Want to know the rules for the “Next Normal?”

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Hint: Get your teams involved.

The Next Normal

Organizations are being compelled to re-think the way their people work together. There is increased pressure to implement or expand more flexible work schedules, EAP programs, learning and development, and diversity and inclusion programs. But to sincerely understand and manage the impact, intentional, authentic communication is critical. Your annual Employee Engagement Survey isn’t going to cut it anymore.

Where We’ve Been

“I’m looking forward to things getting back to normal.”

“’New Normal’ is awesome! I’m way more productive and I have more time to do what makes me happy.”

“I have no idea what I’m supposed to do with this. What’s ‘normal’ anymore, anyway?”

Do any of these statements sound familiar? Millions of people spent the past year and change waiting for a return to “normal.” Others got excited for the “New Normal.” It became a catchphrase – a virtual water cooler topic. Yet others believe that “normal” has imploded and things will never be the same.

For some, it has been a constant struggle. Nothing ever seemed settled, and the sky was about to fall at any moment.  We languished in the upset to our lives, our routines, our rituals. Parents suddenly found themselves with additional full-time jobs – even as more got piled onto their workload to accommodate the new rules. Others began to become comfortable with the uncomfortable. We started looking more critically at how we perceived situations (hell, even our lives) and questioned more. We may even have asked ourselves, “What else isn’t working anymore?” We desperately sought to carve out our own sense of normalcy amid great stress and hardship. And then, with great resolve (and sometimes resignation), and a bit of ingenuity, we found ourselves adapting.

In our perseverance, both individual and collective, we adapted. We adopted new ways of doing things that got us as close to “normal” as we could manage. We started new methods that were more efficient, more fulfilling, more joyful. We put away processes that no longer made sense and revised strategies that no longer served us in the same way. We adopted new game plans, new perspectives, new approaches that helped us live our lives as comfortably as possible. We pushed technology to adapt to our new lifestyle requirements (Zoom, anyone?). We found  ways to be as productive, if not more, than in the “before times.”

It has been simultaneously exhausting and exhilarating. And alongside all of the logistical challenges, we still had to find ways to connect with one another. Even introverts (shout out!) found ourselves secretly longing for those annoying meetings that accomplish nothing if only to be around other humans. Okay, that isn’t entirely true. But although we reveled in our newly-approved solitude, many of us have found that the complete lack of human contact has left a void. Yet, we are also anxious about the pressure to re-connect.  

Where We Are

The “Next Normal” is imminent, and not everything can return to the way it used to be. Although there may be some opportunities for “old normal” to come back, we haven’t forgotten that those old routines had their own stress.  So now we have the stress that comes with the “old normal” mixed with re-integrating “back to normal” after learning how to live with the  “new normal,” all while defining the “next normal.” Mix in the usual stress that accompanies any change effort, and you have a recipe for easy burnout.

Multiple sources have reported that anxiety, depression, and substance use have tripled during the past year. A percentage of this number may subside as COVID conditions improve and restrictions are lifted. However, this does not address civil and social justice, slow economic recovery, joblessness, or any of the other breathtaking events that have transpired since the pandemic began. Many will approach this “return to normal” with hesitation, waiting for the next shoe to drop.

Where Are You Going?

How will you, your leaders, and your team manage the next transition? Are your plans squarely around how you get back to the way things were in the “before times?” What will you continue doing from the “new normal?” What will you bring back from the “old normal?” Who and what will inform these decisions?  Will you go back to the old system because it’s comfortable? Or will you continue seeking better ways forward? If we haven’t worn that outfit in more than a year, should it be removed from our wardrobe? To be clear, I’m not talking about pants here. If you return to the office, you should probably wear pants.

As important as these questions are, a more critical question is who determines how you move forward? We have a historic opportunity to look into our minds and hearts and deliberately decide how we want to move forward as organizations built by – and consisting of – humans.

How Do We Get There, Together?

There is no better time than right now to begin having authentic, transparent, intentional conversations with your teams. The annual Employee Engagement Survey is no longer enough. Data is great, but it won’t address the day-to-day issues people are having, help your team collaborate with empathy, or create a safe space for your folks to thrive. Talk to people. Find out what “normal” looks like for them. Share what “normal” looks like for you. Agree on how you are going to forge a path to move forward. Following are some ideas to do just that.

Important Pre-Work

  • It is vital to establish safety and an understanding, empathetic space. Every single one of us has been impacted, some more than others. Every single one of us is working toward finding our “Next Normal.” And every single one of us has struggles that prevent us from doing so. I’m not talking about dedicating a conference room. “Space” can be an office, the cube farm, a hallway, the kitchen – the “space” is wherever we are.
  • Talk to every one of your team members individually to get them on board with this approach. Don’t throw it at them and expect compliance or ecstatic participation overnight. Nothing breeds apathy on a team more than leaders telling them they are now expected to live by new values. Find out what concerns they have in advance and remove them.
  • Be sure other leaders are on board. For this to be successful, EVERYONE must be on an equal platform.
  • Be open, public, and transparent in your communications. Know that this journey isn’t going to be “perfect.” It might get quite messy at times. However, you will reach equanimity and productivity more efficiently if the team rallies together with trust.

What It Might Look Like

  • Develop a team Working Agreement. In essence, the agreement provides a baseline for how everyone will show up for their teammates every day, including in times of conflict. Develop a list of team values by which they can commit to working.
  • Gather the team regularly to check-in, review the Working Agreement, add to it, or make changes. Accountability belongs to everyone.
  • Have a Lean Coffee-style meeting every week or month. All topics are game – it doesn’t have to be work-related. At first, this meeting may feel strange or chaotic, but it will develop its own flow over time.
  • Have a meeting every week with each team member to develop a coaching relationship and support them in accountability and challenges.  
  • Regularly acknowledge progress and challenges openly. Help the team develop positivity and support through habit-building.

Some Conversation Starters

  1. What does “normal” look like (include both individuals and teams)?
  2. How would you like “normal” to look?
  3. What would help you move forward?
  4. What will move us forward as a team?
  5. What does success look like as a team?
  6. What could our team look like in three months? Six months?
  7. What, if anything, would you want to bring back from the “before times?”
  8. What are three things you would like to see change?
  9. How do you want to be as a team member?
  10. What can you do to be a successful member of the team?
  11. What do you need to be a successful member of the team?
  12. What are your three biggest life priorities for the next month/quarter/year?
  13. How can the team best support you?
  14. What do you need to feel safe and supported?
  15. What might get in the way of the team’s success? How do we address those roadblocks?
  16. What might prevent us from adhering to our Working Agreement? How do we address those challenges?
  17. What will help us adhere to our Working Agreement?
  18. How will you hold yourself accountable for your commitment to the team and yourself?
  19. What do we need to let go of to ensure [progress/success]?
  20. What is one thing that has inspired you this week?

I would love to hear your perspective. Feel free to add more in the comments. Would you like help in setting your team up for success? Schedule a free consultation or reach out via email.

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