The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow if We Keep Our Minds Right Today
“Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away.” Paul McCartney and John Lennon weren’t penning their song thinking of COVID-19, but their famous lyrics certainly seem to sum up our world these days, don’t they? Who would have thought we would ever be in this situation in the 21st century! We often take for granted so many wonderful things in our lives like our health, our freedom to travel and to be with friends and family, an enjoyable walk in the city, a meal at our favorite restaurant, or just going to the movies or watching a sporting event on TV. And, we know all too well that the “I wish we could” list goes on and on.
Even more than those things, I think about our incredible teachers and young students and how they are missing out on teaching and learning with each other in an actual school environment. I also think about the inequities in our society when times are good. Then I think about how much harder it is during this crisis for many to have access to healthy food, convenient and affordable healthcare, decent housing, and safe communities. It is indeed a time for both deep personal and societal reflection.
One thing the pandemic has certainly changed is our employment and how we work — that is if we are fortunate enough to still have work. That’s why when recently asked by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) to be part of a panel entitled “How Companies are Putting People First” as a result of COVID-19, I jumped at the chance!
I suppose “putting people first” has a nice ring to it and is an easy philosophy to talk about. In truth, however, it’s a bit harder to implement and embody, especially as an organization. Sometimes a little external guidance and support makes a big difference. In our case, as the Ford Next Generation Learning (Ford NGL) team, we have embraced the *Arbinger Institute’s “Outward Mindset.” We have been trained by their incredible professionals on what it means to see people as people, not as objects that get in our way or who we can manipulate, blame, or ignore. The Arbinger training has changed our hearts and minds as it relates to our personal and professional relationships, and while we are not perfect at staying “outward,” we hold ourselves and each other accountable for being the best version of ourselves. It’s not always easy, but it’s worth it.
That brings us back to this awful pandemic. When it hit, we didn’t panic, because we trust in each other and our ability to get things done. We hit the ground running with our Outward Mindset training and tools. We weren’t new to working remotely, but we knew that working remotely with children, spouses and pets popping in and out of our video meetings would add a whole new dimension. (Some of which has been hysterical, but that’s the focus of another blog!) Some would have expected that the immediate focus would be on how the organization would fare should this global pandemic go on for months and months. Yes, it would be insane to not be concerned, but without a healthy, strong, committed, and secure team when this was over — well, maybe we didn’t have that much of a team to start with. Determined to focus on what we can do, we decided to center our actions on three key areas.
- Health and emotional well-being: We knew we had to make our team’s health and emotional well-being first and foremost.
- Relationship development: We placed a high priority on taking care of each other and building upon our relationships.
- Financial health: We wanted to be honest and transparent about where we stood financially and how that would affect us now and in the near future.
I am a firm believer that things happen for a reason. At the time, it just so happened I clicked on a link that came up in my “Medium” subscription (an online publishing platform). What I saw on the screen was an article called **The Neuroscience of Trust by Paul J. Zak. It was originally published in the January-February 2016 issue of the Harvard Business Review. Low and behold everything about this article confirmed what we learned through Arbinger. In the article, Paul Zak states, “Employees in high-trust organizations are more productive, have more energy at work, collaborate better with their colleagues and stay with their employers longer than people working at low-trust companies. They also suffer less chronic stress and are happier with their lives, and these factors fuel stronger performance.” Mr. Zak is the founding director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies and a professor of economics, psychology, and management at Claremont Graduate University. He is the author of Trust Factor: The Science of Creating High-Performance Companies (AMACOM, 2017).
Paul Zak identified eight management behaviors that foster trust. We used these behaviors to check our leadership performance. We did so through the lens of our three areas of team focus described earlier. Below is how we approached a number of the management behaviors cited by Zak.
- Share information broadly: We were completely transparent about our current and near future financial situation. We made sure that each team member knew our first priority was keeping our team together and working. While we could not predict the future exactly, we could use the information we had to confidently tell them how long we could keep the team together. We shared budgets and showed them how we were adapting to protect the team. We promised regular updates and honestly answered questions or concerns they had. If we didn’t have an answer, we told them so.
- Give people discretion in how they do their work: We believe that communicating and demonstrating our understanding and support will relieve much of the pressure and anxiety. That’s why we made it clear that we did not expect them, under these new conditions, to be immediately functioning at 100% or even 80%. While it’s normal for us to work remotely, things were definitely not normal. Work spaces were inhabited by children, spouses, pets, and maybe even roommates and parents. Distractions were all around. People were being quarantined and were worried about their health and the health of their loved ones. It was very important for us to acknowledge that everyone would deal with this global crisis differently. We wanted them to know that their emotional health needed to be their first priority, and we wanted them to know that their well-being was a priority for us too.
We also asked them to block off their schedule when it was going to be impossible for them to focus on work. If they had to get children ready for the day or help start them on their schoolwork or a project — then maybe it wasn’t feasible to work early mornings. Instead, they could work evenings and even make calls after their children were in bed. This gave them a sense of control over at least one thing in their life. Importantly, they knew we understood and supported a flexible schedule.
- Show Vulnerability: This behavior is aligned to the previous behavior. How could our team trust and believe in what we were saying if we didn’t show them our cards? So, we did. We were transparent and let them know that we were struggling too. We also blocked off times of the day that did not work well for us. We took 1 or 2 hours of PTO each morning or afternoon to take care of our family. We blocked out time for exercise in the middle of the day just to clear our heads. We still did our work, but we reprioritized our entire day. Work did not need to happen in eight-hour segments anymore. If we had to work on things as a team, we allowed the team to determine what worked for everyone.
- Intentionally build relationships: This behavior is so important. We asked our team to set up “Meet-to-Learn” meetings (which is an Arbinger tool) with someone on our team they do not usually work with.
Questions you might ask in a “Meet-to-Learn” include:
- Tell me more about your day-to-day work.
- What do you love about your work?
- What are the challenges you face in your work?
- What are your aspirations (short-term, long-term)?
- How can I be helpful to you in your role?
- How are you dealing with life in this COVID-19 world?
- What is keeping you sane during this time?
We asked the team to find one person to meet with, and we planned a reflection session at our next team meeting. The reflections weren’t meant to share personal or confidential information, but we asked team members to tell us how they felt during and after their meet-to-learn conversation. Every single person said that it was a powerful experience. They learned so much about each other, their work, their lives, and their families. Some walked away with new ways to support each other. Through that one exercise we facilitated a more cohesive team, but we aren’t stopping there. We asked them to do it with others on the team. As a leader I did it too. I learned so much from my call!
- Enable job crafting and facilitate whole-person growth (Job crafting and whole-person growth behaviors were merged as they happen to align in our current COVID-19 world.): Not long ago, we had finalized our new five-year, strategic plan. While it was still a solid plan, circumstances required a shift, so we pivoted. We revisited the previous most catalytic priorities we had identified prior to CoVid-19. The team was asked to consider which priorities could be the most catalytic under present conditions. We chose only three. That validated the fact that our present organizational capacity was not the same. We could no longer take on six priorities. Instead we asked, “How can we individually and collectively support these three? What shifts can we make to focus on the selected priorities?” These team conversations made it apparent that this was an opportunity for people to consider new ways of contributing. It allowed them to engage in learning about different aspects of our organization.
Everyone wants to be engaged in positive, meaningful work. This crisis shifted our thoughts from much of what we could not control to more of what we could. It was an eye-opening opportunity to learn, grow, and think differently about a broader scope of work in our organization.
- Induce “Challenge Stress”: Now you must be thinking that we lost our minds on this one, right? Who in their right mind needs more stress now? But, asking people as a group to achieve difficult but worthwhile, attainable goals actually makes our minds right. I mean it’s important, thought-engaging work, right? It moved our minds from worrying about all the wrong things going on and moved us to focus on the right things, wouldn’t you agree? Here’s what I mean.
For example, we focused on a financial goal. We asked people to step out of their traditional roles and think like a CEO, CFO, or a board member. We encouraged each other to think really big, broad, and out of the box. We divided people into small teams to brainstorm, and out of that came an amazing array of possibilities for how we might achieve our goal. Ultimately, our team members will have contributed to the final implementation plan, and that plan will allow us to pursue our mission — to help students and communities succeed far into the future. Call it what you will, but I call it “being in our right minds.”
As an organization, we believe in being curious, life-long learners. We believe that given the right tools and training, our team can conquer any obstacle. We have chosen to apply an “outward mindset.” That mindset requires, and we truly believe, that every single person in this organization brings enormous value to our work. We see people as the gifted, skilled, talented colleagues they truly are, and we need to remove the barriers that get in the way of individual and collective success. As a team, we can turn those barriers into bumps, and for those occasional mountains that get in the way, we’ll find a better road to travel.
Keeping with the lyrical theme of today’s blog and in the words of Ashford and Simpson, “Ain’t no mountain high enough!” Keep safe and stay well. We’ll get through, over, or around this mountain soon and on to bigger and better things together.
*To learn more about the Arbinger Institute’s “Outward Mindset” visit https://arbingerinstitute.com
Executive Director, Ford Next Generation Learning