2020 has tested us over and over again. As a talent development leader at the Urban Institute, I have had to pivot and readjust our strategic plans so many times that I no longer remember where I started the year. Before we transitioned to full-time remote work, speculation was rampant about what would or wouldn’t happen or even the contagiousness of this new virus. There was so much information, disbelief, and speculation. How could we know what was true? Yet even before our leadership team announced the need to conduct tests on our ability to work remotely, I already had prepared a virtual transformation plan.
While self-care may be important for individuals this year, resilience and responsiveness are also key for leaders to successfully scan their external and internal environments and to adapt plans. With the rest of 2020 still ahead of us, we must continue to practice self-care for ourselves, promote it for our teams, and apply six principles to embrace resilience and responsiveness in meeting employee needs.
Principle 1: Stay tuned to the internal organizational talk and the external news.Small talk in meetings show you how people interpret information and provide you with insights into trends or shifts you may not have heard about yourself. So much information is available to consume that it is important to leverage every connection and moment in time. Others are also doing the work for you, so engage in conversations and find out how they are interpreting the external world.
With so much speculation, I started planning the what if scenarios in February. How do we continue to offer our core training services if we need to virtually transform all of our learning programs?
Principle 2: If you don’t have a seat at the table, make sure you are close with someone who does.Talent development leaders need to stay connected to organizational decision making. This means knowing what the risk assessment team was learning about the situation and how their decisions were evolving. When the social justice movements started, I already knew how leadership was thinking of adjusting and responding. This gave me advance notice to flesh out my what ifs.
By the time leadership was ready to announce the first closure, I had already put pen to paper and was identifying contingency plans.
Principle 3: Establish allies in other parts of the business, even if they do not work directly with you on other projects.These teams have different perspectives about what is happening in the organization and how those situations will affect it. Teams like accounting, finance, legal, IT, and other units are all part of the larger puzzle and will interpret information differently. Connect with them to find out how your plans will be affected and how they see external forces affecting their work.
When it was finally announced that we were closed for March, I already knew what the financial effects would be and how this would affect our transformation plans. By the time the organization announced an office closure for Juneteenth, I already knew that we needed to postpone communications on programs that would have felt irrelevant to staff given where we were focusing our priorities.
Principle 4: Get your team on board early.The team already knew the proposed strategy and contingency plans before anything was confirmed. This meant the team was not surprised and was ready to pivot once a decision was made and confirmed. Because they had advance notice, we were able to come together to reprioritize our plans by switching deadlines and focusing on what was needed most for the organization. We also identified other allies to help us learn, innovate, and adapt.
Principle 5: Connect with others. You are not alone.In addition to your established allies, be open to learning from others. What are other people doing? What tools are they using? How are they adapting? How can you help each other? Bringing more people to the table can help you harness the creative energy of teams who can you help solve for a problem and adjust your plans. Others may have already learned how to solve for the problems in front of you.
We connected with leadership and learned what staff were experiencing. We used that information to phase out the implementation of key programs and target the areas of the program that would be most relevant for staff and their current lived experiences.
Principle 6: Let it go.In May, as social justice movements brought racial equity to the forefront of societal and political agendas, the above lessons served us well as we once again turned the table on our 2020 plans. I immediately connected with all the relevant people to find out what was happening and what staff were experiencing. Small talk in meetings helped me figure out what questions to ask and how to ask them. We slowed down our work for ourselves as individuals and for our team. People needed to know we were listening. This meant letting go of past plans and engaging in strategic planning again. Embracing this principle will help you apply the previous five principles successfully.
As we move from the summer into fall, these lessons will help us pivot and support employees where they need us most. Being resilient and responsive to our changing environment is as much about your own self-care as it about ensuring your team practices self-care as well. As a leader, you need to be ready for your team and the organization and understand the various forces shaping your work. Interpreting your environment is about understanding how people feel as much as it about understanding policies, trends, and events. Everything is an interconnected system, so connecting to various points in the system will give you clues as to what is happening. With sufficient clues, eventually you will be able to connect them all and see the big picture and how it can affect your work. From there it is a matter of engaging the team and being the leader they need you to be—transparent, honest, and compassionate. After all, we bring our whole selves to work whether we intend to or not. If any year is a testament to that, it is 2020.