One of my favorite visuals to illustrate change is a piece of folded flip chart paper, folded in half six times until it is about the size of an index card. Then, when talking about how the change process works, you can unfold it, one fold at a time, until you get to the final reveal upon which you have written the word “WOW!”
Too many people have the misconception that change occurs only like the last time you unfold – from nothing to WOW — but in reality, it is the work done in those initial five steps that set it up to make an amazing result possible. Without this understanding, people are tempted to quit too early in the process, feeling that they have worked through four steps and have nothing to show for it. Even though what you have in the beginning does not resemble the final output, through the process of making incremental changes a transformation can occur.
Use this simple technique to remind your staff (and yourself) that change rarely happens all at once. You can use the language of “another step of unfolding” as a way to keep things in perspective and keep people motivated to press forward in order to achieve “wow” results.
In the NFL, there is a protocol for what happens when a player has any type of head injury. He is immediately removed from the field, taken to the locker room, examined by an unaffiliated neurologic consultant and, if diagnosed with a concussion, same-day return to play is prohibited. This happens automatically without question, even if it’s the Super Bowl or the player insists that they are “fine.”
A colleague has followed this format and implemented a parallel protocol to ensure staff wellbeing when employees are involved with a traumatic case outcome. Several steps are mandated including peer support, debriefing, and a follow-up meeting. These steps occur without asking – and without debate. A similar process is in place for air traffic controllers after an airline crash, police involved in a fatal shooting and in other high stakes settings.
While in most cases management flexibility is welcomed, in certain situations, prescribing a series of behaviors is actually a gift. Protocols that require wellness interventions allow staff members to receive the help they need without any guilt or shame for requesting it. It removes all the excuses for not accessing what is warranted.
In these stressful times, supervisors should consider instituting a few more “concussion protocols” to address the wellbeing of their staff (and follow them themselves!). For example, if you have worked X days or hours in a row, you must take a day off or if you have not yet been off three consecutive days since COVID began, you must do so by X date.
People feel a lot of pressure to stay in the game. Do yourself and your team a favor and remove the hesitation and stigma of getting off the field.
I’m coaching a client to complete their dissertation and one of the key components of the work is getting the logic flow solid enough to pass his advisor’s muster. He started with a broad statement of purpose and has moved into more granular detail, ultimately resulting in the specific research question for his research. His advisor calls this the “martini glass” – where you begin with a broad perspective and ultimately narrow to a targeted argument.
We’ve spent so much time on this one component that I am ready to use a real martini glass myself, but she is right that if he can get the elements and flow right in the beginning, everything that follows will be easier.
Too often, we fail to make the time to think through a solid logic flow before we just jump right in and start doing. Before you begin your next big project, draw yourself a martini glass. Put your purpose at the top, your supporting points to follow and your specific course of action just above the stem.
For example, the martini glass for the dots could be:
The ability to see things from a new perspective is a skill worth cultivating. Stories and examples are actionable ways to learn new concepts. I have honed the ability to connect the dots and explain their meaning in memorable ways. A blog is an effective format that allows me to share my thinking. I’ll write daily leadership dots to help others learn to see with new eyes.
Writing out this flow helps me remain focused on the goal of the dots – that it is not any of the specific lessons, rather to provide examples that teach people how to see things differently and make connections on their own.
Try it for yourself. Sketch out your own martini glass as an up-front method of keeping your purpose and process in focus. Just the act of doing so will enhance your thinking.
Before Einstein became a world-renowned scientist, he held a job as a patent officer where he reviewed applications for new inventions all day. The patent office was located by a train station with a giant clock tower and the combination of his work and the surroundings synthesized to give him an environment from which to launch his famous “thought experiments” that formed the basis for his revolutionary work.
Instead of being immersed in beakers in a lab as we often think of when science comes to mind, Einstein produced most of his work through hypotheticals and mathematical calculations to prove his point. He would imagine: “Suppose lightning bolts strike the trains track’s embankment at two distant places, A and B. If we declare that they struck simultaneously, what does that mean?” From this curiosity, he arrived at the principle of relativity to say “there is no way to decree that the embankment is ‘at rest’ and the train is ‘in motion.’ We can only say that they are in motion relative to each other.”
There are many examples of how Einstein thought through his theories through synchronized clocks or trains, light or sound. He learned much from his time in the patent office about new ways to think of ideas and how theoretical concepts were being applied in real-life situations.
Julia Child did not begin serious cooking until she found herself in France immersed in the rich cuisine. From there, she started lessons and later became acquainted with a duo of Parisians who enlisted her help with a cookbook. Like with Einstein, her surroundings shaped her thinking and, ultimately, her career path and legacy.
Be thoughtful about the environment in which find yourself. Routine aspects can fade into the background and go unnoticed. But trains and clocks, or in Julia’s case, beef bourguignon and crepes, may allow you to revolutionize your thinking if you pay attention.
In an interview with Robert Costa of the Washington Post, Dr. Anthony Fauci was asked whether he thought he made any mistakes in the handling of the pandemic. He answered like the scientist that he is, saying that if that meant looking back and doing something differently, yes, he would – but because of the information that he has now. “You made a recommendation based on the information that you had at the time which is what you should be doing…When the information changes and you change what you’re saying it’s because you’re wanting to follow the evidence and the data – which is the right thing to do,” Fauci said. “So then do you call that a mistake back then? Well, back then it wasn’t a mistake because you were acting on the data you know…I look at recommendations based on data as you know it and as the data changes, then you change your recommendations.”
The National Institutes of Health is an environment where experimentation is the norm. Fauci talked frequently of how things are evolving, how we’re “only six months into it,” and how for certain things we need to keep an open mind as we are still learning about how the virus acts. He couched almost all of his answers with “based on what we know now…”
I think that Dr. Fauci has one of the worst jobs in the world these days, and yet he continues doing it with calm and grace. You would do well to emulate his mindset. Seek out new facts. Keep learning. Let the information guide you. Make the best decision at the time. Don’t be afraid to change your mind in light of evolving circumstances. Admit to not knowing all the answers. Look forward instead of looking back with regret. Don’t mislabel earlier decisions as making mistakes. Remain realistic. Point out complexities and nuances. Continue to be candid even when it’s unpopular to do so.
During the pandemic, we’ve learned a lot about what not to do, but Dr. Fauci is modeling ways of communicating that will serve you well long after the virus is tamed.
I can’t tell you the number of emails I receive that start out: “Hey Beth.” “Hey” may be an acceptable greeting in person, but in print, it comes off a bit too informal for my taste.
But “hey” was put in perspective when I was copied on an email that was sent by a current member of an organization to its retired president. It began: “Dear a happy bunch of [First Name Last Name],” as it sought to ask for time and contributions from this person. Seriously? The sender is director-level and that’s how they chose to address a legend? Actually, I can’t think of any situation in which that wording is appropriate. I hate to think of how they communicate with their staff.
Text messaging, social media, emojis and inter-office channels like Slack have certainly loosened the formality around communication, but common sense and courtesy should still prevail. Leave the “hey’s” for when you run into a buddy on the street and keep the “happy bunch” lingo for when you’re describing bananas. How you begin your message truly does have an impact on how you are perceived.
I watched a presentation by Ibram X. Kendi, author of How to Be Antiracist. He fit the profile of dot 2960 of someone who is used to working behind the scenes and now is thrust into the spotlight. He spoke of how he used to spend all of his time in the archives and behind a computer, not behind a camera and microphone.
Kendi has become an in-demand speaker due to the topic and timing of his book, and he certainly has many ideas to offer on the subject. But something that also stuck with me was the comment he made about how while he was writing this piece, he was diagnosed with Stage 4 Colon Cancer, a diagnosis that only has a 12% survival rate. He said that he decided then that since he may not even live to see the book published, he may as well put it all out there. In the end, not only did he live, but his vulnerability gave power to the book and landed him a Number One spot on the New York Times Best Seller List.
As Tim McGraw’s lyrics remind us, “Live Like You Were Dying.” You don’t need a health scare to put your best self forward. Your words may not please everyone, but they could also change lives.
Once when I was working on campus, we had a substantial reorganization that took most people by surprise. The realignment was announced as a fait accompli and even those affected were told simultaneously when the whole campus received notification. It rocked my world. I likened it to an earthquake where even when it is over you never quite feel the same level of stability. It was always in the back of my mind that the fault lines could open again.
I anticipate that many will feel this way post-COVID. Like after 9-11, we have lost the collective sense of normalcy and a sense of routine that we could count on. As a result, it may be hard to think long-term or we could find ourselves adding asterisks to all of our plans (“We’ll see you at Christmas if we’re able,” or “I hope to go to Europe next summer if it’s safe.”). The uncertainty leads to a perpetual state of tension and even fear.
Yes, the world is a different place than it was a few months ago. Yes, change happened at a breathtaking pace and most of us did not see the magnitude of what was coming. And, like those living in cities on literal fault lines, we must learn to move forward and live without an impending sense of doom.
Take the presence of potential danger seriously. Put policies in place that help to reinforce strength. Make preparations and safety plans. Listen to warnings and be prepared to respond quickly. Cultivate a mindset that is adaptable to change. But remember, even though thousands are impacted when earthquakes upend their city, few ultimately die from them. Keep things in perspective.
I think about all the people who have been thrust into the spotlight because of COVID after years of working behind the scenes. Dr. Anthony Fauci has been the Director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984 but had you ever heard of him before March? Did you know who your county’s director of public health was? Even the governors previously worked outside the radar without the daily press conferences and front-page coverage they receive today.
The pattern extends outside the government realm as well. Directors of local nonprofits, small businesses and religious organizations are all being called to perform public relations work, communicate policies and have interactions with audiences in ways that they have never done before. For some of them, you can tell it is totally outside of their comfort zone.
The bottom line is that the need to communicate with stakeholders isn’t going away. CNN may not be knocking on your door, but whether it be due to the pandemic, tragedy, crime or circumstances, chances are good that one type of crisis or another will someday warrant a public response. The time is before that happens to be clear on who will deliver the message, the key points to emphasize the organization itself and resources to call upon to help if the matter has the potential to escalate (tip: they all do!).
In the era of social networks, 24/7 media coverage and the never-ending quest for a scoop, it doesn’t take much to find yourself with a microphone in your face. The importance of building relationships with reporters, obtaining media training and lining up communication resources should be elevated as an essential part of your managerial skill set.
I wrote yesterday’s dot in about 10 minutes – largely because I sat down right after receiving the compliment and letting the words flow from my head to the page. Most days, it takes me more than 10 minutes to come up with the topic.
It’s not for lack of inputs. I have a basket that holds my “clippings” of articles that struck me as possible dot topics. I also have two notebooks, an email folder, a documents folder, a photos folder and various other lists of ideas. But, just as with my closet that is simultaneously full yet devoid of anything to wear, most nights none of the thoughts resonate. Some are so old as to render them useless (e.g. no more dots about the Iowa Caucuses) and others are so cryptic that I no longer remember what I meant. The dots sat idle too long before they were connected.
The lesson I take from all this is that timeliness deserves more credit than we (I?) give it. Pitching a solution soon after the problem arises is more likely to be received with favor than if it comes months after the fact. Sending a note of thanks is appreciated in short order, rather than weeks later. Apologizing right after a blunder has more impact than a delayed response. And putting pen to paper/fingers to keyboard to expound on an idea soon after you have it gives it a much higher chance of being useful in the future.