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Next Normal and a 40-Day Plan

Why 40 days?

Although there is not scientific data to support the significance of 40 days, history, specifically Biblical history, certainly points toward a pattern of effectiveness to this time-frame. Theologians in general  agree that the period of 40 days signifies a period of testing, trial or judgment. The Israelites walked through the desert for 40 years. The tower of Babel was built in 40 days, Jesus Christ fasted for 40 days, and He ascended to heaven after 40 days.

The Latin root of the word quarantine is 40. Which is even more interesting since the U.S. effort to control the COVID-19 outbreak by instituting a quarantine/sheltering-in-place began on March 25. Now there is talk of backing off this quarantine until the first week of May . That’s real close to 40 days.

As of today, 28 days have passed since that announcement, the change event, that altered everyone’s life. All of us either observed, read about and personally experienced the natural phases of emotions shown in the illustration taken from my next book Roll Up Your Sleeves.

I don’t know where you are on the wave of transition moods and feelings shown here, but most people are ready for a new beginning and need a plan. What I do know is that having a timeline helps people plan. So, if you assume first that 40 days is where you need to concentrate your energy and your team’s energy, this one assumption can help you get going and avoid the pitfalls of inaction or snags of overreaction.

Next Normal Culture
A challenging truth is that a new beginning births another change  – not a new normal, but a next normal. Which means we will experience a new period of transition as we move forward into a world that is a bit more familiar but not the same. The great news is that change comes bearing gifts, but like the gift of the good stuff inside a pecan, walnut or chestnut – it takes effort to get to it.

Shelling a nut requires a brute force or a sturdy tool to crush with. Now don’t take this as a recommendation to use brute force to get people moving into their next normal, although a few of them who are a little nutty might respond , and sadly a few nutty managers will do just this. There is a better way, a  40-Day next normal strategy. Most teams already have a next steps plan for finance and operations , which is vital, and if you don’t have that, stop and do that first. But I’m talking about your next normal culture strategy and plan.

Assume Some Things    
Having stated assumptions is the foundation for effective strategy and plan execution. Assumptions are defined as statements of what the planning group assumes will happen and what they believe about their environment. Not having a discussion and agreeing on your assumptions will result in continuous communication breakdown, barriers and recurring issues. Which will stall your plan. Clarifying your assumptions is the foundation, the philosophical underpinnings of any plan.

Some Steps to Consider
I recommend that you call a team meeting. Begin the meeting by agreeing on your assumed timeline. I suggested 40 days but choose a definite realistic time-frame That should have be easy. Now that you’ve cracked the shell, it is time to go deeper and get to the meaty stuff that really matters, by clarifying your team’s culture assumptions in three areas shown in the box below.

Here is a 3-step process to consider as a model to help you get started:

Step 1– Display the three inquiry statements, shown in the box below, for all on the team to see. You may want to distribute this before you hold your meeting to give people time to think.

Step 2– When you meet, have each person select a number from 1 to 5 that represents what they believe on each of the three continuum lines. (Example: On item A – selecting a I or 2 means “I really believe money and pushing is the best way to motivate” and choosing a 4 or 5  means “I know that visions and listening is what works best.”)

Step 3- Starting with A, ask each person to explain why they chose their number, discuss differences and similarities and come to consensus on your collective belief for A. Do the same for B and C.

Follow-up every 10 days. When you change an assumption, your behaviors and actions will change.

Note: The items below are listed in priority order. If you can’t come to consensus on Statement A, there is no need to discuss the other two. Just hold on and be prepared for the worst.

  1. People are motivated to do their best through:   

Money, Pushing and Telling  1 2 3 4 5   Inspiration / Vision / Listening

  1. The best approach to help people move forward is to:

Allow people to get back to normal on their own 1 2 3 4 5  Lead people into our next normal – (describe what back to normal and/or your next normal looks like, feels like, and sounds like)

  1. The most effective way to lead is to act and speak like:

People should suck it up & move on  1 2 3 4 5  People experience emotions & need support (describe ways you can facilitate your assumption).

Journal Entry: If you chose 5’s and 6’s on the scales above, the questions below are worth considering when you talk and meet with the people who are moving into the next normal in their leadership and life.

Past >

  • How do you feel about what happened?
  • What do you think about the way this was handled?
  • How could we have handled this better?

Present >

  • What has been positive about this for you? What has been painful?
  • What would you like to see happen now?


  • What ideas have you thought about that might help others on your team?
  • What would be a good next step to take to improve our team/department?
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