It’s Time For Organizations To Ascend The Pandemic’s Change Curve
Since Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross wrote about the five stages of grief in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying, she and other experts have agreed that people rarely experience stages of loss in a linear way. Instead, most people go back and forth between denial and acceptance while they go through life-changing transitions.
The Kübler-Ross Change Curve better illustrates the emotional stages people experience during transitional periods and how easily we can become stuck in the depressive rut at the bottom. As an executive coach, I’m seeing more people who are feeling flat, tired and burned out from the pandemic, especially as parts of the world enter new lockdowns.
In order to help their teams start ascending the change curve, business leaders need to embrace the reality that, even with a vaccine on the horizon, Covid-19 has already permanently changed the way we live and work. We are, in a sense, already living in a post-Covid world, even as we continue to battle the disease.
History shows us that large-scale crises change the way we live long after the immediate danger has passed. It took several years for life to return to normal after the 1918 flu pandemic and, in many ways, the virus is still here. Though the 9/11 terrorist attack was an isolated incident, it forever changed the way we fly.
Over eight months into Covid-19, many business leaders have moved from big cities to more remote locations. Once a senior leader decides to relocate, it’s unlikely they will move back. Now that organizations have made more permanent shifts to virtual teams, how can leaders leverage the positives of this new world order to not only build morale and ascend the curve but emerge even stronger?
Organizations were struggling to hire talent, especially digital talent, before the pandemic. According to a 2019 survey by Capgemini and LinkedIn, 54% of professionals said the growing digital talent gap was responsible for less digital transformation and diminished competitive advantage at their organization.
Recently, I’ve seen an increase in organizations taking a more global approach to hiring talent. Companies that have gone remote during the pandemic are now hiring technologists and other experts with the precise skill sets they need, without the expectation of traveling to the head office often or ever.
Leaders may want or need to bring some of their people back into the office. But leaders who insist on bringing everyone back risk not being competitive in the new labor market. As more people move to 15-minute cities, leaders need to focus less on collaborating in physical workspaces and more on how to forge better relationships in digital workspaces.
A key breakthrough of the pandemic is that we don’t all have to be in the same place at the same time. Before, we all jammed on to the subway for an hour so we could jam into huge high towers before commuting home. We used to have unstructured conversations during moments like walking to grab a cup of coffee, but seeing Starbucks close hundreds of locations is a sign that this has changed.
While Zoom wine tastings and Zoom bingo were great ways for leaders to check in with their teams at the start of the pandemic, the time and energy required isn’t sustainable. Now that we’re shifting our focus from surviving the immediate impact of Covid-19 to coming up the curve, we need to solidify what we’ve learned and experiment with new, more sustainable ways to socialize.
This means efficiently using the right technology so organizations can operate across the globe and no one has to get on a conference call at midnight. Digital tools that encourage asynchronous communication allow people to maximize their unique creativity and energy, which will not only attract better talent but may also yield more fruitful collaboration across time zones.
I’m seeing a huge generational divide between boomers, who believe people should pull themselves up by their bootstraps and return to the office, and millennials, who tend to be more health-conscious and more familiar with technology that enables digital workspaces. This generational divide will only widen as the digital natives of Generation Z enter the workforce.
Because the pandemic has accelerated this divide, smart businesses should engage younger employees to find new ways to socialize virtually. Ultimately, connecting with others is about sharing our unique perspectives and teaching each other. When it comes to technology, we have a lot to learn from our younger colleagues.
Another big breakthrough during the pandemic has been how much money organizations have been able to save. Companies are no longer paying for meetings with lunches, business travel or client dinners. The saved cost of one expensive meal could pay for the development of one talented staff member. This will pay dividends well into the future.
The Capgemini/LinkedIn study showed that 58% of digital talent wants to work at organizations that offer better digital skill development. If you aren’t developing your staff right now, there is likely no reason for them to stay with you. Offering continuous professional development is the best way to keep people – especially remote employees – connected to your company.
Ultimately, if we view the pandemic as a bad thing, we’ll miss an opportunity to come out of this experience stronger, as we should. Key to Kübler-Ross’s concept is that, through adversity, we emerge with a greater level of competence. The Kübler-Ross Curve shows us that, although we still may mourn the loss of the way things were, we can reach even higher morale on the other side. We simply have to embrace our new reality and the new tools and skills we need to thrive together.
Originally posted at Forbes.com.