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What Now? What do we do to prepare for coming out of COVID-19?

“What I’ve noticed with COVID-19 is that people are nicer…”

My local café owner

There’s a story my 5-year-old loves about a doll who has the power to make wishes. Wishing is how she communicates and influences the world.

As we enter the end of phase one of the COVID-19 journey, it feels a bit like some of us are doing that. What’s the ‘new normal’ we want, how can we influence it? What are we wishing for?

For some of us, this is an inspiring and exciting prospect. For many of the people I work with, they’re exhausted. The bow-wave of implications from the last 6 months have yet to truly manifest and we’ll be untangling the implications for years to come. Creating anything in that space seems too early, overwhelming, or both.

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1. Let Things Emerge

When I was younger, I delivered a coaching program for people who wanted to consciously create their life. We’d create a vision of life at 80 and work backwards. It was a spectacularly successful program and lots of people (me included) got a lot out of it.

As I got older I started to doubt whether it was making the difference I thought it was. The whole approach started to feel ‘off’, a bit like wishful thinking, so I canned it.

A few years ago, with a few years under my belt, this program morphed into Midlife Creation (see HERE for a short piece on transitioning your career and HERE for a short video). The goal is the same but rather than ‘creating’ the future I walk beside people as they look inwards and backwards at their life to learn who they really are, their Leitmotif (the recurring theme – see HERE). This helps people see the values that defined them and that they can craft their life around as they moved forward.

What I’ve learnt is that both approaches are valid, it’s just that the second is more mature.

I think that’s what we need to do now: hold a space to see what is actually there and resist the temptation to fill it too quickly.

Otto Scharmer recently wrote a great piece about how important it is for leaders and organisations to hold off ‘creating’ and start looking at what’s really there: what’s going on right now. As he puts it "what’s left in an organisation when the extraneous bit are shorn away?".

"The coronavirus crisis is prompting us to improvise new ways of collaborating and coordinating…. governance to help coordinate by letting go and letting come, based on what we are seeing together: letting go of previous plans, and letting come what is about to emerge."

Just to be clear: this IS NOT our natural first instinct!

There is a lot to do, a lot to fix, a lot to learn. Find a way to step back in the midst of all that activity and see what's emerging.

Good for our organisations... and a life lesson for us all :-)

2. We’re in the 2nd Dip

I’ve been doing quite a bit of work with organisations this last few months in what it means to recover from an emergency like this. The model I use is modified from the Natural Disaster space and has helped people prepare for the next step.

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Heroic is done. The chimera that was the “Honeymoon” period lies well behind us. Now we're looking at all the stuff that was pushed aside to get through the crisis:

I was just looking at my 'back-to-work' plan... I don't want to go 'back-to-work'... there's just so much there to do!

A Ceo said this to me yesterday. Not that he's not been working hard, he has, it's just that there's a lot that has been put off that is now threatening to overwhelm him. Also, we can get used to anything, and we've even gotten used to lockdown.

My experience working with communities dealing with the second dip is instructive because I've learnt that there is a lot we can do to mitigate and manage it. Now is the time to start preparing for that.

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3. Organic vs Mechanistic

The future is pulling for an organic approach to organisation rather than the dominant mechanistic one. It's often driven by women who are pushing against implicit and explicit sexism and really grappling with themselves to do it.

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When looking at the process of recovery these two metaphors have proven to be really powerful:

Mechanical: Recovery is a matter of fitting all the right pieces back together of fixing errors and driving improved systems and processes.

Organic: Recovery looks more like healing. Where relationships are rebuilt, social capital renewed and compassion and empathy rule interactions.

See HERE to read a bit about "The New Leadership Task" and how to operationalise this distinction and See here for a piece on why what we're looking at here is NOT new territory - we have done this before!

If you want to see how this applies in your organisation, book a time here.

4. Bursty Communication

"How can we balance being compassionate with the ongoing need for productivity?"

"Bursty Communication' is what you need to try to facilitate as we go through the recovery. In the midst of all this change, we've seen a massive burst of compassion AND in many areas productivity. Why? Can we carry whatever the source of that is forward?

How can we be so creative while working out of lounge-rooms, garages and in my case, sometimes my chicken coop (it’s very big!).

One answer that is starting to show up is a particular quality of communication (see HERE for the study report): 

"...teams who communicate in bursts—exchanging messages quickly during periods of high activity—perform much better than remote teams whose conversations involve long lag time between responses and are spread across multiple topic threads."

It's not ability or skill level, it's not incentives, it's not really even diversity (interestingly unless you count the number of women!

This is particularly important now we're looking at remote teams and working. It's as easy to facilitate 'bursty' communication remotely as it is in an office!

We talk over each-other, riff, creative, shift, turn and change – then do. That’s how human beings roll.


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