Practical Tips for dealing with the 'C' word

Updated: Mar 18, 2020

It may all have changed again by tomorrow, but I reckon these tips, or at least some of them, will remain relevant to many of us in leadership, at work and in life for a little while yet.

What a week! I’ve been amazed and impressed with the speed of action from many organisations in responding to the word we’re hearing more often that we’d like. So in this article I’m going to avoid the word itself and provide some practical tools and ideas. I’d love your thoughts.

1. For all leaders

What’s going on is change. A clever WOMAN (just saying) called Elizabeth Kubler-Ross published her change curve back in 1969. It turned 50 last year and like many of us good women and our inventions, has stood the test of time very well. There’s 7 stages to dealing with change. I've popped a picture in below that illustrates them. You might like to keep this blog and in a week or so, ask your team members individually where they think they are on the curve.

2. Before you do #1....

Listen. Actively. To understand. Not to respond.

Talk with each of your people. Do it via phone, video, across a 1.5m wide table at the office, on a walk outside – wherever! Ask them how they are feeling about the world around them? Ask whether they know anyone affected. Whether they have connections that are elderly or immune-suppressed. Ask them if they have fears. At each question – just listen. Remind them you don’t have the answers. Just listen.

Then avoid the temptation to offer solutions – plenty of time for that. Avoid sympathy, clichés or platitudes. Yes – we are all in this together. BUT – for that employee who is struggling right now, it's still tough. Respect it.

Authentic leadership suggests that we all show a little vulnerability – tell your employee your fears and concerns. You may have told them your Mother is in isolation, but tell them how that feels. Facts with feelings show your humanity. Facts alone leave you in boss-land.

3. For all of us

Today's famous quote by Jo Marshall

if you can’t get work, get fit’.

You can replace your own words into that. I really can’t be in front of large groups very much at the moment, or even get new work that involves my core business of talking to humans in person.... so I’m working on my fitness – my physical fitness and my brain fitness. Yes I'm still working working, but I'm ensuring that with fewer commitments I use the new time I have really well.

My walking group is planning to hike this weekend – whilst no doubt the C word will be high on the agenda, along with our very heartfelt and serious conversations about it, we will also have some fun maintaining 1.5m distance whilst we natter away enjoying the bush. Here’s some other word replacements for my famous saying

If you can’t get finished get started

If you can’t get doing, get planning

If you can’t get paid, get learning

If you can't get smiling, get talking

(to a friend, co-worker, counsellor - it's important)

4. Leading workers from home?

I’m in the process of preparing a series of guides to help individuals and their leaders navigate working from home. Some advice for leaders – trust your people to get the job done. And where you’re not sure you can – communicate, communicate, communicate!. Get clear about can get done and what needs to get done.

Ask for transparency - and lead that by example

If you’re working from home and you decide to go check whether Woolies has any pasta or oats (go figure) back in stock at 3.13pm in the afternoon – message your team that’s what you’re doing. That will make them feel comfortable being transparent about their movements.

Encourage your team to make a daily plan (message me for templates or any other tools). Encourage and remind them to write lists if they didn't before, set aside a workspace if possible away from their normal 'relax' space. Work at a desk or table.

Suggest people take the micro-breaks they would take at work - phone a co-worker instead of a chat in the kitchen, get Microsoft Teams, Yammer or any other social work platform happening for instant, at work messaging.

If you are leading or working from home for the first time, remember – 'Necessity is the mother of invention'. The necessity for you to have you work from home, might just pave the way for a future of greater flexibility. Do what you can to prove you can deliver – make it work!

5. More on necessity and invention

My mind is literally buzzing with ideas about how I could potentially support my clients if this continues. Whilst face to face is out, stress and change are huge. And almost everything I do touches in some significant way on helping teams deal with stress and change. I just need to figure out a different approach for now.

Get your thinking outside the square. Listen to others and your own self-talk. Every time you think there’s a problem - challenge yourself. When you hear yourself saying ‘that won’t work’, ‘we can’t do that’, ‘it’s too hard, remember – the only thing you have control over is how YOU respond to what happens around you.

Some of you have been in a crowded room with me, back when that was cool, safe and hopefully really fun…. And we’ve reminded ourselves what our parents and carers said to us when we were young and said things like I’ve written above.

They told us ‘keep trying’, ‘try again’, ‘don’t give up’ and ‘practice’. Sometimes, like when we learned to tie our shoes, they might say ‘try it a different way’. Use this time to be a kid again! Think of a new way, try it, ask your friends, have a competition, or a race, treat it like a puzzle. That might just make some of this feel a little more like play.

6. For people who are at home but really can’t do all of their work

What can you learn?

Have you got any online training you didn’t quite get to? Can you up-skill in an area that you find tricky. There is more online learning than ever and heaps of it is free.

I’m going to learn how to build an e-learning program. I’m going to listen to TED Talks, ramp up my rate of reading and think creatively about how I can share what I learn with my colleagues.

If you have down time at home and no-one’s looking, you have choices. Netflix is one of them. If won’t provide some important basic needs, like human connection, something you might need more than you expect in the coming weeks. Netflix also won't help our careers. Whist I’m sure there’s an exception, for most of us, slipping a little more Netflix into our day than our normal breaks allow for is unlikely to lead to our next promotion, or more work from home opportunities down the track.

7. For Customer Service Leaders

I have no doubt you have talked to your teams about being kind and understanding to customers at this difficult time. Firstly - that won’t wash unless you have followed steps above. You set the tone and what you walk past you accept. If you are not actively showing kindness and understanding to your people, they won’t do so to your customers. Worse, they might even share their experience with them - not great for your brand!

8. For Leaders in ‘unaffected’ industries

Industries that do lots of work in the outdoors such as construction, maintenance, gardening and landscaping may feel that they are less affected. And that may be true ‘less’ affected. Let’s not get into a ‘you more than me, me more than you argument’. Let’s agree everyone is affected. Most people have fears. Most people have loved ones with vulnerabilities.

Remember your staff and others providing you with services may be deeply concerned or affected. Just give an inch, a smile, a positive comment. So for you, just like every other leader – go back and re read points 1 through to 3. Simple, practical hacks to help your teams navigate the biggest change society has seen for a long long time!

Finally - I mean it when I say I have more time at the moment. I am very happy to pay it forward. Want a chat, a second opinion, an idea, or a sounding board? Whether it's HR, Flexibility, Culture, Adaptability and Resilience. I'm open for business and available to chat. And one thing we all know I love doing....

Oh – and be careful how much you use the C word! 😊

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