The Next Normal: Putting People First

With vaccinations underway around the world, albeit at varying depth and pace, the contours of our post-pandemic world are gradually taking shape. And there has been plenty of speculation about what this new world might look like. Is the office passé? Is e-commerce replacing brick-and-mortar stores? Are classrooms moving online? Is your family practitioner now an AI? Though timely, these questions conceal the crux of it all: the people imperative.

For leaders across sectors and industries the post-pandemic period is an opportunity to put people first. Their motivation for doing so need not be philanthropy, but the realization that all business—our propensity to “truck, barter, and exchange”—is intrinsically interpersonal. Leaders across organizations can leverage relationships in at least three ways.

First, no matter how compelling your strategy, execution will determine its merits. And to execute, you need people with hard and soft skills conducive to delivering products or services that reflect or exceed the standards customers or clients have come to expect. For leaders, this means having to think hard and continuously about which qualities and capabilities their people must have for the organization to remain competitive. Without a people compass, hit-or-miss hiring takes hold and then adversely impacts the bottomline.

Second, your organization is only as good as people say it is. Whatever you are offering, how your customers or clients judge your ability to meet their wants and needs defines the reputation and determines the trajectory of your organization. It does not matter whether their views are right or wrong; all that counts are their perceptions and your commitment to ensuring these perceptions are favorable. The hospitality industry knows better than most that perceptions can make or break a business. Customer is king.

Third, the more integrated your organization, the greater its potential. Businesses employ and impact people; they are part and parcel of society—long gone are the days of shareholder capitalism. Employers and employees have obligations towards each other, and organizations cannot operate in isolation. Marketeers instrumentalize this truism, creating stories around products or services that appeal to shared values, fears, and aspirations, creating communities to romanticize the old interplay of demand and supply.

In a nutshell, people determine delivery, performance, and value. Putting them first greatly increases the odds of success across these three dimensions and distinguishes organizations that subsist from those that thrive. But, rooted in the Industrial Revolution, most organizations are hardwired to put output first and people second. Communications consultants can support organizations with reversing their setup by helping crystalize their brand identity to fine-tune hiring; effectively position their brand to shape perceptions; and curate experiences that bring brands to life, thus, making integrated operations a reality.

Meanwhile, communications consultancies also need to embrace change. Providing strategic counsel in an ever more complex, interconnected world calls for professionals who are versed in clients’ operations, understand the external stakeholder landscape, and have the tools to cut through the clutter. The lines between management consulting, strategic communications and marketing will continue to blur, increasing competition in the near term and giving rise to agencies steeped in all three worlds in the medium term.

The pandemic continues to remind us of the complex relationships between individuals and society, and—amid the sophistication of science and technology—of the  fact that people are the motor of civilization and business alike. Embracing this reality enables leaders and organizations to distinguish themselves for their own sake and for that of the communities of which they are an integral part. Time to put people first!