Last March, when most of us were just starting to learn about COVID 19 and the world was shutting down, I asked a medical expert, “How long is this going to go on? When is life going to get back to normal?” She answered, “Probably late summer.” I was shocked and horrified. How on earth could we live in isolation that long? How would businesses survive? What would happen to family relationships, to our communities? I couldn’t imagine that the crisis could go on that long.
Yet here we are at the end of 2020, and there’s no sign of a return to normalcy. Sure, for many of us the isolation is not as strict as it was in those early months. But no one I know has a life that is in any way “normal.” I’m so tired of this. My clients are all tired of it. The whole world is tired. And once again, I’m asking, “When is life going to get back to normal?”
How do employees find out about opportunities in your company? Not just full-time jobs, but also opportunities to participate in projects, find a mentor, engage in networking, or learn something new? How do leaders learn about employees’ skills, aspirations, and passions?
In most companies, the answer is – it’s difficult. Often, employees have access only to the opportunities their managers know about and are willing to share with them. And equally often, leaders have many demands on their time with few opportunities to really get to know their people.
The calls for organizational innovation always intensify during a crisis. Sure, many leadership qualities and behaviors are in high demand right now, including the ability to handle your own and others’ emotions, the skill to set clear expectations and hold people accountable, and the gumption to make the tough calls. But the one trait I hear asked for most often is the ability to innovate — to think about problems in new ways and move swiftly to create novel solutions.
Innovative ingenuity is an individual skill. But it is powerfully affected by organizational culture. Many companies are very effective at squashing innovation, often unintentionally. How often have you heard leaders respond to a new idea with, “Oh, we already tried that and it didn’t work?” Or watched as new ideas were ignored, dismissed, or even stolen. And then leaders wonder why their team members aren’t frequently bringing them bold, creative ideas.
James is the Chief Human Resource Officer at a Company G, a professional services firm. For years he has been committed to increasing the diversity of the employee population at the firm, especially at the mid- and senior-management levels. He is well aware of the beneficial impacts of diversity on multiple measures of company success, from innovation to customer relations to profitability. He has the backing of the CEO and the senior leadership team. He has helped to establish Employee Resource Groups for women, LGBTQ, and members of racial minority groups. He has brought in trainers to increase employees’ awareness of racial and gender bias and stereotyping. Every year he has been tracking the number of new minority hires. And the numbers haven’t budged.
This summer, the sharply increased focus on racial injustice and exclusion has led James to reflect once more on his own attitudes and biases. It has renewed his commitment to make a difference on the diversity front at Company G. But he is very frustrated – what else can he do that will really make a difference?
I hate the phrase “new normal” to describe this horrible time we’re living through and what lies ahead. I wrote about the phrase in early May, quoting my colleague, Constance Dierickx, who said, “This situation is not the new normal; it is a time of extreme disruption.” To me, “new normal” implies resigning yourself, settling, saying, “Well, I guess this is the way it’s going to be and there’s nothing I can do about it.”
And then, a couple of weeks ago I attended a panel sponsored by the Executives’ Club of Chicago on “Reinventing to Reopen: How to Succeed in our New Normal.” One of the speakers introduced the phrase “the new better.”
Here in Illinois, the COVID restrictions are beginning to loosen. Personally, I had ten people at my home for dinner last Friday. I hope to have my hair cut soon. And on the professional front, employers are talking about when and how to have their teams begin returning to work.
In some ways, shutting down the office was easier. The rules were announced and companies sent their people home. Sure, there were a lot of technological and process issues that had to be solved fast, but at least it was clear. Unless you were an essential worker, everyone had to go home — period.
Now — it’s a lot murkier. When should an employer bring people back? What are the precautions that need to be in place? Maybe it would just be better to let people continue to work virtually? After all, many employers have found that the online work force was just as productive as they were in the office.
I love it when I discover a great new word — a word I’ve never heard before that describes something in a useful and specific way. A few years ago my treasured new word was “sprezzatura,” an Italian word that means “the art of making things look easy.” What a great word — and what a great description of how to carry yourself in many difficult situations.
My newest word is “bricolage.” I came across it recently in an article about innovation. It’s a French word that means “the construction or creation of a work from a diverse range of things that happen to be available.”
Everyone is getting very tired of trying to dredge up inner strength. There are the big things — the constant fears of terrible disease and imminent economic collapse. And there are the relatively little things — boredom, loneliness, feeling constrained, Zoom fatigue, wearing masks and gloves, and constant handwashing.
Meanwhile the regular stresses of life haven’t gone away. Family relationships, work, lack of work, non-COVID health issues, political strife — they all continue to be demanding and draining.
The best thing about a crisis is that it often brings out the best in people. So many individuals step up with courage, creativity, and generosity. They help each other out, they find new solutions, and they stand firm in the face of adversity. In the business world, these people are your most important assets. But at the same time, there are others who make things worse. For a variety of reasons, they engage in behavior that is undermining, distracting, or disruptive.
We’ve been talking about a VUCA world for a long time. VUCA stands for volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. Ha! We didn’t have a clue what VUCA looks like. The business environment we’re in right now – this is VUCA, this is the real thing.
What are the qualities that will enable a business to survive and thrive in this VUCA world? A recent article in Consulting Psychology Journal provided a very interesting framework to answer this question.
I don’t know about you, but my inbox has been deluged with
well-meaning, useless Coronavirus advice. If one more person sends me
information on how to wash my hands or socially distance myself or engage with
my team, I’m going to say a bad word. As a result, I have been avoiding sending
out advice of my own.
And then amid all the noise I got a PowerPoint deck from my
colleague Nancy Picard, one of the smartest people I know. Her deck was full of
useful guidance about how to lead right now — useful enough that I was moved to
share it with you.
How is work going to change in the new decade? As new
technologies keep flooding into our work environment, how must leaders and the
people they lead modify they way we work? Sometimes it’s hard to imagine what
the work world of 2030 will look like.
In my over 15 years as a leadership coach and consultant, concern about “winning the war for talent” has been a constant. Except in the depths of the 2008-2009 recession, business leaders have been concerned about how to identify, attract, and retain top talent.
Now at the beginning of a new decade, when employment figures are at a high, high-potential employees have plenty of options to choose from. The war for talent is a hot topic once again.