2020 has not been easy and nothing could have truly prepared us for this seemingly endless assault on every one of our senses — all at the same time and with no clear end in sight amid often confusing and conflicting information.
It conjures up an old saying attributed to American novelist Ellen Glasgow, “What happens is not as important as how you react to what happens.” Sage advice, but it’s certainly difficult to follow during this massive period of disruption caused by the coronavirus.
The impact of the pandemic hit us quick and hit us hard. All of us. But it didn’t stop there. It kept hitting. And we kept reacting. More hits, more reactions. Bad news after more bad news came funneling in day after day. More unknowns than knowns. It was and continues to be a daunting and exhausting episode impacting 7.8 billion people.
We are now getting a clearer understanding of the enormous impact of COVID-19 on our local and global economies. With roughly 4.5 million infections and more than 300,000 deaths (as of May 15, 2020), this pandemic didn't just disrupt our work and our home, it adversely altered it to such a degree that it quite literally shook our confidence.
The reality is that people are afraid, anxious and stressed about what has happened and what the future is going to bring. The sudden shutdown of the economy, the insecurity of employment, families being isolated, children not being able to see their grandparents, and relatives getting sick or passing away all got crammed into a dramatically short timeframe. Plus, there was life, and a new work life, all surrounded by trauma that threatened most everything we hold as important. All of this is a lot to process and understand.
When various countries began showing signs of the spread of COVID-19, organizations of all sizes reacted and implemented their best strategies to protect their people and their business. Leaders became full-time champions of business continuity while simultaneously mitigating the effects of the crisis on their people.
People everywhere are tired, and they are tired of being tired. And whether we are ready or not, it is time to move ahead. Our journey continues and we need to make the mental and physical adjustments to return and restart. Our businesses and workforces that we fought so hard to protect have been lifting this heavy weight with us and we must take the time to understand the true weight of what has happened.
Leaders are uniquely positioned to help us go more confidently back into work and into the new world of work created by COVID-19. There will be more doubt, anxiety, bad news, reactions, and more hits on our business and confidence. One step at a time, leaders become path finders. The job now is to find a way.
The New Work Paradigm
Prior to COVID-19, the new work paradigm already was pushing from a less control-and-command leadership to a connected partner model where individuals managed themselves and managers managed projects. COVID-19 hasn’t redirected this path, but it has made it important for leaders to understand its implications. Now, more than ever, as leaders and managers we need to help each person find their path back. That doesn’t mean more control, it means more encouragement to find their purpose and use it to rebuild their confidence.
For the foreseeable future, the leader’s job will be to create and revive the momentum and motivation in our workforces. This will also help restore the shaken confidence in our consumers. That in turn impacts the confidence in our economy.
We can best support our workforce by making sure they are closely aligned to the direction and needs of the business, so they get quick wins very soon. Momentum is a true panacea to shaken confidence and right now the world needs to move again. Don’t just ask people what they need, act on what you know they need and kickstart the process. The following three strategies explain how to re-engage and spark momentum in your world at work:
- Seek the Win Now. Creating, prioritizing and clarifying organizational goals that respond to the current situation is key to bring meaning into everyone’s work. Too much uncertainty will just give you more uncertainty. Shift the dynamics by going after clear and targeted goals, even if they’re small. Everyone moved fast into emergency response mode so regrouping on the goals of the organization and every task or project will help give a sense of purpose to our teams. Push hard for the clarity and find the path. For three months, the rapid response to retain business and survive has been the driver of many of us. Doubling down to make sure there is a clear and attainable purpose will help to ease anxiety and increase the drive and confidence needed.
- Watch What Defines You. In times of crisis, it is easy to focus on the challenges and struggles and placing all resources on the solutions. However, the pandemic doesn’t define you any more than you let it. COVID-19 happened, but it isn’t the entirety of you or your organization. So, who are you? You may need to restore the confidence you once had, and that is all right, but you can’t wait too much longer. As a leader, you can provide a well-needed bright spot from the shaken workforce by reinforcing who you are as an organization, why you exist, why that matters, and how you collectively will make a difference moving forward.
- Celebrate All Wins. Acknowledging the wins, even the small ones, is an effective, but easily overseen, critical step in our return to work. Recognition does not need to be financially driven, and likely should not be at this time. We are facing a clear economic crisis and people need more than traditional rewards to refocus. Non-financial incentives such as expressing gratitude, public recognitions, celebrations, or a genuine thank you note can go a long way. We shouldn’t wait to celebrate until we exit this storm but rather, let’s use recognition to get through it. As leaders, placing the spotlight on small wins will empower your teams to move in the right direction.
As we continue to make the best decisions for our businesses and push for an increase in agility and faster results, we must take the time to take care of our people. Addressing their fears and concerns will create the momentum we need for the next phase of our new world of work.
About the Author
Scott Cawood, Ed.D, CCP, CBP, GRP, CSCP, WLCP is the president and CEO of WorldatWork.