The "New Normal"​ ... Really? by John Wallace

Firstly, I should declare my dislike for this terminology.

As with terms such as Digital and Agile that came before it, the so-called "new normal" is a phrase being over-used, abused, and confused to the point of becoming meaningless.

What we are experiencing right now is a seismic societal shock caused by a pandemic. But it is temporary. Individuals, cultures, and organisations are reacting to the speed and scale of the change thrust upon them.

Right now, we are all improvising and adapting to cope with the significant but temporary changes to our domestic and working lives and just as we have faced major challenges before, we will again react and adapt to them now.

Once this shock subsides and the full extent of the virus and its longer-term impacts are more broadly understood, a variety of specific changes and solutions will evolve and so will our patterns of behaviour to accommodate them.

But until then and right here, right now, things are distinctly abnormal, and the measures being taken to deal with this abnormality are mainly tactical and temporary.

So, during this period of “business unusual”, I would like us to adopt a much more useful word. And for me, that word is “balance”. I like the word because it does exactly what it says on the tin.

During this challenging period, I would like to see organisations planning to create or restore balance across a whole range of business activity such as:

  • Enhanced balance in the language we use, for example, not every change is a transformation
  • Planning for a healthier balance between remote working and more social, collaborative team effort
  • Better balance in the use of facts and assumptions when making key decisions
  • Weighing up the commercial and the environmental impact of our business operations
  • Balance between the urgency for adopting minimum viable products and services today and the importance of creating the exceptional employee and consumer experiences of tomorrow
  • Broader boardroom thinking to encourage a diverse range of ideas and negate the relentless march of the corporate clones
  • Encouraging a broader range of ideas and suggestions from the workforce and the community at large - this is where the greatest impacts will be experienced
  • Creating a better balance between cost and value in the assessment of projects and innovations - re-plan and re-calibrate by all means, but without losing sight of the overall goal and benefits
  • Considering a sensible balance between going fast and going far 

And I am sure there are many more that could be added to this list.

In my experience, I've rarely seen panic or knee-jerk reactions result in good solutions. We need to balance our desire to act quickly with the time and space needed for our experts to do their job. I'm not sure I like the idea of "failing fast" when there are lives at risk.

Let the virologists, economists, technologists, scientists, and business analysts iterate their thinking whilst learning from the experience of this pandemic, and hopefully, some practical and sustainable solutions will emerge.

In the meantime, we should use our common sense, be patient, be tolerant, steer clear of the meaningless phraseology bandwagons and most importantly of all, stay safe.


John Wallace is a senior HR practitioner and Fellow of the C.I.P.D. John has operated across a broad range of business sectors. He has been the HR leader for two separate business start-ups, with a wealth of experience in transforming the HR function, shaping the HR operating model, and deploying world-class HR technologies. His most recent passion is exploring the concepts and organisational impact around employee experience, and how these might feature in the post-pandemic bounce back.