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Finding the Next Normal: 3 Ways to Forge the Path Forward

by Mike Sabbatis

Three-quarters of the way through the year, most of us are probably confident in saying that we will look back on 2020 as the embodiment of the leadership term VUCA - volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. We have watched industry stalwarts stumble, and organizations collaborate with unexpected partners in remarkable examples of agility and entrepreneurial spirit.

We will study the success and failures of the last several months for years to come, but some lessons are already clear. We need to move beyond panic and short-term focus to concentrate on actions that will help us forge a path into 2021 and beyond.


Teams of individuals with varied backgrounds and experiences is especially beneficial when solving complex issues. Former Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once said that “many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than the one where they sprang up.” We don’t need to look far to see the truth in his statement. Across the country, committees and groups are forming to solve issues such as returning to school, economic recovery plans, and social equality.

Within organizations, we should establish similar working groups and committees to reimagine how to:

  • Serve existing clients

  • Perform business development virtually

  • Support employees - ensure they have the tools and resources to continue working remotely

  • Return to office strategies

  • Create new products and services for the next normal

When establishing these teams, ensure goals are clearly aligned with your business, and encourage each team member to provide creative solutions. By listening to each other, we begin to learn, innovate, and create a new vision.


Perhaps one of the most notable VUCA behaviors we need to continue to demonstrate is effective listening. True collaboration includes intentional, active listening. Too often, we witness situations where listening doesn’t happen; voices may get louder, but there is no progress.

Ralph G. Nichols, the father of listening, tells us that “the wise listener is attentive and non-evaluative; asks only unslanted questions and praises those statements by an adversary which he can honestly praise.” In the digital age, it is easy to hear from only those that affirm our beliefs; effective leaders are seeking input from a diverse audience.

Don’t forget to follow the critical thinking process. When collaborating with diverse groups, critical thinking can help protect against biases that interfere with finding new solutions. It’s also important to listen for and separate the facts. While stories are important – people make decisions emotionally – facts are necessary to develop projections and forecasts.

Be Agile

The world has been changing so rapidly it may feel that, while flexing to meet the new normal, we are in danger of losing our way. One of the many lessons learned throughout the pandemic is being responsive and nimble as external factors outside our control impact our business. Continue to balance stability in your organization while making frequent adjustments to plans. In a VUCA world, we must remain aware and responsive to the dynamic changes and continue to adapt new strategies allowing for greater levels of flexibility and responsiveness.

Evaluate opportunities to transform internal processes such as continuous budgeting, windowed work, and inclusion of more technology to augment our teams’ skills. Be aware that not everyone is able or ready to return to the office and plan accordingly. Spend time working on workflow processes that include a blended workforce, staff in various geographic time zones, and leveraging outsourced resources to supplement peak demand to make your organization more nimble and stable.

Agility is also required in the development and deployment of new products and services. Our customers’ needs and expectations have changed, along with how they consume our product or service. Being agile is not just about how we shift our processes, but how quickly we respond and incorporate their needs into the products and services offered to them.

Before you feel overwhelmed with the concept of being agile, keep in mind that “what you do matters; why you do it matters more,” Jimmie Bulter. Staying committed to our mission in a changing environment means we need to be flexible in how and what we deliver.

Whether you think of this as the new normal, the next normal, or the next better, the key is that we are always learning and always changing. 2020 has been a sharp learning curve for many, but success is defined by the path we create. We will look back on this and see how the choices we make now will launch us onto a new course.

Want to learn actionable steps you can take to prepare your firm for the “next normal?” Watch this on-demand webinar with XCM CEO Mike Sabbatis and XCM Customer and Withum Partner Jim Bourke and learn how to apply lessons learned during the pandemic to the longer term. Watch the webinar now.


Mike Sabbatis is XCM's CEO. He has extensive experience leading fast-paced, customer-focused organizations leveraging innovative, forward-looking technologies that disrupt the norm while sustaining long-term profitable growth. He has led and inspired global teams comprised of more than 2,500 employees, as well as divisional start-ups and joint ventures.



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