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ATD Blog

The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working . . . But What Will?

Friday, May 7, 2021
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As we prepare to re-enter our workplaces in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become commonplace—even trendy—to say it. The way we’re working isn’t working anymore.

On the heels of a year-long global pandemic, we are obliged to take stock of the collateral damage to our talent pools, our company cultures, our employee engagement, and our morale. As we do, we can see what was probably true all along:

  • Tending to human capital is key.
  • We could (and should) be doing a better job.
  • If those who have the capacity to influence the polices, protocols, and practices of our organizations don’t take a stand for what matters most, we could find ourselves in a talent crisis that affects our leadership pipelines and the workforce at large for years to come.

Which begs the question: If the way we’re working isn’t working anymore, how will we know what will?

The same type of thinking that helped to quickly solve business challenges is likely to get in our way. When we learn that something isn’t working, our inclination is to go for the quick fix, which usually looks like some form of doing the opposite of what we were doing before.

Our hard-driving culture of “more is better” is burning our people out? Let’s put some ping-pong tables in the hallways so that we can remedy the problem ASAP.

Too many lengthy, unproductive meetings? Have fewer. Shorten them. Or do both.

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Yet we fail to address the underlying root cause of the burnout. This approach is easy. It’s cheap. And while it puts enough of a Band-Aid on the issue that we can turn our attention to other things for a while, it doesn’t get the job done.

This knee-jerk approach to problem solving shows up in our diversity and inclusion initiatives as well. Not enough women or people of color in the C-suite? Promote the best available candidates—or import a qualified person from another organization.

The cost of these types of decisions can be high. Turnover. Continued burnout. Workforce disengagement or resentment.

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But the biggest cost is a massive missed opportunity to use this moment of disruption to find real, sustainable solutions and set up our organizations for a better future by doing the real right things now.

In our programs at Guts & Grace Leadership, we help diverse leaders and teams step out of the pendulum swing of “either-or” decision making and partial action taking in favor of a full-bodied, fully human approach. The approach begins by staking stock of the outdated strategies that drove our decisions and actions in the past and ends with the development of coherent, new-paradigm practices that change the game.

Here are four steps you can take to get you started:

  • First, define the problem in a few simple sentences. Use phrases like “because x is happening, it’s leading to y, which has consequence(s) z.”
  • Second, take stock of the driving force. Make a list of five to 10 reasons why this problem has come about. Include the obvious and the far-fetched.
  • Third, question assumptions. What do you and your colleagues believe about business, the world or the way work must get done that may not necessarily be true? When and why did those assumptions first begin?
  • Fourth, ask “What’s our bigger game? Instead of jumping to solutions, spend at least 24 to 48 hours thinking bigger than the problem. What’s the bigger game that your real solution could be a part of?

This simple and powerful approach can help both organizations and individuals to short-circuit the “do the opposite” instinct in favor of a more grounded, comprehensive solution that will withstand the test of time.

About the Author

LeeAnn Mallorie began her career as an executive coach and trainer in 2005, working with leaders and teams around the globe at companies like Capital One, NASA and Mattel. Yet she soon found something was missing – the body. As the founder and CEO of Guts & Grace Leadership and sister firm Leading in Motion, she spent the last fifteen years helping leaders innovate and scale their impact without burning out by bridging the gap between the hard-driving, logical mind and the deeper wisdom of the soul. LeeAnn’s unique embodied leadership curriculum offers a concrete, actionable doorway to greater power, ethics, influence, and impact at work. Her book Guts and Grace: A Woman’s Guide to Full-Bodied Leadership was published by Conscious Capitalism Press in January, 2020

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Great information.
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What works is treating employees like trusted partners, understanding, driving and participating in the improving economics of your company. Our research with Harvard Business School of hundreds of companies that economically engaged their employees as trusted partners have double the profitable growth of their peers. These Forbes and Harvard Business Review articles provide more background: https://hbr.org/2018/01/more-than-a-paycheck http://www.forbes.com/sites/fotschcase/2016/05/31/eng
Thanks Bill for chiming in here. It looks like your team is doing great work to help drive clarity for organizations' next steps at this time.
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