That question can elicit a wide range of thoughts and emotions, including seeing the mere posing of this question as a total waste of time, as an energizing start to something exciting and new or a cause for downright fear. After all, we can’t see the future and we have important, even urgent, matters that require our attention right now. And, if the future of the posited question brings change so big, so audacious that we don’t know how to prepare for it, what’s the point of spending time considering the possibilities?
Let’s take the pandemic we’ve been living through for more than a year now. It’s not like no one suggested that this could happen. They did. Hollywood even made a movie about it. But, we carried on as if the possibility of that what if was so remote, so unlikely that it didn’t make sense to divert focus from the here and now. Then, we suddenly needed to accept that slowly it did happen and life as we knew it was changed.
Many believe that we just need to get through the inconvenience of the pandemic. And, when we do, our lives and our livelihoods will return to pre-pandemic norms. This is highly unlikely. New habits and behaviors are learned with roughly six weeks of repetition. Like any organism struggling for survival, we have adapted and these changed expectations and practices are now well-ingrained into every-day living.
The pandemic has left an indelible mark on our lives, how we spend our time, how and with whom we interact and how and where we work. There is no scenario I can imagine where we all just return to past practices. We have challenged norms and learned that those practices are not the only, or necessarily the best, way to live life and to work. That means … we must ask ourselves, “what if” the next normal disrupts our businesses in ways we are not prepared to address, or worse yet, even considering?
If we agree that the answer to this question is that the next normal will be disruptive, then we must ask ourselves several other questions as the new world order emerges. Among them are:
Will small to mid-size regional or local firms be impacted? This may seem like it’s a big firm question, but the pandemic has forever changed the talent market. The expectations of our workforce and the competition for talent are very different now than they were a year ago. Do you have a solid plan to attract, retain and upskill the talent you must have to thrive?
Disruptions like the pandemic are fertile ground for innovation. Few firms have navigated through these past months without needing to innovate on some level. What if you haven’t kept pace? Are you prepared to catch up or adopt new practices to survive?
The accounting industry and how its work is performed was becoming increasingly technology-centric long before the pandemic. A next normal was already beginning to emerge. COVID-19 may have put us in our respective bunkers for awhile, but that evolution has continued its march. What if the day-to-day technology challenges are not evolutionary, but revolutionary? How do we prepare to accelerate through these turns?
I will never look at the world the same because of the experience thrust upon me over a year ago by the pandemic. Will you? If not, what are you doing now to prepare for the next normal?
I hope to see you there.