Are you ready for the Talent Crunch?

Are you ready for the Talent Crunch?

Companies are looking to hire! According to Vistage research, “The most notable finding from the December survey is that more than two thirds (67%) of small businesses reported plans to increase their workforce in the year ahead, up significantly from 55% in November. These expansion plans among small businesses are the highest since February of 2018.”

At the moment, from what I hear, finding the “right” people is hard. That is because of COVID. People will not:

  • Leave current employment. With COVID, employees are staying put for the moment as the risk of moving is too significant. Everyone is aware of a “last in, first out” bias, so no one is ready to take the risk until things improve.
  • Move. With COVID, employees are unlikely to take jobs in new cities. That is not to say people aren’t moving; they are, but usually back to where they came from, with support systems there. Baby boomers are moving to some excellent early retirement locations. However, average employees are unlikely to move for a job as there is too much risk involved in incurring up and moving expenses when the job is uncertain, and they may have no support structure.
  • Take large risks. There is enough risk right now from COVID, and the economic uncertainty that most people will not take on more for a situation that they feel is very risky.

Current expectations are that we may hit COVID herd immunity in July, with the recovery starting in May or June. If that is the case, businesses will benefit from the pent-up demand that COVID has caused. Thus, we can expect employees to adjust their risk profile and start job hunting and moving just as companies increase their employment demands from Q2 onwards.

What are the employees looking for?

Purpose. For many, COVID has brought home their mortality and causing them to ask if what they do matters. Thus, if the company has no core purpose or “Why?”, or the core purpose doesn’t align with the employees’ purpose, the employees will move to those companies where the core purpose aligns.

Empathy. Many people will feel that their employers/bosses didn’t treat them well during COVID or showed insufficient compassion. They may have had to work through challenging homeschooling or ill parents/spouse with their employer making little allowance.

Living Core Values. Many companies have claimed to have Core Values, but when they are just words on a wall. During COVID, many organizations’ behavior has shown employees that their Core Values are just words and not beliefs, and not living your core values will drive employees and prospects away.

Opportunity. Since we are all mortal and life is fleeting, not only do employees want to work where they believe in what they are doing, but they want to realize their potential. Employers that show no interest in an employee’s career development and personal requirements will find those employees departing.

Character. As a result, employees will look for those companies who have always stated their Core Purpose and Values rather than those who have suddenly “found religion” and hoping that their new statements will make a difference like a fresh coat of paint.

McKinsey research showed that of employees:

  • 82% believed it was important for the company to have a purpose;
  • 72% thought that purpose should have more weight than profit;
  • 62% believed that the company should have a purpose statement; and
  • 42% said that their organizations’ purpose statements drove impact.

So, where does your organization fall? If you don’t have a purpose statement that is driving impact, how will you fare in the looming talent crisis? As I have often said, “How you behave during this crisis will define you for a decade or more.”

Here are some questions to ponder.

  • Do you have a clear purpose?
  • Can you say in one sentence what your organization is passionate about?
  • Why does the organization exist?
  • What are your Core Values, and can you point to those that live them and where they are part of your folklore?

If you can’t answer these, then the Talent Crunch is going to hurt! People will leave for places where they feel their purposes align and people live with similar Core Values. As the economy recovers and demand picks up, most companies will need more people to meet the challenges. If you don’t have enough and cannot hire the type you need, you will be in trouble.

If you don’t have a Core Purpose or Core Values, then you are attracting three basic types of employees:

  1. Walking dead. Can’t get a job anywhere else
  2. In Transition. They need a job, so they will work for you until something better comes along.
  3. Don’t care about a Why. These people do have a Why, but it is usually money and nothing else. At any time they feel they are not getting enough, they are gone. Real mercenaries and not good if you ever expect to hit a rough patch in the future.

If you don’t understand your Why, Simon Senik’s video below will put it better than I ever could.

Remember, a Core Purpose is a deep reflection on your corporate identity—what you really stand for—which may well lead to material changes in your strategy and even your governance. If you don’t have a Core Purpose and Core Values but will start defining them now, I would offer some suggestions.

  1. Get a coach or facilitator to help. Discussions over this can easily get bogged down. Many times, everyone will look to the business owner for guidance, which may be okay. But if the business owner comes up with a bad Why, e.g., profit, will anyone challenge?

2. Don’t make profit your Why, for some of these reasons:

  • No one cares but shareholders, and generally, they are not the ones operating the business.
  • Your customers and suppliers are not impressed that “making a profit” is your Why, as that implies you will take advantage of them.
  • If profit is your why then everyone’s only interest is making money. Thus, anything that will make money is okay. When the company hits trouble, no one will stay and help; they are only there for the money.
  1. Remember Jim Collins’ statement about Core Values, “you are willing to lose money than breach your core values.” So, once you determine, make sure your leadership team and most of your employees can live them. If not, they need to go, as they are not “the right people.”

If you have an excellent Core Purpose and held Core Values, put them on your website, in your recruiting materials, and make sure you live your core values. You will be able to attract some great talent in the times ahead.

 

Copyright (c) 2021 Marc A. Borrelli

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3 Ways You Could be Undermining Your Core Values

3 Ways You Could be Undermining Your Core Values

As we have all struggled through 2020 and the difficulties of lockdowns and WFH, our core values are guiding decision making and holding us together as organizations. Talking to a senior executive recently, he said that COVID had destroyed his organization’s comradery, and no one felt connected. However, on further investigation, it appeared that the company has no core values, as they thought them irrelevant.

I find companies without clearly articulated core values can rarely define, “Why do you exist?” If you have no core values, no guiding mission, and everyone is now working from home, what bonds the team together? The only thing is the paycheck. However, we know that money is a terrible motivator. Scholars at the London School of Economics looked at 51 studies on pay-for-performance schemes and concluded:

“We find that financial incentives may indeed reduce intrinsic motivation and diminish ethical or other reasons for complying with workplace social norms such as fairness. As a consequence, the provision of incentives can result in a negative impact on overall performance.”

So, core values are fundamental. I hope you have some, and they are clearly articulated in your organization. Remember, as Jim Collins says, core values are those things we would rather lose profit over than breach. If you are undermining them, your team loses commitment to the values, and it becomes a Lord of the Flies environment with finger-pointing, denouncements, and everyone for themselves.

However, even if you do have core values, there may be three ways you are undermining them.

You Breach Them

The first possibility: you breach your core values! If one of your core values is, “We treat everyone with respect” (which I often see in companies) and you do something disrespectful to an employee, customer, or just someone outside the organization, it causes issues. The perception among your employees is that:

  • The CEO lacks personal commitment to the core values;
  • The CEO is a hypocrite; and
  • All corporate statements around behavior, mission, and values are only words and not taken seriously.

Therefore, you and your leadership team must live your core values at all times. If one of you cannot, then either they have to leave the organization, or you have to change your core values. Pat Lencioni talks of a company where once they had defined their core values, one of the leadership team resigned, saying, “I cannot live that value, and if that is the value of the organization, then I should go.” It can be hard to enforce them, but it is better for the organization in the long term.

You Allow Others to Breach Them

As mentioned above, the CEO and leadership team must live the company’s core values. However, if you allow others within the organization to breach them, it leads to the issues described above. I have often seen that the leadership team provides a pass for some employees because they are high performers, e.g., top salesperson or IT person. The rationale is that we cannot survive without them, and so we will tolerate their failing to behave because it is more important to keep them than maintain our core values. However, as Jim Collins points out, you should be prepared to take a loss to live up to them, so you should be prepared to lose these employees to keep your core values.

I often have CEOs and leadership teams struggle with what to do about such “toxic” people, and at the end of the day, after much pushing, they let that individual go. What usually happens is that company morale improves, core values become believed in, and productivity increase above the levels that were there when the toxic person roamed the organization.

Your Employees Are Confused as To What They Mean

Of the three reasons, this is probably the most common, because it is the easiest to do. I have said the worst two inventions for the corporate world were Excel and PowerPoint. The former encourages accuracy without precision, and the latter because we have lots of presentations where everyone has their interpretation of what the meaning was. This lack of definition is pervasive with core value statements.

You need to explain the meaning of core values. Reinforce them by recognizing examples of the team’s correct behavior, and explaining why specific actions are not core values even if they appear to fall within the definition. If you don’t, employees will weave their interpretations and ideologies into them. The employees’ ideologies and interpretations may take the core values further or in a different direction than the CEO intended. However, once the employees have taken them there, the CEO and leadership team’s opportunity to breach them increases dramatically.

If a core value is “employee growth and belonging,” without being clear as to what this means, it may be interpreted as:

  • Employee empowerment to do more than they should.
  • A family environment where the growth is limited to ensure that family feeling
  • Communication is equal, and everyone has a voice at all levels.

If that is not what the CEO intends, but it is what the employees now believe, it becomes only a matter of time before the CEO crosses the line and breaches the core values in the employees’ minds.

The problem that most often happens is that the employees don’t consider if their interpretation of the core values was wrong; instead, they assume that the CEO is a hypocrite and doesn’t care about the core values. Employees are unlikely to raise the issue that they think the CEO and leadership team have breached the company’s core values because the values of “Open Door” and “Bring me the bad news” are now just considered words rather than values. Thus, the negative spiral starts.

To prevent this, leaders must spend time asking employees what they are thinking and feeling, as well as sharing their own thoughts so that the employees will feel comfortable expressing their concerns.

To ensure that the understanding is correct, the leadership team needs to reinforce examples of behavior that supports their definition of the core values. When they see actions that don’t mean the intent, call them out and explain why it doesn’t fit the core values. Also, recognizing individuals’ living core values within the organization reinforces the organization’s commitment to the core values. Finally, the CEO and leadership team need to be aware of when they breach the values, admit their failures, and commit to living to those standards in the future.

I hope as we end the year, you CEOs and business leaders will take time to recognize those in your organization that has lived your corporate values during the struggles of 2020 in your one-on-one meetings. It will provide a great deal of goodwill and encourage the behavior far more than the usual “Rally around the flag” speech at the end of the year.

 

Copyright (c) 2020 Marc A Borrelli

 

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What is Leadership?

What is Leadership?

I was on an interesting call this week where the question of “What is leadership?” arose.

Today, there are many definitions, and the concept of leadership has changed over the last seventy years. However, I think the adage that “Great leaders are forged through adversity” still holds. In adversity, great leaders come to the fore as they can get their teams to outperform others during that period when everyone is struggling to achieve their goals and leave a lasting legacy. To me, the “adversity” qualifier is like Warren Buffett’s saying about you don’t know who is swimming naked until the tide goes out; well, adversity is the tide going out.

So, what defines a great leader? Let’s start with the things that don’t.

  • Leadership has nothing to do with seniority or one’s position in the hierarchy of a company. In most cases, people are promoted to leadership positions because of tenure or technical skills; leadership ability is rarely considered.
  • Leadership has nothing to do with titles. Just because you have a C-level title doesn’t automatically make you a “leader,” and you don’t need a title to lead. A great example is Greta Thunberg who has become a leader but without title or seniority.
  • Leadership has nothing to do with personal attributes. While people often associate “leader” with a domineering, take-charge charismatic individual, leadership isn’t an adjective.
  • Leadership isn’t management.  This is the big one. Leadership and management are not synonymous; managers manage things. Leaders lead people. Given the above qualifiers for what leadership is not, some definitions try to capture it but fail.

“The only definition of a leader is someone who has followers.”

This definition, while simple, fails because it is similar to titles. In the video above, the first one dancing is the leader, but I doubt he is still leading once the followers start.

“Leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less.” This sounds good, but what is the source of influence? If it the leader’s position, e.g., the CEO or the power to cause harm, e.g., your kidnapper, I wouldn’t define it as leadership.

“Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” Many can translate a vision into reality. An architect or a builder? A painter or sculptor? But I wouldn’t define them as leaders because there are no “others” that they are leading.

Maybe looking at the traits of great, leaders we can better come to a definition. What are the traits of great leaders?

 

Acknowledge people’s fears, then encourage resolve.

The first part is empathy. While this is a personal attribute, which is excluded under the definitions above, I believe without it, you cannot be a great leader because it enables so many of the key attributes. By acknowledging people’s fears, we don’t cover up the crisis and deny its existence. But with the fears on the table, we can then address them and encourage resolve to overcome them. In a crisis, everyone knows that things are bad, but much of the energy and fear exists because of the unknown. Being honest about the situation and facing it allows people to come to grips with the unknown, which enables them to move forward.

 

Give people a role and purpose.

Real leaders charge individuals to act in service of the broader community. They give people jobs to do. But I would add to that; they frame everything within the outcome being sought so that the jobs are not mindless but have a purpose which they can see. It is not about the leader but the great community. I think Shackleton was a great example of this, but I always fall back to David Marquette’s Turn the Ship around.

Inspire others to see opportunities in everything.

There is no playbook in a crisis, so it is up to the leader to be open-minded enough to find possibilities that will help serve their community through their discussions with their team and their data.

 

Be flexible to anticipate the unexpected.

As said above, there is no playbook in a crisis, and leaders must quickly get comfortable with widespread ambiguity and chaos. To get out in front of the crisis they cannot be fixed on any one route but need to see around, beneath, and beyond what they seek. To fully succeed here, they need to get their followers to be flexible, which requires them to understand the greater goal and their role in it and use its core values as their guidelines.

 

Manage everyone’s energy and emotion, including their own.

Crises are exhausting, taking a toll on all of us and possibly leading to burnout. A critical function of leadership is to keep your finger on the pulse of your people’s energy and emotions and respond as needed.

 

Unleash their team’s passionate pursuits.

Passion is what drives experimentation and learning. If everyone is passionate about the outcome, they will seek new ways of addressing the crisis, and great discoveries will be made. Not only will passion drive greater discovery, but it creates more energy. The best example I can think of Apollo 13.

 The Respect to Lead to Leave a Legacy.

Legacies are born during crises. While leaders are most respected based on how well they reacted and responded to all the chaos and uncertainty around them, I believe the key measure is how much of a legacy they leave. Does the organization continue to thrive when they are gone? Do the others in the organization go on to greater and better things? Are the behaviors that enabled it to survive and thrive now part of the company’s DNA. There are many leaders who get the organization through a crisis but leave no lasting mark. I would argue, that they are not great leaders.

So, in conclusion, I would define Leadership as, “A process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal, and leaves a lasting legacy.”

The key things about this definition are:

  • Leadership stems from social influence, not authority or power
  • Leadership requires others, and that implies they don’t need to be “direct reports”
  • No mention of personality traits, attributes, or even a title; there are many styles, many paths, to effective leadership
  • It identifies the maximization of “efforts”
  • It includes a goal, not influence with no intended outcome
  • Finally, it ties in with a lasting legacy.

Not everyone will become a great leader, but everyone can become a better leader and your organization will thank you. So, start your journey today and if you need help, call me.

 

Copyright (c) 2020, Marc A. Borrelli

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Yes, We Are a Country (Team) Divided

Yes, We Are a Country (Team) Divided

So, as we await the final election results, the only thing that is abundantly clear is that we are divided as a country. Fifty percent wanted a change, and the other fifty percent didn’t. I don’t intend to discuss the whys or rights of either side. However, this has enormous implications for any leader.

As you sit with your team, you have to realize that fifty percent don’t agree with your view of the world, regardless of what they say, and fifty percent do. Previously, the difference was harder to discern. People kept opinions to themselves and didn’t get drawn into political discussions. However, with the polarization of COVID, we now know where people stand from how they feel about masks and social distancing. Regardless of what your people say, they are already deciding how they feel about issues and teammates, those they disagree with, and those they are damning.

However, as a leader, you have to get all these people to pull together, support each other, and achieve more as a team than they can individually. The key is, how?

There are two ways to lead people:

  • Divide people. Create a mutual enemy and lead a crusade to conquer it. Life becomes a life or death situation; the sense of urgency provides unconditional support. Conquering, winning at-any-cost, is all that matters.
  • Unite people. Find a common cause, a shared ambition, and inspire people to build it with you. Make it a life quest, and people are united by the the mission to build something bigger than themselves. The desire to leave a lasting legacy is what keeps the people joined in the mission.

So how do you intend to lead your organization?

 

Dividing People

The dividing strategy has been around since the beginning of time; Julius Cesar’s supposed strategy for conquering Gaul was “Divide et impera.” Gaul. As a leader, Nicholas Machiavelli believed it’s better to be feared than to be loved, and the leader should rely upon the art of manipulation to build followers and allies. As George Orwell put it so well in 1984, “The Party believed that they could endlessly engage in a war to keep peace in the country.”

Such leaders use the illusion of division to create a fictional reality. They are compulsive storytellers, using every opportunity to feed anger and violence. One of the problems is that anger is a powerful motivator but hard to sustain in the long run. So, the stories and illusions have to become worse to drive the same level of anger. It is not sustainable.

In some organizations, the competition is the enemy and the desire to destroy it at costs. Someone once told me that everything was portrayed as a life and death battle to destroy their biggest competitor during their corporate orientation. Leadership used every war analogy, including death chants about the competitor. One day he was ill with 104 fever, and there was a blizzard outside. He called his superior to say that he could not make it in, and the superior’s response was, “You will allow [the competition] to fight for another day, causing untold damage on us. Get up and fight to kill them. We need it done today.” They urged him to die on the altar of the war between the companies.

The problem with the deception strategy is it only works in the short term; in the long run, people separate fiction from reality. Leaders who use the divide and conquer approach often create a de-individuation environment, where individuals let go of self-awareness and self-control to imitate others, and one’s individuality becomes lost in the group identity. In such a situation, the organization’s threats are groupthink, and no one stops asking the critical questions as the mob rushes forward with the pitchforks and torches.

When we are so polarized and angry, many may think the divide and conquer strategy the best, as people are already on that path, and we have to refocus the anger. However, when angry and divided, divisions are more easily sown within the group. Suppose problems arise within the organization, the anger quickly moves from an outward focus to an inward one, e.g., production is not keeping up with orders, or customer service is losing our customers. Once the divisions start occurring within the ranks of the organization, it is hard to stop. Enemies and anger spread, and trust falls. The team is dysfunctional. The company is adrift without strategy or guidance, as those within fight among themselves, but the leader is safe.

Focusing on division and a common “enemy” makes it hard to live your core values in many cases. If one of your core values is to treat everyone with respect, then it must apply to your perceived “enemy.” However, that goes against the strategy and dies. Soon there are no core values left, and the only guiding light is winning at all costs. In this environment, the ends justify the means, and the organization destroys everything. As Attila the Hun said, “There, where I have passed, the grass will never grow again.”

I would argue that today, this is the worst way to lead. Leaders choosing this tactic are playing with fire and one that they cannot control.

 

Uniting People

Leaders who unite people are “builders.” They take a different approach; they don’t tell you to follow orders, but rather to “Join me and follow the mission, not me.” Such leaders and their follows are driven by a purpose bigger than themselves. They are more focused on the impact on society than quarterly earnings. It is not that the latter doesn’t matter, but making money is not enough. Studies show that when leaders connect to a meaningful purpose, it is more likely for employees to connect to it and work harder to achieve their goals.

Thus, it takes far less energy to motivate the employees and customers because their excitement with the mission does a lot of it for you in such an environment. The focus on the mission also allows the team to collaborate effectively. The principle is the mission’s success, which makes them feel good, overriding the divisions in other areas.

However, while getting everyone to follow the mission, there are two dangers: the rise of the “Messiah” within the organization and groupthink. First, leaders focused on the task can become the paramount leader where what they say goes, as no one is allowed to question the Messiah. Second, groupthink creates such an environment where, once more, “the ends justify the means.”

The organization’s core values are essential to ensuring that neither of these outcomes occurs. If, as above, a core value is “Treating everyone with respect,” then those who disagree are not denigrated in such an organization. They may not be on the team, but hatred is not directed at them, and as such divisions are less likely to occur.

In today’s environment, it is worth revisiting your mission, “Why do we exist?” It is also a great time to look at your core values and see how they fit with the organization’s mission and drive behavior. In many organizations, I am aware of, they have core values, but even the CEO cannot articulate them at a moment’s notice. In such organizations, they are just words on a wall. They are not core values. To find your core values, ask your team. “What are the top, non-illegal activities that would get you fired from this organization?” The answers are the opposite of your core values. Compare them to those words on the wall – do your people know and live your core values?

However, while we often have our core values posted within the office, we don’t ask what they mean. Take, for example, Google’s corporate philosophy of “Don’t be evil,” which the company had in the 2000s. An ex-Google employee told me that there was lots of internal debate about its meaning and what actions were allowed. Many core values sound good, but on examination, the organization has done little to define what they mean or show how to live them in difficult situations. Here corporate folklore is of enormous importance. Your organization needs lots of stories that demonstrate the living of its values that are shared with everyone, from new employees to customers. As humans, we love stories and relate to them more than words. Suppose your organization has many stories about how it lived its core values in difficult times. In that case, your employees will know the corporation’s values and how to behave when similar times arise. As I am sure few companies will have a core value that includes the words, hate, discrimination, etc., these behaviors are less likely to develop.

In a divided country, you need to reinforce your core values, live by them, and, as Jim Collins says, be prepared to take a loss to live by them. Start recognizing everyone in your organization that does demonstrate your core values and allows others to do the same at meetings. It needs to be a part of your hiring and review process, as this is the glue that will hold the organization together in a COVID world. When you are hiring, looking where the applicant worked previously, and that organization’s core values may help you decide if they will fit with your team.

Our core values are far more similar among most of us than we realize. If we believe in those together, we can overcome our other divisions and have a friendship because the bonds outweigh the divisions.

Finally, I believe teams need to look at Special Forces teams, e.g., SAS, Seal Team 6, SBS. What I think makes them so effective is that:

  • They are solely focused on the mission;
  • Their core values are paramount;
  • They discuss openly and to determine the best plan to execute the mission. Nothing is personal, but everything is open to challenge;
  • Once the plan is adopted, there is full buy-in from the entire team. No one is sitting with their arms folded, hoping it fails so they can say, “I told you so.”
  • They know when the mission is no longer viable, and they need to determine a new mission; and
  • They undertake extensive post mortems on the plan to learn how they could be more effective and what mistakes were made.

At this time, I would suggest all leaders look to their mission and core values to unify their teams and lead their organization more effectively through the country’s divided landscape. Reach out if you need help defining your mission, BHAG, and core values.

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I’m So Tired

I’m So Tired

As I talk to my CEO clients and others across the work spectrum, the common refrain that I hear is, “I am so tired.” Somehow, I feel I have Lili von Shtupp’s lyrics stuck in my head on repeat.

“I’m so tired
Goddammit, I’m exhausted
Tired, tired of playing the game
Ain’t it a crying shame
I’m so tired.”

So why is everyone tired? I put it down to three things: Zoom Fatigue, Long Hours, and our environment.

 

Zoom Fatigue

Zoom Fatigue is real! Before COVID hit, roughly two-thirds of all social interactions were face-to-face. No more. Most of us still talk in person with the people we live with and maybe with a friend or two who we have allowed into our pods. There may be the occasional chat with the cashier at the grocery store, restaurant, or the UPS delivery person. However, almost all other interactions, work conversation, book clubs, dinner parties, joking around at the gym have either disappeared or moved online. Thus, nearly all of us are yearning for more social connections.

With the onset of COVID, Zoom, Teams, Skype, other video calling systems calls took off. Not only that, but telephone calls, which had been declining in favor of text, were like Mark Twain: the report of their death was an exaggeration.

  • AT&T reported that from mid-March to May 1, wireless voice calls peaked at 44% above typical levels, and Wi-Fi calling more than doubled.
  • In March, Verizon was reporting an average of 800 million wireless calls each weekday. That’s nearly double the number of calls made on Mother’s Day, typically the busiest call day of the year.
  • According to an RBC analyst, Zoom average 148.4 million monthly active users in Q2 2020, up 4,700% year over year.

So while we are communicating through new and old channels, it is different. According to  Jeffrey Hall, a professor of communication studies at the University of Kansas, “Compared to face to face, texting and using social media, energy use during a Zoom call is higher. It was more intense than these other [modes].” Besides, Hall’s research shows that video calls also seemed to heighten not lessen loneliness. “People said, after the fact, that they felt lonely, less connected [on video chat].”

Hall argues Zoom fatigue is real. “Zoom is exhausting and lonely because you have to be so much more attentive and so much more aware of what’s going on than you do on phone calls.” We are also asking everyone on the call to have their cameras on see how people are doing, but then you are also watching yourself speak. Research shows that when we’re on video, we tend to spend the most time gazing at our own faces. So, hide from view. Also, when on video, we also focus on other’s backgrounds as well. We can see their furniture, plants, and artwork. We start straining to see what books they have on their shelves. Processing all these stimuli takes a lot of very energy, increasing mental fatigue. Also, bandwidth issues causing blips, delays, and cut off sentences create confusion.

Not only that, but video calls make it easier than ever to lose focus. We all believe we absolutely can listen intently, check our email, text a friend, and post a smiley face on Slack within the same thirty seconds. Except, of course, we don’t end up doing much listening at all when we’re distracted. Not only that, but it quickly becomes obvious to the others that you are not focused and mentally checked out, which is a distraction to the entire group.

Finally, there are issues of co-workers being invited into your private living spaces and all the issues that bring with it. People are questioning coworkers’ tastes in art and home décor and being exposed to more of their online chat participants than expected. The latest to fall foul of that was New Yorker writer Jeffrey Toobin, but there are cases of mothers being caught nude on their children’s school zoom calls, and much worse.

According to Hall, phone calls, by comparison, are less demanding. “You can be in your own space. You can take a walk, make dinner.” 

How to combat Zoom fatigue

I believe there are a few steps we can take to reduce Zoom fatigue, and they are:

  • Basic teamwork blocking and tackling. Start meetings asking about the team and how they are doing personally. Recognize contributions. At this time, we are all suffering, and recognition helps lift our spirits. Celebrate victories. There aren’t many, and we need to celebrate more.
  • Have an agenda. No Zoom call should occur without a clear agenda on what is to be covered in the call. Also, whoever called the meeting has to ensure that everyone sticks to the agenda and needs to quieten those that continue talking. I have noticed that it is hard to get a word in on a Zoom call if others keep talking, so the meeting head needs to use the mute button generously at times.
  • Fewer meetings. Since Zoom meetings are exhausting, we need to limit them. Since we are all craving connection, it has become like cc emails. We include everyone, but not everyone needs to be on all calls. If there is an agenda, those that don’t need to attend can say so. Remember Jeff Bezos’s 2-pizza rule. No more than 6 to 8 people. The more people, the more unproductive the meeting becomes.
  • Shorten meetings. When meetings are too long, attendees tend to switch to offline mode and focus on emails or messages. Meetings have reverted to a 1-hour standard, but why? Push your team to do better and make it a company priority to set a new meeting standard of 30 minutes maximum. Make it short and sweet, and keep the focus on the issues at hand.
  • Avoid multitasking. Researchers have found that people who multitask can’t remember things and their more singularly focused peers. So, during your next video chat, close any tabs or programs that might distract you (e.g., your inbox or Slack), put your phone away, and stay present.
  • Build-in breaks. Take mini-breaks from video during longer calls by minimizing the window or just looking away from your computer completely for a few seconds every so often. Your colleagues probably understand more than you think — it is possible to listen without staring at the screen for a full thirty minutes. This is a time just to let your eyes rest for a moment. If you are stuck in a day of back to back Zoom meetings, building a 10-minute buffer between calls to stretch and walk.
  • Reduce onscreen stimuli. Encourage people to use virtual backgrounds, preferably ones that don’t move, or agree as a group to have everyone who is not talking turn off their video.

Also, Hall suggests three more rules:

  1. Tighten the circle of people you communicate with. In technology, as in life, we have layers of intimacy. According to Hall, “It’s not the case that more is better. We can only maintain so many relationships at a time.
  2. Build communication into your routines. “Have something on the calendar that you repeatedly do, make it a part of what’s on your daily or weekly or monthly to-do list,” Hall says. I have a monthly Zoom call with some high school friends, which has been a great way to reconnect and chat through all we are going through.
  3. Strengthen the signal. Use communication methods that make you feel the most connected and think about the content of your interactions. As Hall says, “We’re still human beings who need each other. We’re going to use technology to recreate the things that we need.”

Long hours

With COVID, our workspace has invaded our homes. The separation of relaxation and work is lost as so we work longer. Also, many of us are dealing with our children’s challenges at home learning virtually, which is a huge distraction and prevents many from doing their jobs. As a result, work gets moved to when the children are done or asleep, lengthening the workday. Effectively we are all working continual overtime.

However, research shows employees who work overtime hours experience numerous mental, physical, and social effects. Significant effects include stress, lack of free time, poor work-life balance, and health risks. Besides, employee performance levels fall, and there is an increase in tiredness, fatigue, and lack of attentiveness. Here is a list of things you and your employees can do to reduce stress.

From what I see and hear, everyone is experiencing this. The initial increase in productivity with the onset of COVID has gone, and overall productivity has fallen. There is overall euphoria for those whose children have returned to school as they are regaining time to work and then be engaged with their children at the end of the day.

How to combat long hours

Combatting long hours is more difficult than Zoom fatigue. But realistically, COVID will affect us for another year, so you need to adjust your planning to that reality. During the winter months, it will get worse as outside activities become more limited. However, here are some suggestions.

  • Be disciplined with your calendar. Don’t allow it to fill up with meetings. If you are in the C-Suite, ensure that your people limit their meetings, both in time and number. As mentioned above, move meetings to 30 minutes and limit the number of back to back meetings.
  • Build-in breaks. Every two hours, take a 30-minute break. Walk around the neighborhood, meditate, or do yoga. The break in the routine will be mentally stimulating.
  • Take time off. Encourage people in your organization to take time off. From the data out there, the amount of unused PTO is at record levels. However, estimates are that unused vacations cost the U.S. $224 billion a year. Allow for a day off for the organization. Be clear about your annual leave and other paid time off guidance, especially if they have changed during COVID. Not only that, but encourage people to go something different other than sit at home. Currently, I am sitting in San Francisco with some friends. The change in scenery and environment is incredibly refreshing and mentally revitalizing. Read more at Managers, Encourage Your Team to Take Time Off.
  • Find a hobby. We are trapped in our homes. So we need to find something outside of work that is mentally refreshing and brings us happiness and excitement. It is a great time to find a new hobby, read some of the classics, or finish those DIY projects that have been on our to-do list forever. I found archery that way as I would go into a zone for the entire time, and it provided a break. A CEO I know has joined her husband doing woodwork, and it is something they both look forward to at the end of the day.

 

Our Environment

We are heading into the holiday season, and this year it is going to be very different. For those with college children, they will be home much longer. There will be no parties and few opportunities to socialize. There will be little shopping at malls for gifts, but UPS, FedEx, and Amazon trucks will fill the road. Those with extended families are likely to travel to see them. After nine months of COVID, this is what we have to look forward to. Not only that, but we can expect COVID to be disrupting our lives for another nine to twelve months. All of which is mentally draining.

How to deal with this. The best way, in my opinion, is the Stockdale Paradox. James Stockdale was held captive during the Vietnam War as a prisoner of war for over seven years. Stockdale was repeatedly tortured during his captivity and had no reason to believe he’d make it out alive. To stay alive in this hell reality, Stockdale embraced both the harshness of his situation with a balance of healthy optimism. The paradox, as he put it, “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end — which you can never afford to lose — with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” In its simplest form, the paradox is the idea of hoping for the best but acknowledging and preparing for the worst.

Of course, as a follower of the ancient Greek Stoic philosophers, Stockdale may have had an advantage, but we can all learn from the paradox. The paradox holds a great lesson for how to achieve success and overcome difficult obstacles. It also challenges unbridled optimists and those positivity peddlers whose advice we are encouraged to follow. In discussion with Jim Collins for his book Good to Great, Stockdale spoke about how the optimists fared in the prison camp. The dialogue goes:

JC: “Who didn’t make it out?”

JS: “Oh, that’s easy, the optimists.”

JC: “The optimists? I don’t understand,” I said, now completely confused, given what he’d said a hundred meters earlier.

JS: “The optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart. … This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

Your organization—or unconscious mind—may be hoping on some other event or date after which some version of “rescue” will come: a vaccine, a cure, a reliable and cheap test, the acquisition of herd immunity.

However, to review the brutal facts, none of these developments are likely in the foreseeable short term. There is a possibility that there may never be a fully effective vaccine or cure; this virus may be something that we live with and manage for years to come. If that is the case, we will have to change elements of our social interaction in unprecedented ways that may well lead to irrevocable social changes.

Besides, the effects of the virus today ensure there will be no normal to return to, as this incomplete list indicates:

What to do?

With regard to business leadership and management, this duality helps to guard against the onslaught of disappointments that COVID delivers in the business world. Optimism drives innovation; however, we need to maintain realism and not over-optimistically chase something that can’t happen.

The COVID crisis is affecting your employees in very different ways depending on where they live, what they do, their family situation, and their understanding of and expectations about the pandemic, among other factors. As a result, your team members are probably in different phases of reaction to the crisis. Keep this in mind and here are some additional suggestions.

  • Start meetings by having each person introduce themselves by their name, job title, mission, and their immediate tasks. Doing so brings people back to themselves and helping them begin to focus again on their roles, relationships, and tasks which is of utmost importance. The important role of a leader during a crisis is to consistently articulate the organization’s purpose and connect each day’s tasks to it. Without this, people drift. While the need for planning is crystal clear in acute, short-term crises. Planning in a long-term situation where the threat to survival rolls on monotonously day after day is not always so clear. This is because planning automatically implies a future, and this future is frequently in doubt. All leaders, not only those in the C-suite, must understand the organization’s purpose, values, and how those connect to each day’s work. Managers have at least as much impact on team morale and performance as the overall organization itself does. In crises, people tend to rely on the authority figures they already know and trust even more than usual. And remote work means that a direct manager may be an employee’s only real point of contact with the organization.
  • Regularly ask at meetings: “What is something that doesn’t fit in, that doesn’t make sense?” As we face a rapidly changing set of circumstances knowing what data points matter is difficult. Ensure there is time to discuss facts that don’t seem to fit the narrative. During a crisis, we automatically discount our experience and lean towards denial. To fight these cognitive biases, we must be made aware of them. As you and your team move through this time, you will sometimes lose focus, make mistakes, and have errors in judgment. The key is to normalize admitting these mistakes and analyzing them. Make discussing weak spots, harm reduction, and damage control part of the weekly meetings. This will lead to better decision making going forward.
  • Enable ways for your team to surface both their deep faith and their real fears. Engaging in “As if” exercises, roleplay, and assigned mental exercises can help teams articulate thoughts and feelings that may be too threatening to acknowledge otherwise. “Having a value system, a sense of identity, a purpose for one’s existence increases the odds of survival and resiliency.” When deciding on a course of action, have team members engage in mental contrasting. Mental contrasting requires a person or team to (i) visualizes a goal and its rewards, and (ii) visualizes what obstacles, including their own behavior, stand between them and their goal. It is necessary to envision both the positive and the negative. According to W. Von Bergen and Martin S. Bressler, when people focus on only positive thoughts about the future, “they literally trick their minds into thinking they have already succeeded and, so, do not need actual efforts to attain something perceived as already acquired. However, completely disregarding positive thinking is also not effective. With purely negative thoughts, people convince themselves that they have already lost the goal, so, again, there is no need to make the efforts necessary to achieve it.”
  • Have faith. Ask yourself: What were your highest values in January 2020? For you as an individual or for your company? Those values still matter, and those ideals did not change because of COVID. So, ask:
    • What are your brutal facts? What is your deepest faith?
    • What would your version of the Stockdale Paradox be?
    • What does your organization exist for?
    • What is your organizational purpose? How engaging is it?

I hope some of this helps. Hang in there and have faith. The road may be rough, but as John Lennon said, “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”

Copyright (c) Marc A. Borrelli, 2020

Your organization—or unconscious mind—may be hoping on some other event or date after which some version of “rescue” will come: a vaccine, a cure, a reliable and cheap test, the acquisition of herd immunity.

However, to review the brutal facts, none of these developments are likely in the foreseeable short term. There is a possibility that there may never be a fully effective vaccine or cure; this virus may be something that we live with and manage for years to come. If that is the case, we will have to change elements of our social interaction in unprecedented ways that may well lead to irrevocable social changes.

Besides, the effects of the virus today ensure there will be no normal to return to, as this incomplete list indicates:

What to do?

With regard to business leadership and management, this duality helps to guard against the onslaught of disappointments that COVID delivers in the business world. Optimism drives innovation; however, we need to maintain realism and not over-optimistically chase something that can’t happen.

The COVID crisis is affecting your employees in very different ways depending on where they live, what they do, their family situation, and their understanding of and expectations about the pandemic, among other factors. As a result, your team members are probably in different phases of reaction to the crisis. Keep this in mind and here are some additional suggestions.

  • Start meetings by having each person introduce themselves by their name, job title, mission, and their immediate tasks. Doing so brings people back to themselves and helping them begin to focus again on their roles, relationships, and tasks which is of utmost importance. The important role of a leader during a crisis is to consistently articulate the organization’s purpose and connect each day’s tasks to it. Without this, people drift. While the need for planning is crystal clear in acute, short-term crises. Planning in a long-term situation where the threat to survival rolls on monotonously day after day is not always so clear. This is because planning automatically implies a future, and this future is frequently in doubt. All leaders, not only those in the C-suite, must understand the organization’s purpose, values, and how those connect to each day’s work. Managers have at least as much impact on team morale and performance as the overall organization itself does. In crises, people tend to rely on the authority figures they already know and trust even more than usual. And remote work means that a direct manager may be an employee’s only real point of contact with the organization.
  • Regularly ask at meetings: “What is something that doesn’t fit in, that doesn’t make sense?” As we face a rapidly changing set of circumstances knowing what data points matter is difficult. Ensure there is time to discuss facts that don’t seem to fit the narrative. During a crisis, we automatically discount our experience and lean towards denial. To fight these cognitive biases, we must be made aware of them. As you and your team move through this time, you will sometimes lose focus, make mistakes, and have errors in judgment. The key is to normalize admitting these mistakes and analyzing them. Make discussing weak spots, harm reduction, and damage control part of the weekly meetings. This will lead to better decision making going forward.
  • Enable ways for your team to surface both their deep faith and their real fears. Engaging in “As if” exercises, roleplay, and assigned mental exercises can help teams articulate thoughts and feelings that may be too threatening to acknowledge otherwise. “Having a value system, a sense of identity, a purpose for one’s existence increases the odds of survival and resiliency.” When deciding on a course of action, have team members engage in mental contrasting. Mental contrasting requires a person or team to (i) visualizes a goal and its rewards, and (ii) visualizes what obstacles, including their own behavior, stand between them and their goal. It is necessary to envision both the positive and the negative. According to W. Von Bergen and Martin S. Bressler, when people focus on only positive thoughts about the future, “they literally trick their minds into thinking they have already succeeded and, so, do not need actual efforts to attain something perceived as already acquired. However, completely disregarding positive thinking is also not effective. With purely negative thoughts, people convince themselves that they have already lost the goal, so, again, there is no need to make the efforts necessary to achieve it.”
  • Have faith. Ask yourself: What were your highest values in January 2020? For you as an individual or for your company? Those values still matter, and those ideals did not change because of COVID. So, ask:
    • What are your brutal facts? What is your deepest faith?
    • What would your version of the Stockdale Paradox be?
    • What does your organization exist for?
    • What is your organizational purpose? How engaging is it?

I hope some of this helps. Hang in there and have faith. The road may be rough, but as John Lennon said, “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”

Copyright (c) Marc A. Borrelli, 2020

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