Flourishing Culture

How to Make Your Re-Opening an Opening to New Possibilities

May 12, 2020

People have long memories. I have done countless interviews and focus groups in organizations over the past 21 years. Even though my objective was to gather data about the current state of the organization’s culture, invariably stories were told about incidents that happened 10, 20, even 30 years ago. These stories would recount actions taken by management that were perceived to be negative. They were passed down and used as evidence to support beliefs such as the company doesn’t care or they cannot be trusted.

An example of this happened at an industrial organization at which I worked. Focus group participants talked about a downsizing that took place in the 90s. This story was so embedded into this organization’s culture that it was told by people who didn’t even work at the organization when the downsizing occurred. When I questioned participants about holding onto something that happened years ago, the response would typically be, “It happened then. It can happen again.”
I share this because I think it is especially relevant as we deal with the emotional toll this pandemic has taken on us. My sense is our workforces will hold onto memories of the pandemic and how they were treated by their organizations for years to come. How will your employees rate your performance?
Organizational leaders might want to get their companies up and running quickly. However, a rush to action without adequate consideration of the people who work in your organization might impact your ability to meet your start-up goals. Why? Management can put systems in place but they can’t assume these systems in and of themselves will dispel the anxieties many people feel upon returning to the workplace.
There’s no on/off switch for emotions. Especially negative emotions. Negativity has its place. It keeps us grounded and it helps us survive. It can also keep us stuck, making it harder for positive experiences to register.

I know it’s hard for people in organizations to talk about emotions. It’s been my experience that many organizations don’t want to go there. Emotions are messy. And yet, if you don’t deal with what people are feeling, you make it harder for them to let go and move on.

So, what can you do to deal with your employees’ heightened emotional states? Here’s some items you might want to add to your re-opening plans:



Gather Data
. Conduct telephone interviews and focus groups to assess what works about your re-opening plans and what doesn’t work. Find out what else you can be doing to overcome any misgivings your employees might have about returning to the workplace.

Share the Data.
The data gathered in the focus groups and interviews needs to be shared with both formal and informal leaders in the organization. The data should be analyzed, key findings determined and action plans developed. A summary of this work is then communicated to the entire workforce. This closes the loop and makes a strong statement that, “We heard you and this is what we are doing to address your concerns.”

The Critical Role of Leadership
.  Leaders need to be on the same page in their understanding that this emotional work is important. There needs to be a consistent “I care” message communicated from leaders at every level of the organization. Plus, they should find opportunities to check-in and listen to their team members on a regular basis.

Taking these steps will help to ensure that part of the memories passed down in the future will include the organization’s efforts to take care of its employees post-pandemic 2020– positive memories that help to create a flourishing, high-performing culture.

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