Our Big Reset

Korn Ferry CEO Gary Burnison says that the workplace shifts happening now are arguably the most significant since the Industrial Revolution.

Gary Burnison is CEO of Korn Ferry and the author of The Five Graces of Life and Leadership.

It always seemed to start with a hot summer day and cloudless, untroubled skies. Then the temperature would begin to drop—so gradually, we might not notice at first. Only when the skies darkened, a cool breeze was felt, and ominous clouds built on the horizon did we know something was amiss.

But was it only a typical Midwest summer thunderstorm or something worse? We couldn’t be sure until we heard that tornado siren and headed immediately to the basement. After a while, we knew what to do because we recognized the signs, adapted, and responded.

Today the economic, social, and geopolitical clouds around us are hard to ignore. The question is: Are we hoping it will all pass quickly—just a transitory moment? Or are we, as leaders, surveying the horizon, accurately perceiving today’s reality to predict tomorrow?

And let’s also take a look at the push-pull of today’s workscape that continues to shapeshift—with no definitive form. We were locked up for so long, dramatic changes were made to the way we get things done. Now, people are re-examining all parts of their lives.

Is it hybrid working—or is that simply code for working from home? Is it quiet quitting? Or rather, is it really all about people conscientiously finding the purpose that defines their lives? And even something as benign as taking a vacation can be scrutinized and portrayed as “revenge travel”—a desire to make up for lost time away during the pandemic.

We’re in the Big Reset. The tectonic shifts that are happening under our feet are arguably the most significant since the Industrial Revolution.

It all adds up to a complex picture that most of us have not quite faced before. Learning agility—or as I call it, knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do—will be put to the test in the coming months.

Admittedly, over the last few years, it just feels like it’s been one thing after another … after another—with a few moments of respite in between. And, quite candidly, it can be exhausting for everyone. It’s a constant balance. Perform and transform. Results and resilience. Ambiguity and exactness. Accountability and compassion.

So, here’s what we know to be true: Times of great change can bring great opportunity. This calls for a leadership framework, where mindset meets the moment—and all calibrated around what to do and how to do it:

Anticipate—predicting what lies ahead. Sometimes it’s simply storm clouds. But when there’s turbulence, we need to anticipate where we can find clear skies … and different pathways to growth. It starts by accurately perceiving the reality of today—and knowing that anticipating is not just top-down, it’s bottom-up.

Navigate—course correcting in real time. Strategy is not just once a year, it’s many times a year. We need to continually adjust, knowing that what has worked over the last couple of years may not work over the next few years. Navigation—both direction and velocity—is the companion to anticipation. Together, they keep the organization forward-facing.

Communicate—continually. This is where leadership lives and breathes—and particularly during times of cloudier skies. We don’t just transmit information—we connect emotionally with others to elevate the horizon.

Listen—especially to what we don’t want to hear. As this reset button is hitting, we can’t manage from a spreadsheet. We need to be tuned in everywhere.

Learn—failing fast, learning faster. This takes mental agility, people agility, change agility, and strategic agility—all of which come together in learning agility, the No. 1 predictor of success.

Lead—being all in, all the time. Amid the massive change of the Big Reset, leaders look for the deeper reasons. They connect the here-and-now with the why and the how.

We cannot let ourselves become complacent, ignoring—intentionally or unintentionally—the skies around us. In cycles of life and in business the unexpected is always to be expected. Indeed, the Big Reset is all about constantly redefining, reassuring, and renewing.