18 May 10 Positive Questions About the Future of the Organization
Life has really changed, hasn’t it? Two months ago, you never would have imagined that your business would still be on hold – that you’d be completely reinventing how you operate. You may have thought this pandemic would pass in just a few weeks, or a couple of months. None of us could have predicted the tidal wave of change that has enveloped our work, organizations, and interactions with others. Some days, we’re scrambling to find our footing, and “attach to the rock” like barnacles do. We’re bracing for waves, trying to prepare, but uncertain of which direction the waves are even coming from; and uneasy about just how big they are going to get.
We didn’t expect the range of emotions—from anger to sadness to grief—that engulf us at any given time. I’ve talked to business owners who were so shocked by what was happening to their business that it completely immobilized them. A lot of organizations have dropped into survival mode, and are problem solving versus focusing on where they want to be when the pandemic ends. Change is like that. It can be really hard. And with any change, whether it be a planned change process at work, or a change that unexpectedly floods us as this one has, leaning into the change offers an opportunity to envision and create a new future. One we can mold and shape if we ask the right questions.
What has been rewarding for me over these past couple of months is working with clients on ways to be proactive and to use this new situation as an opportunity to positively deviate from old ways of working. Reinvention, and creating healthy, thriving organizations is my life’s work and passion! While we don’t necessarily want a pandemic to be our motivation for change, it is motivating change, nonetheless. And while many companies have done an amazing job of reinventing what they are doing with their products and services, what is equally important is the need to reinvent how we work together, developing new models of organizational life that support people in whatever lies ahead.
David Cooperrider, the founder of Appreciative Inquiry says, “We move in the direction of the questions we ask,” “…and the conversations we have!” added Cheri Torres when she was a guest on my online course recently.
With that thought, here are 10 great questions that inquire into a positive future. They are focused on the organization, but you could substitute the word “team” into any one of them if that is your focus. Use these with your executive team, in board meetings, team meetings or in surveys throughout your company to inquire into “what you want more of.” Some of these questions will apply and resonate with you right now. Others will not. We’re all in different places. Same storm, different boats. Choose the ones that feel right for you where you are now.
1. Who are we when we are at our best?
You’ve been through tough times before as an organization or as a team. You have persevered and succeeded. There has been an awesomeness factor in how you’ve worked together in that process. What did that look like? What qualities did your organization portray at those times? What were your team’s strengths? How can you call upon the great way in which you worked together in times past and apply that to how you work together through this pandemic? Ask this question to everyone – “Who are we when we are at our best?” – and see what you uncover.
2. How can we best support each other?
People do not flourish in survival mode. How can you, as a leader, pull out of survival yourself? Can you start by taking care of yourself first? How, then, can you best support your employees to thrive? In your team meetings, ask “How can I help you?” Do you need to develop some guidelines in this new work situation? (See question #7). Do you need to have a more formal check-in process with each other at the beginning of meetings? Do you need to have a meeting occasionally to just focus on how the team is functioning?
3. As we reinvent what we do, how does this impact our people?
Reinventing our work is necessary right now, and it will also change how we work together. Let’s pause and look at the impact this will have. Give people an opportunity to explore the possibilities as to how you can reinvent how your teams work together too. Will the new way of working require more time from people? Is there a way to streamline this? Is there some online training needed? Do you need to provide more reflection and discussion time in meetings to focus on how these changes might play out?
4. What benefits have presented themselves BECAUSE of the pandemic that we didn’t see before (and that we don’t want to lose)?
I’ve talked in detail about the personal gifts that have arisen for many people through this time. There are benefits to organizations too. Those who did not think telecommuting would work in their industry before are now doing just fine with it. For some employees, working from home may be a time-saver and allow for more work-life balance. A colleague’s small business has started having a virtual lunch together on Zoom every couple of weeks. They didn’t have regular lunch get-togethers before as they are all located in different offices, and would not have thought to have a Zoom meeting. Now, they don’t want to lose this practice! What are the positives that have come out of our current situation for your team or organization?
5. How can we use this “pause” away from our normal business practices to enhance employee well-being?
The pandemic has created new stressful elements with work, and many haven’t even been foreseen at this stage. How can we create a new normal around what employee well-being really is? How can we nurture, support, and demonstrate compassion moving forward? Many service organizations are jumping in and offering online mental health services that were not there before. In addition, how can we proactively work on our organizational and team culture to keep people well? Pre-pandemic, most organizations were still focused downstream versus upstream. We normalized burnout; and long hours and lack of sleep were toted as a badge of honour in many companies. This led to increased stress leave and disability. How can we move as far away from this as possible?
6. What renewal practices can we incorporate as general practices going forward?
If you didn’t have solid strategies around resilience before the pandemic, your teams have probably been suffering. One colleague of mine who complained about the long hours, travel and lack of downtime pre-pandemic says he is working even longer these days as they recreate their offerings for their clients. New research is showing that meaningful leisure provides great recovery and rejuvenation from workplace demands, and yet when workload and stress go up, people often take less leisure time. It is more crucial now to be cognizant of what depletes your energy and what renews it, and it is never too late to develop practices within your team or organization around breaks, disconnecting, sleep, mindfulness and other measures to bolster resilience.
7. What new guidelines can we develop to protect our employees’ mental, emotional and social health during this time?
You may not have expected to be doing meetings on Zoom indefinitely, any more than you expected to be wearing a mask to buy groceries. But here we are, and we need guidelines to follow. Just as we look to our medical advisors to provide guidelines as to what is safe in this new community environment, we need our business leaders to provide guidelines as to what the expectations are in our new meeting environment. I spoke with someone yesterday who said he is facilitating 4-6 Zoom meetings per day, often back to back. Some are 2 hours long. I said, “And of course you have a break during those meetings?” to which he replied that they do not. He also complained about the strain of looking at the screen for these extended periods of time. Some simple guidelines would help this situation: like taking a 5-8 minute break every hour; getting people engaged in the meetings through polling, the chat feature, and breakout rooms; a limit on how many meetings are run each day; dedicated time between meetings to do the work that comes out of the meetings. (This last problem is not new to the virtual world for most companies).
8. How can we make our meetings more positive?
A colleague told me that since they switched to online meetings, they have lost the interaction that used to happen as people walked into the room. “On Zoom,” she said, “we just jump right into the agenda.” How can you bring back that important social element of meetings? Perhaps it’s starting with a simple, “How is everyone doing?” or by having people share a win from the past week. Or ask people to bring an example of a kindness they have seen or heard of, or start with a round of gratitude. As the team leader, you could bring an inspiring story to start the meeting, or ask people to share what they have done during the pandemic that they are proud of. Any of these ideas can totally change the culture and climate of your meeting.
9. Where do we want to be as an organization (or team) when the pandemic ends?
Imagine your best possible future. How can your organization or team come out of this situation stronger than when you headed into it? Where do you want to be a year from now? Two years from now? It’s easy to get very focused on what is happening today and drop into problem solving, but keeping the big picture in view is more important now than ever. As Graham Lowe reminds us in his recent blog, the coronavirus pandemic will end. “All the more important to ensure that today’s responses to the pandemic will ready us to resume our social and economic lives. So, think of where you want to be one year from now.”
365 days. Think of where you can be.
10. How can we create a virtual culture where people flourish?
Were your employees flourishing before the pandemic? Were they engaged, creative, innovative, productive and happy? If the answer is yes, how can you create an environment now in this virtual space where people can continue to thrive? If the answer is no, how can you use this time now to work on that outcome? The success of your business going forward will depend largely on how people not only weather this storm, but come through it well psychologically, emotionally and socially. What conversations can you have now to ensure this outcome?
Someone once described organizational culture as the organization’s unconscious. It’s not what is written down, but it is what we practice. Whether an organization has bricks and mortar or is virtual there is “a way things are done around here.” In order to shift that culture, we must shift what we practice.
Right now, as a leader, you have a choice. You may be enabling a culture that is energy draining, stressful, and in the end, less resilient and sustainable. Or, you can choose to influence a culture where continual renewal, positivity and flourishing is possible. Research shows that as we flourish, we are more creative, innovative and engaged, which is what every organization wants of their employees.
Ask these 10 questions in your discussions over the days and weeks to come, and set the course for how you work together and support each other in your organization throughout the pandemic and beyond. As you work toward your best possible future, rather than clinging like a barnacle to a rock, let the world be your oyster! (From a safe distance.)
Deborah Connors is changing the workplace conversation by teaching leaders to radically shift culture so that people can flourish. You can follow her blog on www.deborahconnors.com/blog for frequent ideas on creating your “better place to work.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic she is offering three online team workshops to assist teams with Resilience, Reinvention and Reflexivity. Each workshop is tailored to the needs of your specific team and offered live on Zoom for 60-90 minutes. A discount is offered if all three workshops are purchased together. Please contact us to book.
Her book: “A Better Place To Work: Daily Practices That Transform Culture” is available for purchase.