly adapted and learnt new skills that enable their companies to maintain the same level of service they did before. This is creating a workforce that is more agile, knowledgeable and collaborative, a workforce that creates insights and drives efficiencies.

Businesses have reinvented themselves. Retailers have become technology companies, replicating and sometimes improving on the in-store experience via their online platforms. They are learning more about the consumer than ever before, using data and technology to build agile, on-demand strategies.

Each of the panels at The Director’s Event are connected, each relies on and feeds off the other. How do we create jobs in SA through the fourth industrial revolution, and how will that revive our economy? How do we manage climate change and the challenges that bring on water security, agriculture and energy production? 

As leaders we need to have the skills, understanding and experience to be able to answer these questions. We have to work as a collective across private and public sectors to find a sustainable new normal.

As the World Economic Forum wrote recently: “Never has the premium on leadership been higher. Business leaders need to create a collective narrative of hope and catalyse bold collective action if we are to look back at Covid-19 as an inflection point for collective progress, rather than as a squandered opportunity.”

This article was paid for by BCX.