This article originally appeared on HBR.org.
Coming out of the Covid-19 crisis, many well-intentioned senior executives are pushing to turn systems back on and restore operations. They want to see the organization return to “normal,” running the way it ran before Covid-19.
Arrayed across those same companies are some new heroes of the business, who brought forward their expertise and acted swiftly when the company needed it most. They helped the organization rapidly adapt to complex and brutal circumstances, moving with new speed and agility. Many of the new heroes pushed aside blockades of bureaucracy and cut red tape to connect with the right people and solve issues in real time, regardless of seniority or standard operating procedures.
Over the past year, we’ve been tracking leadership lessons from the pandemic with more than 850 CEOs across 35 countries. Some powerful patterns have emerged: CEOs have been both astonished and inspired by the way people in their organizations have taken the challenges of the crisis in stride, exhibiting resourcefulness, dedication, and creativity. The new rank of heroes have some common characteristics, including a strong bias to action and a willingness to learn by doing.
CEOs now face a career-defining moment of truth. The schism is growing between those who desire a return to normalcy and those who want to sustain new ways of working. According to a Bain survey, 65% of employees are concerned that the pandemic-induced sense of urgency in their organizations will go away. These heroes are at risk of disappearing back into the fabric of the pre-crisis organizational hierarchies. And the strong working relationships between those heroes and the C-suite, forged through the challenges of Covid-19, are at risk of fading away alongside bad pandemic memories.
Among the hundreds of pandemic hero stories we heard in our research, many fell into two categories, providing two salient lessons on how CEOs can build a new culture that maintains and uplifts the voices of the most critical members of their organizations.
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