” There is only one thing that is more painful than learning from experience and that is not learning from experience“.Archibald MacLeish
When Big Ben struck midnight at the start of the year, none of us, in our wildest dreams could have imagined that by Spring we’d be living through a global pandemic. It’s been a life-changing experience. Something that we’ll tell our grandchildren about. Not just because of the tragic outcomes but because it’s affected so many of us, globally. We’ve had to adapt and navigate some monumental changes. But recently, things seem to be settling. As the lockdown eases it feels as though the focus on public health has shifted to how we get back to business as usual.
We’re entering the aftermath.
‘Aftermath’ brings up some pretty intense connotations. In the dictionary, you’ll find it described as ‘the period immediately following a usually ruinous event.’ Sounds pretty extreme, right? I needed something better. After a quick Google search, I came across the term ‘second growth crop.’ In other words, after harvest, what comes next? I thought this was a great metaphor. Hopeful, enabling and brimming with possibilities.
So, as we move into the second phase, what have we learned from this unprecedented experience and how can we use this learning to help us build resilience and harvest a second growth crop?
- Perspective – We’ve all gained so much perspective on what’s important. Friends. Family. Nature. We’ve learned a few things about ourselves too.
- Work/life balance – Is the 9-5 slog and commute really relevant anymore? Can we be more productive working less hours with more leisure time?
- Working from home – How we work has changed radically. Working from home has meant that organisations have been forced to place their trust in employees. And guess what? Business is still functioning. Do we really need to pay all those expensive office overheads?
- Freedom and choice – Our core need of autonomy, which includes being able to make choices and act of our own free will, have been brought into sharp focus. We only realise how much we value our freedom when it’s taken away from us.
- Connection – We’re hard wired to connect. Zooming our friends, family and colleagues just isn’t the same. Screen time keeps us going, but it’s reinforced the importance of social connection through face to face interactions.
Which brings me to social pain.
Social pain is real. It hurts. And if we don’t address it, it can have a huge impact on our performance.
When we can’t connect, we feel social pain. Never before have we had to disconnect so abruptly from friends, family and colleagues. When we feel social pain at work we don’t feel safe. Neuroscience tells us that social pain affects us in exactly the same way as physical pain. If you’ve ever been in chronic physical pain, you’ll know how debilitating and exhausting it is. There are so many people in chronic social pain at work and this has to change.
Before the pandemic, social pain would manifest as absenteeism, presenteeism and leavism. Thousands of days ‘off sick’ with mental health issues. Overworking as a distraction. Rarely being offline, even on annual leave. Covid-19 has magnified our social pain. Low vibe emotions of fear, anxiety and despair are greater than ever and we’ve been facing a whole new set of issues:
- How to motivate, communicate and collaborate effectively with people working remotely.
- How to manage the performance, activity and progress of people working remotely.
- How to navigate the challenges that working from home brings – Working alone in isolation. Working alongside other working, redundant or furloughed family members. Juggling work with homeschooling children.
- Fear and anxiety around the virus itself.
- Being isolated and distanced from colleagues, friends and family.
- Teams beginning to fracture and disconnect due to issues around trust and workload.
- Guilt around colleagues that have lost jobs and been furloughed when others haven’t.
There is so much we can learn from this.
Excellence does not require perfection.
The pandemic has really challenged the perfectionists out there. A steep learning curve in terms of new technology, new systems and new ways of working have caused a lot of discomfort, especially to those people that usually seem to have it ‘all under control.’ We’ve had to muddle through. I’ve been involved in online conference calls that have gone ‘wrong’, but the objectives have still been achieved.
The pandemic has really humanised us. We’re working in our jogging pants. We don’t really get how to use Zoom properly. We’re being interrupted by kids and animals. And it’s ok.
Accountability is the glue that ties commitment to the result.Bob Procter
The lockdown could only work if people followed the rules and were held to account. In Spain people were fined on the spot if they didn’t have clearance to go outside. Although it hasn’t been as strict in the UK and some people have flouted the rules, we follow social distancing in supermarkets. We don’t go to the pub. We know what’s expected of us and what is or isn’t acceptable.
All too often in business, people aren’t held to account. We can invest so much time and money on change initiatives. We can be explicit about what is expected. But if we accept anything different, then it’s a complete waste of time. Yes, it’s uncomfortable. But boundaries and implications are crucial if we are to make meaningful change.
Clarity and simplicity are the antidotes to complexity and uncertainty.George Casey
On the Thursday before Boris addressed the nation on Sunday 10th May with his ‘first careful steps’ to ease the Covid-19 lockdown speech, the newspaper headlines were heralding the end of the lockdown. The following Sunday as Boris gave his speech, we realised this wouldn’t be the case at all. Furthermore, his speech gave no real clarity. ‘Stay Home’ was replaced with ‘Stay Alert’ and we all scratched our heads about what this actually meant.
We must keep things simple and be explicit. There are so many people in business that don’t know what is expected of them and are too afraid to ask. Mixed messaging drives confusion and conflict and we can distort, generalise and even disregard vague information if it doesn’t fit our narrative. Simplicity on the other hand is extremely powerful.
The good news is that hard times can be the catalyst for new habits, new behaviours and new lessons.
We’ve learned that social pain is real. It affects us deeply and impacts how we show up at work. So how can we create environments where people feel safe enough to be themselves? We’ve learned that we don’t have to be perfect to be great. We’re all human, we all feel and we all make mistakes. But we can still get the job done. We’ve learned that we must hold people to account if we’re to make meaningful changes. And we’ve learned that if we keep things simple and we’re explicitly clear about what is expected, then there’s no room for conflict and confusion.
As culture consultants that use emotion to drive cultural change, we believe there is now an ideal opportunity to choose the culture we want in the future, using the learning from our experiences over the past few months. If we can associate the size of the crisis with the amount of new learning it can generate in business, we can harvest a second growth crop and emerge into the new normal with brilliance.