BIG WINDSHIELD Looking Forward, Small Mirror Looking Back

Bud’s article, “Looking Forward, Small Mirror Looking Back” was published in the AMA Quarterly, Spring 2021. You can download this issue of the Quarterly by clicking here.

One of the bedrock truths supporting my career is the need to approach life from the viewpoint of the driver’s seat, with a “big windshield looking forward and a small rearview mirror looking back.”

“Looking back over 2020, are the identified ground rules being followed? If not, what is the next action to create a better environment for everyone? Awareness and small changes, with appropriate follow-up, could be the forward navigation that steers away from future chaos and team division.”

This truth has gained more relevance considering the challenging year we all have endured. To effectively lead entering the summer of 2021, we need to recognize key learning points from 2020 and early 2021. Looking back will help us better navigate going forward.

Studies have been conducted on the productivity of employees and how well people have adapted to remote work, hybrid work, or working safely in person. Data also exists that shows how effective some employees have been in being self-directed and autonomous in their work.

These successes should be celebrated! I recommend that all teams and individuals document the positives that have emerged from changes in the way work was done in the last year. Develop plans and actions so that all can be purposeful in retaining crucial lessons as we move forward.

Numerous studies illustrate how employees have adapted well to using new technology to work from home while maintaining the quality of content and productivity. As with all results of studies, there are other lessons to learn when data is approached from another direction. According to
PricewaterhouseCoopers, while 55% of employees would prefer to be fully remote or at least remote three days a week once pandemic concerns recede, those with the least amount of professional experience want to be back in the office, with 30% preferring to be remote no more than one day a week.

Can your team perform at its best long term if newer employees are struggling in the new work environment we’ve had to create? Further, is there anything new we can learn from what didn’t work with the vast changes made to how work was done?

Our issues fall into three buckets: Some people have challenges with learning new technology; some lack the skills to be self-directed or autonomous; and many people miss relationships or simply not being connected to others.

Whether employees are working remotely, cannot visit family or friends with health issues that limit the ability to be together, are struggling with restrictions on travel or entertainment, or are grappling with additional problems affecting our world, many feel isolated and possess a deep need for connection. Focus on building relationships, since history has shown that when people feel connected, they perform their best and feel their best.

As leaders, what are some purposeful alterations we can consider as we move forward? Life and work have dramatically changed and, in some cases, have altered permanently. The lessons we have learned about connection with each other and focus are even more important now, in the remote/hybrid work patterns and in the home-life environments in which we find ourselves.

THE COMPONENTS OF COMMUNICATION
For centuries we have discussed how important communication is. Tools have changed, the speed at which communication occurs has increased, and the distance covered is much greater today than ever before. But the fundamentals have not changed. In effective communication, and in moments of stress and challenge, the fundamentals are as important as they have ever been.

Communication is composed of three components: words (what is actually said); tone of voice (how we say the words); and body language (gestures, postures, and facial expressions that  communicate nonverbally to others).

With modern technology, are we missing key communication attributes because we are not “in person” when we communicate? Further, with the expanding use of email, virtual meetings, and remote work, are we missing important information about the health and well-being of our team?

If we are not purposeful in our use of technology and being emotionally present, we risk missing much key information.

The answer is to be diligent and notice people’s gestures, facial expressions, and comments that are out of character.  You may need to connect with someone privately if you think he or she could benefit from some assistance or support. Are the ground rules current for effective communication, or do they need to be updated and revisited by your team? Looking back over 2020, are the  identified ground rules being followed? If not, what is the next action to create a better environment for everyone? Awareness and small changes, with appropriate follow-up, could be the forward navigation that steers away from future chaos and team division.

MAKING CONNECTIONS
Professionally and personally, technology has been used to enhance communication when we cannot be there in person. Data show how productive most have been during the challenging times of 2020. But we don’t talk much about the loss of connection professionally and personally.

Many people work from home, and limits have been imposed on visiting family members who live in care facilities. We’ve been restricted from seeing other family and friends either because they live far away or, even worse, were hospitalized. In the latter case, visitation is either strictly curtailed or prohibited altogether.

As humans, we are designed to connect and be social. But in everyday life during this pandemic, we don’t see many faces because they are covered with masks. We miss facial expressions, which are key elements of communication.

I encourage you to look in your past and identify events or activities that brought connection to your team members. From your “being present” efforts to better communicate, ask if you have gathered information about the communication issues that are having negative effects on individuals or your team.

Being proactive in identifying ways to connect employees socially and emotionally can help ensure the health of your team on a personal level. You’ll help them to interact with others at work at their highest levels of engagement.

SHOWING CARE
We all know how much better we feel when we know someone cares about us as people. When we are happier and feel safe, we become more resilient, energetic, and innovative. We need these qualities not only in ourselves but in everyone with whom we interact.

To help with this connection, allow for some open time for people to share something about themselves not related to work. Schedule an event to donate money and/or time to a worthy cause valued by the team members. Adopt attitudes of service to others.

BUILDING COMMUNITY
There are great needs in all of our communities today. What better way to connect with others than to work together for a common good?

Focus. Keep looking through the windshield during these challenging times. Our shared experiences last year could provide information to help you and others navigate better as we move forward to better times.

The efforts you make personally to better communicate, connect, care, and be a more vibrant part of a community will build a better you. Building a better you is key. These efforts could form the catalyst for others around you to do the same