Coronavirus response gives opportunity for HR to become heroes

Coronavirus has allowed HR to step up and become ‘heroes’ of an organisation, according to global research analyst Josh Bersin.

Bersin argued this was because companies have learned to think about an individual’s needs in a ‘human way’ rather than paying lip service, with HR leading the new development.

Speaking to HR magazine, Bersin said COVID-19 was proof that HR was changing its function.

According to research from the Josh Bersin Academy’s HR Pulse Survey, more than 70% of companies said they were readjusting their HR priorities to check in with employees on a regular basis, provide tools and training for remote work and help employees manage stress and mental health.

Companies were also offering people more flexible hours and educational support for their children.

Bersin said: “HR organisation’s response has fallen into four important areas: physical health and wellbeing, remote work, issues related to jobs and work continuity and an urgent need for mental health, resilience, support and dealing with uncertainty.

“The main tip is to flex your ideas and realise that a lot of the things we were doing before the pandemic may not be as important as they were. It’s a very tight labour market, so we will see lots of reskilling and new forms of talent and mobility moving forward.”

Bersin said before the crisis hit, fewer than 50% of companies even had a remote work programme, yet now huge corporate firms including Bank of America and Goldman Sachs are rushing to build remote working strategies.

He has also witnessed a more collaborative HR community as leaders focus their attention on best practice.

Bersin added: “The employee experience issue is now connected, and everything you do will have impact. We have seen people in our online education forums helping each other like never before. The HR profession is getting stitched together in a great way. Despite so much uncertainty, there’s a lot of sharing going on.

“It’s an enormous education opportunity for the HR profession. Understanding public health, workplace dynamics, digital tools, everyone is getting a huge education in HR. We’ve come out of this with some new discipline in HR including response to crisis and upskilling as an opportunity.”

Yet many have suffered from the disruptions caused by coronavirus, which Bersin argued had impacted managers and young people in the workplace most.

He added: “Young people don’t always live with family and may have to deal with other housemates, and managers now have to do everything they did before plus check in and schedule virtual meetings to deal with everyone.

“There is a lot of exhaustion and fatigue. People haven’t had a vacation or travelled and those who have jobs are working more hours. Everyone wants to get back to work but there’s only so much work people can do.”

Bersin hoped the virus would help to encourage the trend that workplaces have no choice but to take care of their people.

He recommended that over the summer, where possible companies take a pause and offer up more holiday allowance to avoid burnout.

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Psychological safety, emotional intelligence, and leadership in a time of flux

We are living through a period of extraordinary uncertainty—about our physical safety, our economic security, and the daily conditions in which we will be operating for the next six, 12, 18 months or longer. One consequence: an undercurrent of emotional disturbance characterized by rising levels of anxiety, depression, fear, and stress. At the same time leaders are confronting these challenges on an individual level, they also are responsible for supporting a wide cross-section of people, all of whom have their own range of experiences, emotions, and resources for responding—and many who are paying a psychological toll that is still poorly understood.

To gain some insights into what organizations are faced with and how leaders can respond, McKinsey senior partner and Organization Practice leader Aaron De Smet spoke with three experts: Amy Edmondson, the Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard Business School and author, most recently, of The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation and Growth (Wiley, 2018); Richard Boyatzis, a pioneer in the field of emotionally intelligent leadership, professor of organizational behavior at Case Western Reserve University, and coauthor of Helping People Change: Coaching with Compassion for Lifelong Learning and Growth (Harvard Business Review Press, 2019); and Bill Schaninger, a senior partner at McKinsey who led the creation of McKinsey’s Organizational Health Index and who is a coauthor of Beyond Performance 2.0: A Proven Approach to Leading Large-Scale Change (Wiley, 2019). The following is an edited version of their conversation.

Aaron De Smet: Physical safety is obviously very high on everyone’s list right now. Yet in this period where people are also experiencing some form of anxiety, depression, grief, and fear, does that make the challenge of creating a psychologically safe environment easier or harder?

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Amy Edmondson: Psychological safety means an absence of interpersonal fear. When psychological safety is present, people are able to speak up with work-relevant content. For many people during the pandemic, the explicitness of the physical lack of safety has been experienced as a shared fear, which has allowed them to be more open and intimate and more able to voice their thoughts and concerns with colleagues. This collective fear thus becomes a potential driver of collaboration and innovation, further contributing to an open environment for producing and sharing ideas that under normal conditions may have remained unshared. As counterintuitive as it might seem, in many settings I’m seeing more psychological safety during the pandemic because of the greater collective fear about something very real—and, by the way, very external.

This is clearly different for essential workers—many of whom may not feel physically safe while still being required to show up at work, and they may not feel able to speak up about that. So we have these two very different populations.

Aaron De Smet: Recently, I joined a videoconference for a US client that had just reopened its campus to a few employees. What I found striking was that although they were all sitting separately in their own offices on Zoom calls and not actually meeting face-to-face with their colleagues, they had all shown up, on day one, eager to get back to their workplace. They seemed to take a lot of comfort that they were at least back in their offices. What do you make of that?

Amy Edmondson: I suspect for many people, the days of the week are muddling together. And, whether or not you see people in a conference room face-to-face or on Zoom, simply being able to return to your workplace may become a reassuring step toward normalcy, even if it’s not fully back to normal.

Richard Boyatzis: Interestingly, the stress induced—whether from the current uncertainty or even in normal times with the preoccupation on goals, metrics, and financials—can cause the activation of the psychophysiological state of the negative emotional attractor. This defensive state fills your brain with negative thoughts. And what becomes very clear in times like these is that once stress is aroused, even mildly, it can cause disorientation and cognitive and perceptual impairment. One study showed how our peripheral vision drops from 180 degrees to 30 degrees [during times of stress]. Which means we may soon start to see things as potentially threatening that aren’t.

The disruption of our lives, the loss of normal familial interactions, and the economic and financial fears of losing our livelihoods all become a bigger source of threat than the virus itself. That’s why going back to routines and doing things that were normal really helps counteract this defensive state.

Aaron De Smet: To what extent is technology aiding or hindering our emotional and psychological well-being?

Bill Schaninger: So much of our work life that previously led to belonging and identity has been disrupted and replaced with technologies like Zoom and Slack that have become our new tethers to connectivity. It may be that our interactions with our teams and colleagues need a different pacing and cadence. Even though face-to-face interactions allow for a level of intimacy and understanding that may be lost on a monitor, with video formats like Zoom you can still pick up cues and detect whether someone’s in some period of mild distress. Leaping into task orientation too quickly may almost feel like a violation to the person on the other end of the call. Taking a pause to acknowledge where the person is and what they need can build trust and confidence over time and make the shared interaction emotionally less risky. Yet this might also make the actual exchanges themselves even more draining as you pause to doubt the interactions.

Richard Boyatzis: On the positive side, we are seeing greater adoption of these new tools by broader audiences that are finding it useful to reach out and connect with a wider network of friends and colleagues more often. This can help people feel part of a broader human experience and regain some sense of the human identity. Yet electronic means of communication—all forms of social media, email, texting, even Zoom—are more alexithymic1 than face to-face interactions. So we not only have this greater uncertainty that arouses more stress, we’re exposed to fewer opportunities to tune into the emotions of others. Ultimately, we are minimizing emotions from what we are used to.

Richard Boyatzis and Amy Edmondson on the effects of social media
Amy Edmondson: Another aspect of social media is that it sets up an evaluative context. When we spend our life online—as so many of us are currently, more so than in the pre-COVID-19 days—we are entering a more explicitly evaluative domain. And that creates another source of anxiety as well.

Richard Boyatzis: In fact, the neurological and neuroimaging studies of people while using various forms of social media and electronic media support that, Amy. They activate parts of the task-positive network, which is directly linked to the stress response. When we’re in this social comparison or evaluative mode, nobody feels good. Even the top performers worry.

Aaron De Smet: For decades, many leaders have taken to wandering through their workplaces or factories to chat with employees and get a better sense of the ongoings of the company. How can leaders re-create these informal and organic conversations when they are not physically in the space?

Amy Edmondson: What makes management by wandering around so successful is the ability to make a genuine link between a task or job and a larger overarching purpose. For example, consider the classic story of the NASA employee who understood how his cleaning the floor helped to get a man on the moon. That link, which might not be immediately obvious to a person cleaning the floor, can become exquisitely clear with a little bit of leadership that helps people look for, and then make, those connections.

And now, with tools like Zoom, communications have become more explicit and structured; leaders must ask direct questions about what’s working and what isn’t, and they must engage in thoughtful discussions on how—in a rapidly evolving context—the vision for what we expect to happen is shifting accordingly. Although not as spontaneous as walking around, these Zoom chats, when kept to relatively small sizes, can still develop the connective tissue linking actions to a shared vision for the future.

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Build Your Organization’s Confidence Now

Build organizational confidence in your team and watch them soar.
“I think I’m going to take some time off to just process what happened during this first half of the year,” my client said to me as we peered at each other through a video screen. She is the CEO of a manufacturing company and has been caught up in all the intense work of scenario planning, adjusting the strategy, keeping the team together, and making sure their revenue is still coming in the door.

Good idea. The first half of 2020 has been quite a ride and it’s a good moment to reflect on it and think about what you want to build in the second half of the year.

As an executive coach who has worked with Fortune 500 companies as well as startups, my observation is that the half-year mark is a good time to take a look at your organizational confidence. That’s especially true this year when your employees have undergone a lot of change and even trauma.

For a framework to look at this, I have identified 3 key drivers of organizational confidence: communication, collaboration, and coaching. If you nail them, your people move forward with purpose. If they are shaky so are your people, and you lose time.

First a note: organizational confidence is different from your own personal confidence. Your confidence may be high or low. I hope it’s high but even if it’s not you can have systems in place to make sure your company is executing with precision and velocity, no matter how you feel.

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Here’s what it takes to build organizational confidence:

It takes communication. People need to understand what’s going on to be able to move forward themselves. That means they need to understand it all from top to bottom: purpose, mission, strategy, operating plan. They need to know how their job fits into the bigger picture.

The way they can really get this in their bones is through communication. That means having a system inside of your company where they hear about the big picture from you and others, and also can talk about how their job fits into the bigger picture with their manager.

You may think you are communicating enough, but in a time of uncertainty, significant changes, and remote work, you have to assume your employees are not taking in all the information you’re giving.

Here’s an example from one of my coaching clients. I work with the CEO of a community-based startup. After the pandemic hit, he called his executive team together so they could strategize about how they would redesign the business. They made some very fast changes in canceling their in-person experiences while creating online communities instead. They did a great job and made the switch in record time. He then shared the changes they were making in multiple all-hands meetings.

He thought it had gone very smoothly, until one of the directors asked for final approval to buy the software package that would track the company’s live experiences. “Why would he think we were still going to buy that software after everything that’s happened,” the frustrated CEO asked me.

The reason is simple: your employees are dealing with the current crisis and business changes in their own way. They aren’t processing everything you’re saying. People may hear what you’re saying but they are working on multiple projects and somehow think they get an exception. Some people just need a little more time to adjust.

My client and I debriefed his process. He had done a great job of making quick decisions and communicating them to everyone. What was missing, however, was having the leaders of each group talk with their teams individually and in groups about what the changes meant for all of their initiatives. Once the CEO asked his executives to have those regular meetings, everyone quickly got up to speed about what the changes were, how they affected their team, and what their top priorities were. That’s essential to have them execute with confidence.

It takes collaboration. Working together is always complicated. Now that many people only see each other through video and don’t run into each other in the hallways, it’s even harder.

Collaboration is essential because the people doing the work have to talk to each other directly. If they rely on you and other managers to solve problems for them everything slows down.

Make sure people know you expect them to collaborate. Your employees should know whom they should be collaborating with and what the vehicles are. Is it best for them to have a regular one-on-one with some people? Should they have a regular cross-functional team meeting with certain projects? If people are confused about who they should be working closely with or if they aren’t getting responses, help them figure out what the problem is and fix it. Your highest and best use as a leader is to help people uncover and then resolve obstacles to working together.

Collaboration requires great communication from peers while building and maintaining good relationships that lead to trust. To support that, make sure you have mechanisms for people to meet informally, even when it’s virtual. Have a budget for them to treat themselves to a nice lunch with a colleague. Encourage informal coffees or virtual happy hours.

People also need to know they will get credit for their work on cross-functional projects. One of the CEOs I work with sends out a weekly slack note which highlights the projects accomplished and names everyone who played a role. Another CEO I work with has a “Fridays are for wins” meeting. It used to be in person and now it’s over video. Each person on the 40-person team nominates someone else who had a “win” that week. It’s a fun way of building trust by praising others as well as giving others credit publicly for their work.

It takes coaching. Coaching is essential to help people see what they’re doing well and to help them grow and improve. Both of these are important: positive feedback builds confidence, and you will always have to manage someone closely if they are not actively building new skills.

I’ve noticed that leaders are often uncomfortable proactively coaching, and that’s truer now since most meetings take place over video or on the phone.

I sat in on an executive team meeting a few weeks ago. A young director presented the plan for her area. She was trying hard, but this was the first time she had done a plan like this. There were a number of missing pieces and it was clear she hadn’t talked the plan through with the rest of her team to make sure they would do their part. About a week later I asked the leader she reported to if he had given her coaching on her plan and the way she influences her team. The leader shook his head and sighed. “I don’t have the heart. She tried so hard and spent so much time on it.”

And that’s the problem. Leaders are squeamish to give praise or constructive input to make someone’s skills better. They have other important things that they would prefer to do, and which would make them feel more productive. They’re shy about having a conversation that might make either of them feel uncomfortable. This is why leaders very often miss the chance to coach their employees.

A lack of coaching leads directly to a lack of organizational confidence. When leaders don’t proactively coach employees they can’t delegate as many things to them. They don’t help them build skills that will benefit them and the company. And employees who aren’t sure what they are doing right and what they need to improve are simply uncomfortable acting independently.

So create a culture where your leaders routinely coach. You could set aside one executive team per quarter to review how people are coaching and how people are building skills as a result. You can set a good example by coaching proactively and talking about it, and you can simply remind people it’s an important part of their jobs as managers.

Building organizational confidence is critical right now. Use this framework to see how you’re doing and where you might want to put more effort.

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Secrets Of Developing A Digitally Ready Workforce

Before 2020 started, remote and virtual work had already grown 159% since 2005. This growth has been driven in part by the rise of the liquid workforce. Freelancers and independent consultants have long been shaping the future of work and making a digitally ready and virtual workforce a reality.

The work that we do and how we do it is also transforming. The World Economic Forum has predicted that over the next 10 years, digital skills will be required for 9 out of 10 jobs, and automation will change 5 out of 10 jobs. Freelancers are also at the forefront of this skills transformation.

The current environment is rapidly accelerating these trends. So how can we develop a digitally ready workforce that can scale and grow a business? Insights from working with executive-level freelancers and consultants can help provide the answers.

Rethinking The Workforce

The liquid workforce has steadily grown over the last decade, with over 57 million people freelancing in the US last year. This growth has been driven in part by the shift to more project-based workflows in companies. One of the fastest-growing segments of the gig economy is knowledge workers due to the demand for a digitally ready workforce. Knowledge workers serve as on-demand consultants and advisors, helping companies to take advantage of business and technology trends.


Redesigning Work Styles And Workspaces

The events of 2020 are likely to result in fundamental changes to our workspaces, accelerating the shift to virtual and flexible work and making it increasingly important to communicate effectively with fewer meetings. The new digital workspace will require managers to embrace flexibility and autonomy. Freelancers have learned how to build trust virtually. A key enabler to building that trust is having shared, clear goals and objectives. Combined with proactive, open and transparent communication through modern communication channels, freelancers can establish effective working relationships despite never interacting in-person.

The accelerated shift to digital and virtual interaction in our workspaces will put pressure on soft skills, with communication, collaboration and emotional intelligence all increasingly essential. The importance of emotional intelligence, also referred to as EQ, is often underestimated but is directly related to not only great leadership, but also the ability to learn from experiences. We all need to learn to adapt our work styles to match the fluidity of our workspace with a more versatile approach. For example, we need to easily pivot between multiple internal communication channels, adapting our communication style and tone to each for effective virtual and in-real-life collaboration.

Developing An Agile Mindset

Core to any digitally ready workforce is the ability to handle and seek change. Individuals need to be agile, flexible and willing to learn. Successful freelancers are entrepreneurs and, as such, must be nimble, ready to take risks and look for opportunities. These freelancers are curious and take the initiative to continue to advance their knowledge and skills. When hiring freelancers, you can use trial projects to gauge fit. Similarly, you can task employees with small projects to assess their agile potential.

To develop the necessary agile mindset, individuals must be comfortable with being uncomfortable. According to research by McKinsey, the key traits to seek among individuals are the ability to handle ambiguity, agreeableness and conscientiousness. Agile thinkers embrace change and adaptability and strive to keep improving their skills and knowledge.

Investing In Continuous Learning

Successful freelancers continually assess and develop their skills, following personalized pathways of development. Seventy-eight percent of freelancers surveyed by Upwork responded that soft skills were at least equally important as technical skills to their success. These development pathways are pursued by combining online courses, mentoring, coaching and experiential learning. For freelancers, proficiency in using collaboration and productivity tools is a minimum standard to achieve. They also require strong technical skills in their areas of specialty, combined with cognitive and soft skills.

Developing a digitally ready workforce requires assessing your company’s current talent in terms of both hard and soft skills. You also need to understand their passion for learning and curiosity — key traits that the best freelancers share. Support continuous, ongoing learning within your team, and help individuals develop the best personal learning pathway. Developing digitally ready talent isn’t a one-size-fits-all journey.

Identifying and developing digitally ready talent sets the foundation for an agile business that is ready to adapt and scale. While half of jobs may change due to automation, creative and critical thinking, thoughtful communication skills and emotional intelligence will be essential strengths to develop, regardless of how technology evolves over the next decade and beyond.


Using AI to Solve the Talent, Intelligence and Skill Gap Challenge

Even before the pandemic disruption, every organization wasted productivity through employees searching for reliable information and expertise. Employees need to source intel quickly and efficiently to continue doing the jobs they were hired and trained to do. Now with over 90% of the workforce remote – and when an organization is composed of tens of thousands of employees working across multiple countries and time zones – where to source answers and expertise has become a critical challenge.

AI is an essential tool for an organization’s armory. With human-inspired AI, organizations can recognize and surface expertise, skills and tacit knowledge that might not have been identifiable before. Business leaders can utilize AI to develop skill maps pinpointing where the organizational intelligence is strong and where development is needed based on their current and future strategies and in times like today, developing real-time skill scenario models.

No organization anticipated how quickly the adoption of remote working would have to accelerate this year. But by embracing AI technology and placing trust in teams, businesses have already made great strides in adapting.

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When and How to Respond to Microaggressions

In U.S. workplaces — and around the world — people are finally engaging in real conversations about race, justice, diversity, equality, and inclusion. That’s a good thing, hopefully paving the way for meaningful anti-racist action from both individuals and organizations. But those discussions will in all likelihood be very uncomfortable — not just for white employees and leaders who might be confronting their privilege for the first time but also for people of color, especially Black Americans, who know that candid talks with colleagues will mean they either face or need to call out “microaggressions.”

These are incidents in which someone accidentally (or purposely) makes an offensive statement or asks an insensitive question. Microagressions are defined as verbal, behavioral, and environmental indignities that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults to the target person or group. For Black people, they are ubiquitous across daily work and life. Here are a few seemingly innocuous statements that, in the context of racist assumptions and stereotypes, can be quite damaging.

“When I see you, I don’t see color.” (signaling that the person doesn’t acknowledge your Blackness or won’t hold it against you)
“We are all one race: the human race.” (signaling that your experience as a Black person is no different from the experience of people of other races)
“You are so articulate.” (signaling that Black people are not usually capable of competent intellectual conversation)
“I see your hair is big today! Are you planning to wear it like that to the client meeting?” (signaling that natural Black hairstyles are not professional)
“Everyone can succeed in society if they work hard enough.” (signaling that disparate outcomes for Black people result from laziness)
As suggested by the name, microaggressions seem small; but compounded over time, they can have a deleterious impact on an employee’s experience, physical health, and psychological well-being. In fact, research suggests that subtle forms of interpersonal discrimination like microaggressions are at least as harmful as more-overt expressions of discrimination.

Microaggressions reinforce white privilege and undermine a culture of inclusion. The best solution is, of course, increasing awareness of microaggressions, insisting that non-Black employees stop committing them, and calling out those who do. But in the absence of those changes — and understanding that complete prevention is probably impossible — how should Black employees and managers respond to the microaggressions they face, within and outside of current discussions around race in the workplace?

There are three main ways to react:

Let it go. For a long time, the most common default response was choosing not to address offensive comments in the workplace. Because they are pervasive yet subtle, they can be emotionally draining to confront. Yet silence places an emotional tax on Black employees, who are left wondering what happened and why, questioning their right to feel offended, and reinforcing beliefs that they are not safe from identity devaluation at work.

Respond immediately. This approach allows the transgression to be called out and its impact explained while the details of the incident are fresh in the minds of everyone involved. Immediacy is an important component of correcting bad behavior. But this approach can be risky. The perpetrator might get defensive, leaving the target feeling like they somehow “lost control,” did not show up as their best self, and will be labeled an overly sensitive whiner, a trouble-maker, or the stereotypical angry Black person.

Respond later. A more tempered response is to address the perpetrator privately at a later point to explain why the microaggression was offensive. Here, the risk lies in the time lag. A follow-up conversation requires helping the person who committed the microaggression to first recall it and then to appreciate its impact. The Black employee bringing it up might be deemed petty — like someone who has been harboring resentment or holding on to “little things” while the other party, having “meant no harm,” has moved on. Such accusations are a form of racial gaslighting, which can be very damaging.

We recommend the following framework for determining which course is best for you in any given situation and then, if you decide to respond, ensuring an effective dialogue.

Discern. Determine how much of an investment you want to make in addressing the microaggression. Do not feel pressured to respond to every incident; rather, feel empowered to do so when you decide you should. Consider:

The importance of the issue and the relationship. If either is or both are important to you, avoidance is the wrong approach. Express yourself in a way that honors your care for the other party, and assert yourself in a way that acknowledges your concern about the issue.
Your feelings. Microaggressions can make you doubt the legitimacy of your reactions. Allow yourself to feel what you feel, whether it’s anger, disappointment, frustration, aggravation, confusion, embarrassment, exhaustion, or something else. Any emotion is legitimate and should factor into your decision about whether, how, and when to respond. With more-active negative emotions such as anger, it’s often best to address the incident later. If you’re confused, an immediate response might be preferable. If you’re simply exhausted from the weight of working while Black, maybe it is best to let it go — meaning best for you, not for the perpetrator.
How you want to be perceived now and in the future. There are consequences to speaking up and to remaining silent. Only you can determine which holds more weight for you in any specific situation.

Disarm. If you choose to confront a microaggression, be prepared to disarm the person who committed it. One reason we avoid conversations about race is that they make people defensive. Perpetrators of microaggressions typically fear being perceived — or worse, revealed — as racist. Explain that the conversation might get uncomfortable for them but that what they just said or did was uncomfortable for you. Invite them to sit alongside you in the awkwardness of their words or deeds while you get to the root of their behavior together.

Defy. Challenge the perpetrator to clarify their statement or action. Use a probing question, such as “How do you mean that?” This gives people a chance to check themselves as they unpack what happened. And it gives you an opportunity to better gauge the perpetrator’s intent. One of the greatest privileges is the freedom not to notice you have privilege; so microaggressions are often inadvertently offensive. Acknowledge that you accept their intentions to be as they stated but reframe the conversation around the impact of the microaggression. Explain how you initially interpreted it and why. If they continue to assert that they “didn’t mean it like that,” remind them that you appreciate their willingness to clarify their intent and hope they appreciate your willingness to clarify their impact.

Decide. You control what this incident will mean for your life and your work — what you will take from the interaction and what you will allow it to take from you. Black people, as well as those with various other marginalized and intersectional identities, are already subject to biased expectations and evaluations in the workplace. Life is sufficiently taxing without allowing microaggressions to bring you down. Let protecting your joy be your greatest and most persistent act of resistance.

A note of advice for non-Black allies old and new: The work of allyship is difficult. You will make mistakes as you learn — and you will always be learning. For anyone accused of committing a microaggression or counseling someone who has been accused, here are a few notes on how to respond:

Remember that intent does not supersede impact.
Seek to understand the experiences of your Black peers, bosses, and employees without making them responsible for your edification.
Believe your Black colleagues when they choose to share their insights; don’t get defensive or play devil’s advocate.
Get comfortable rethinking much of what you thought to be true about the world and your workplace and accept that you have likely been complicit in producing inequity.
Although more organizations are encouraging candid discussions on race in the workplace, we cannot ignore the historical backlash that Black employees have endured for speaking up. Cultural change takes time and intention. So while we encourage timely and strategic dialogue about microaggressions, it is ultimately up to each individual to respond in the way that is most authentic to who they are and how they want to be perceived.

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Coming out of a crisis, the boldest companies win

Negotiations were not going well in early June as Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi tried to wrap up his acquisition of Grubhub, a major competitor of his Uber Eats food delivery business. He and Grubhub founder Matt Maloney reportedly couldn’t agree on how to handle the inevitable antitrust scrutiny the deal would attract, the amount of a breakup fee, and who would run the combined delivery operation. Frustrated, Khosrowshahi walked away—and within hours a company most Americans had never heard of, Amsterdam-based Just Eat, swooped in and signed a deal to buy Grubhub for $7.3 billion.

The move was even more audacious than it looked. Just Eat Takeaway is a money-losing startup that agreed to pay a price equal to half its market value. Nonetheless, while no one knows how the overcrowded food-delivery industry will shake out, history says the ambitious Dutch outfit may have done something very smart.

Within hours of a deal soured with Uber, a company most Americans had never heard of, Amsterdam-based Just Eat, swooped in and signed a deal to buy Grubhub for $7.3 billion. Alexi Rosenfeld—Getty Images

That’s because economic calamities—even tragic, once-a-century global pandemics—require business leaders to find opportunity in the chaos. It’s there to be found. Leaders who can seize it will mitigate the pain for employees, consumers, vendors, communities, and investors. The big lesson from past downturns is that the competitive order within industries will change far more now than it ever will in prosperous times. The big winners will be the bold companies that break from the mainstream, acting courageously and fast.

As economies reopen, the great challenge for business leaders in all industries is to look beyond their immediate operational issues, as critical as they are, and also think strategically about longer-term decisions they can make in this moment—positioning themselves to flourish in the good times ahead.

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The results can be dramatic. In the technology bust of 2000 to 2002, 47% of the tech companies that went into the downturn as leaders emerged as laggards, while 13% of those that went in as laggards came out as leaders, as measured by McKinsey. That’s a radical reordering of a giant industry, and it all happened in just two years.

Every downturn is unique, and this one is especially unusual because it wasn’t sparked by economic or financial forces. A new disease combining with a digital, global economy produced truly new conditions. We’ve just had the Snapchat version of the Great Depression, with GDP plunging and unemployment spiking and then abating in a matter of weeks, producing what may have been the world’s shortest economic downturn. Now, although GDP is apparently growing again and the number of unemployed is declining, we’re experiencing the dial-up Internet version of a recovery—it will be maddeningly slow.

The upside: There’s still plenty of time to capitalize on the opportunities of this massive disruption. They’re available to anyone brave enough to follow the lessons of past downturns, unconventional though they may seem. Five principles stand out.

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How To Not Micromanage But Stay Involved

Remote work has put managers in a precarious position. The natural distance between leaders and their people has many managers defaulting to a style that isn’t in line with what the best leaders do.

I hear from managers all the time; “I hire the best people and let them do their work.” While this makes sense on the surface, I don’t know one high performer who doesn’t leverage a coach to help them perform. Let’s use athletes as an example. The best golfers in the world have instructors to help them hone their craft. The best basketball players in the world have head coaches that create systems for them to play at their best.

Talented professionals that are high-performers are no different. They need a leader to help create a positive culture and to challenge them to higher performance levels.

Great leaders are involved in helping their teams be successful.
Be Involved But Don’t Micromanage
For the sake of clarity, let’s get clear on what it means to be a micromanager. Webster defines it as; “manage[ment] especially with excessive control or attention on details”.

It is common for micromanagers to have narcissistic or perfectionist tendencies which can influence how they delegate work to their team. These managers don’t believe the work can be done properly by anyone but themselves. Micromanagers typically take credit for a team’s great results but are just as ready to pass the blame for negative results.

Being a micromanager is not what the best leaders do; but, at least they are involved (albeit too frequently and in the wrong way). If you are ready to be involved in the right ways as a manager here are a few ideas:

Define a Vision that Creates Excitement
When Dabo Swinney interviewed to be the head football coach at Clemson University, many board members had the vision to raise the program to levels like some of the blue bloods of college football. Instead of echoing that vision, Swinney squashed it. “Best is the standard I want to see here. I am not setting out to be like someone else. I am here to create a new standard in college football.” It sounded crazy at the time, but 10+ years later, Swinney and the Clemson Tigers have made that vision a reality.

Simon Sinek famously said: “great leaders must have two things: a vision of the world that does not yet exist and the ability to communicate that vision clearly.” Even if you don’t see yourself as a visionary leader, giving your team a picture of a world that doesn’t exist today, is a worthwhile aspiration.

Involve them in short-term measurable goals
After interviewing hundreds of the best leaders on the planet to write Building the Best, it is clear that great leaders understand two simple things about goal setting. First, they know how important goals are; the true meaning of the word “team” means “coming together as a group to achieve a common goal.” Second, they set goals that their team cares about achieving. Great leaders define short term goals their team cares about achieving.

Research has revealed that setting challenging and specific goals further enhance employee engagement in attaining those goals. Google uses Objectives and Key Results (OKR’s) to help managers and their teams perform better. Many companies have been working hard to provide leaders with the tools to be successful in setting short term measurable goals for remote work.

I have been using and couldn’t be more impressed with aligning my team to short term measurable goals. If you don’t have a tool, now is the time, especially if you lead a remote team.

Coach like You’re a Carriage
One of the ways a leader positively involves and separates themselves as a manager is by coaching their people. A coach is someone who trains and instructs. The word coach comes from “carriage,” which means to take someone from where they are today to where they want to go.

It is impossible to be an effective carriage when you are completely hands-off. Instead, it requires you to be in tune with the effort, performance, and mindset of each team member, and look for ways to help them improve.

Sometimes this means knowing when to be quiet; other times, it means asking thought-provoking questions. Here are a few of my favorite coaching questions to add to your arsenal:

Could you walk me through your thought process?
What do you think we should do to create the best result for everyone?
What other approaches might you take next time?
Connect Before you Correct
If you don’t know about the importance of love and discipline in your leadership style, you might be making a huge mistake.

It’s essential to understand what love and discipline are; both are in the context of leadership.

Love is to contribute to someone’s long term success and well being (to will the good of another)

Discipline is to promote standards in order for an individual to choose to be at their best.”

In leadership, one is more important than the other. The reason is simple, because you have to connect before you correct.

Hiring the right people to help run your business is always going to be important; but, don’t let your confidence in the skills of your team cause you to fall into the trap of being absent as their leader. Your involvement is necessary for the success of the team and the business; it is finding the balance in that involvement which will take both to new heights.

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Building Connections During A Disconnected Time

In a time when we feel disconnected, we are truly more connected than ever. Our colleagues, coworkers and business prospects are just a call away, with devices readily accessible as we remain at home. Yet many of us feel disconnected as our interactions transfer to digital mediums. With more and more businesses staying at home, our very structure has shifted. Maybe sliding into a teleconference while still wearing your PJ bottoms sounds like a good trade-off to in-person meetings. But in reality, this convenience brings new challenges.

Being readily available doesn’t mean your employees or prospects will be engaged during the meeting. As a business owner, it’s your responsibility to sell your product and engage your leads. Digital meetings are both similar to and different from traditional meetings in many ways. Arguably, technology connects us to a broader range of prospects since, depending on your services, your business may expand and grow. You have the same opportunity to successfully sell your product: your usual strategy just takes a bit of tweaking. We must compensate for these changes in a way that makes the most out of our technology.

Come In With An Objective

One of the basics of any public speaking strategy is to answer the question that will inevitably hang in the air: “What is the point of all this?” Improvisation might have worked during traditional meetings, but remember that teleconferencing is different because your viewers are more distracted. They’re at home, sitting on their couch or watching their kids. They need a more aggressive structure to the meeting so that, subconsciously, they receive a cue that says, “you can disconnect from your current environment and focus wholeheartedly on what this individual is about to say.”

According to the American Marketing Association, a general rule of thumb to follow is that a successful meeting is 75% preparation and 25% execution. As you’re planning your meeting, you may also want to prepare for any potential issues that could happen. Put yourself in your prospect’s shoes. He or she is looking for a product that provides what they need during a complicated time. Make those needs a priority, and you’re already halfway there.


Video chat takes away our natural communication measures — body language and other senses that usually keep us engaged. Don’t make your audience wait. Of course, jumping right into a long presentation isn’t the best idea. A short summary of the meeting, and what it means for those participating, is sufficient in getting your point across from the get-go.

Start off the meeting by proving an overview of what you’ll be covering, and be sure to ask your prospect whether there are any topics he or she specifically would like to add to the agenda. This overview will help your audience relax since they won’t be suspended and waiting for the overall point. Any effective sales pitch summarizes the most critical points, so you will want to transfer those values over to your digital meeting with your prospect.

Tie Everything Back To The Main Point

Keep your goals in sight throughout the meeting — from the beginning to the closing remarks. When you invite your employees to ask any questions, answer those questions in a way that upholds your original purpose. Emphasis and repetition are essential in hitting home a point, so be sure to draw upon what you stated at the beginning.

For instance, let’s say you are meeting with a prospect to help them understand more about your services and their benefits. Be sure to tie those benefits directly to their needs to drive home your point. You want them to leave the meeting feeling confident in their decision, so focus on what they’ll gain.

Engage And Encourage Participation

Even if you have a lot to say, step away from the podium from time to time. Give your audience a chance to participate. Make the meeting less like a speech, and more like a conversation. For example, the Harvard Business Review suggests that business leaders call on participants to keep the conversation flowing. This advice can be utilized when speaking to a prospect. By keeping your questions open-ended, you can promote meaningful discussion so your prospect will actively listen.

Even though a good chunk of the meeting should be dedicated to selling your product and providing relevant information, you should never dominate the conversation. Any successful sales meeting involves negotiation. The meeting is just a single incident in a series of negotiations that help move the sales process along, so remember the big picture. By promoting a balanced transaction of give-and-take, you build trust, making the meeting less stressful on your prospect’s part.

Prepare For Slip-Ups

One of the problems with working from home is that your work and family life become blended. Prepare as best you can by taking measures against any interruptions. Just like an in-face meeting, you wouldn’t want any uninvited guests showing up during such an important time. Having your meeting in the kitchen or another busy room isn’t the best idea. Tell your family far in advance that you will be on a video meeting so they do not enter the room and walk onto the screen accidentally.

That said, no matter how well you plan, some slip-ups just can’t be prevented. Don’t panic if something unexpected happens. We’re all trying to adjust to our new arrangements the best that we can, so trust that your prospect will be understanding — even if your dog starts barking.

Besides A Few Adjustments, The Essence Remains The Same

When all is said and done, the main essence of your meetings shouldn’t change. You want to make reliable connections and sell your product without any slip-ups. Technology helps us do that, and while remote meetings are a stone’s throw from the natural feel of traditional face-to-face meetings that we’ve all taken for granted, we can learn to make the most out of it.


How Different Personality Types Cope with an Always-On Culture

Even before Covid-19 brought many people’s work into their homes, we were in the middle of a revolution. Technology has radically changed how we manage our work and lives. Services and information are available 24/7, and we can easily connect with anyone, anytime, anywhere in the world.

All that convenience, however, comes at a price. When our smartphones are always on and within reach, we can find it difficult to “switch off.” We may have inadvertently become part of an “always-on culture,” with largely negative effects on our health and well-being. Research has demonstrated, for example, that being always on increases conflict and interference between our work lives and our home lives, that sending and receiving emails outside of conventional working hours contributes significantly to stress, and that compulsive internet use is linked to workaholism.

And now that so many of us are working from home, communicating with our colleagues exclusively via electronic media, the boundaries between home and work can become increasingly blurred, making it even more difficult to switch off.

How can we take advantage of the conveniences of modern technology while minimizing the disadvantages of an always-on culture? My organization, the Myers-Briggs Company, carried out a research study to find some answers. In 2018 and 2019 we surveyed more than 1,000 people, asking about their personality type, behavior, and views about the always-on culture. We also examined their levels of job satisfaction and work/home conflict along with many other factors.

The results were revealing. Not all aspects of the always-on culture were viewed in a negative light; more than 10% of respondents said that being always on helped them stay in the loop and get quick responses, and it provided flexibility as to where and when they worked. And those able to access work emails or calls outside of the office reported greater engagement with their work and greater job satisfaction.

But overall, the advantages were outweighed by the disadvantages. Nearly a third of respondents said they could not switch off, more than a quarter said that the always-on culture interfered with their personal or family life, and a fifth indicated that it could lead to mental exhaustion. Some expressed highly negative views; for example, one respondent said, “You burn out, no private life, no time for children, regrets at the end of your life, many tense situations, losing friends or close relationships.” Being part of the always-on culture often led to higher stress levels, greater work/home conflict, more distractions at work and at home, and increased difficulty focusing.

We also looked at how people coped with the stress of being always on. Most drew on four overarching strategies — but different personality types reacted to them differently, so we’ll look at them through that lens. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator model assesses four aspects of personality according to whether individuals prefer to:

Focus their attention on the outside world of people and things (extraversion) or on their inner world of thoughts and feelings (introversion)
Trust and use information on the basis of experience and the evidence of their five senses (sensing) or consider the future and how things connect to form a big picture (intuition)
Make decisions on the basis of objective logic (thinking) or on the basis of their values and how the decision will affect people (feeling)
Live in a more structured, organized way (judging) or in a more flexible, spontaneous way (perceiving)
Looking at the four strategies in light of personality type can help you identify how to use them most effectively to reduce the negative effects of being always on.

1. Create time and space to switch off.
If you have extraversion preferences, recharge by doing something active, perhaps with others (even if that happens virtually while you’re social distancing). If working from home, make sure to take breaks. Go for a walk or a run if you can, or do something new and different. Some extraverts find it helpful to leave their devices in another room when they’re de-stressing. Keep in contact with others, and use video, not just voice.

If you have introversion preferences, recharge by doing something that allows you time to reflect or that you can become absorbed in. Establish a quiet area of your home where you can work and/or retreat to. Try to limit online meetings, but ensure that you have some contact with other people.

2. Beware of information overload.
If you have sensing preferences, stop and take a step back. Focus on the big picture; what’s important? To avoid getting lost in the details, keep in touch with other people and ask for their take on the situation. Don’t obsess with getting every little thing right or having a perfect home working environment.

If you have intuition preferences, stop going through all the possibilities. Ground yourself in the moment. Try one thing at a time, and stick to it; if you are working at home, it can be easy to skip from one idea to another.

3. Create boundaries.
If you have thinking preferences, consider your impact on others. For example, read through messages before you send them. The written communications of “thinking” individuals can be very direct and task-focused and may appear terse and impersonal to others. Without the benefit of face-to-face contact, they may be misunderstood.

If you have feeling preferences, find a balance between supporting others and looking after your own needs. That can be difficult when you are worrying about the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on others, especially if your close friends and family are not around to help. Identify the supports you need and take conscious actions to attain them.

4. Find a work/life balance that suits you.
If you have judging preferences, set boundaries with yourself and others regarding when you will and won’t use technology at home — but be flexible when things are urgent. Turning off your devices when you are not working will most likely lower your stress levels, so make it clear to others when you will and won’t be available. If the Covid-19 crisis meant that you suddenly had to change your routines, establish new ones. If you are working at home, keep “work” and “home” separate by having a designated work area and staying away from it outside of working hours.

If you have perceiving preferences, you might be enjoying some aspects of working from home, such as the freedom to be flexible with your hours. But don’t expect others to necessarily feel the same. Avoid sending emails or requesting chats outside of normal working hours. And allow some time for other activities so that your workdays don’t become overly routine. Timeboxing, or converting your to-do list into blocks of time on your calendar, might help.

Technology can empower people, but it can also make them feel enslaved. By thinking carefully about how and when to use it, you can find your own sweet spot. Amid the current crisis, that’s more important than ever.

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