From Surviving to Thriving
Catching the Next Train
by Teri J. Traaen, Ed.D., D.P.A.
CEO Traaen & Associates, LLC

We are not exactly post-Pandemic.  We are in the freeze frame of slow-motion action. Looking around us at all times for evidence of safety and health.  We have paused in the most overt of our actions and behaviors, as we are working to define what our relationships and our lives can and will look like as we enter the last quarter of 2020.   In some cases, we have closed down relationships – both business and personal in nature.  The Pandemic has offered that option and we have taken it. 

In other cases, we have redefined what was a need for constant daily interaction through onsite professional settings to infrequent and permanent, significantly reduced use of commercial environments. These changes have been met with mixed reactions. Some resulting in tremendous relief that we do not have to interact with anyone who makes us uncomfortable again, to in turn, a true sense of grief over the ‘loss’ of environmental connections and relationships that had, in some cases, created a sense of comfort and belonging for each of us.  The ‘new normal’ is not normal.  It is new. Period. Normalcy represents predictability.  Our world is more unpredictable than ever.

Next steps include preparing for what we want our organizations and personal lives to look like from 2021 forward.  Will it include permanent, full retirement? Will it be marked by a major re-careering effort – either by choice or requirement for survival?  Has the economic base that we enjoyed or counted on been permanently changed?  Is our organization significantly changed in terms of scope, mission and service systems?  Are these transitions and outcomes all negative?

The most affirmative goal or outcome sought that we hear repeatedly from those we are working with includes the commitment to working to sustain relationships (professional and personal).  There is a significant recognition that in the end – whether it be business related or personal in nature – it is how we treat others that really matters.  Even in the most difficult of situations, how do you want to be remembered?   That you won the argument or that you acted with integrity and respect in all that you did?  Winning at all costs is an interesting goal. The ultimate win is often also the most catastrophic loss – of reputation, equity and decency.  As you catch the next train into your future, consider the motivation behind your actions?  Your own needs or the needs of others?

Strategic Planning - Outputs vs Outcomes
by Teri J. Traaen, Ed.D., D.P.A.
CEO Traaen & Associates, LLC

The majority of our colleagues and clients are now in the midst of a brand-new form of strategic planning. Regardless of industry or size, the impetus is survival and avoidance. Survival to retain as many of their former and current workforce members and avoidance of ever having to endure the hardships that became commonplace since January of 2020 and have carried them through this year.

The essence of strategic planning is often success driven. Visionary hopes are tied to seemingly logical execution of hundreds of tasks.  One goal can drive the majority of employees for multiple years. The key question that frames this process: Is the success of meeting a goal about ‘outputs’ – numbers of customers served or about long term ‘outcomes’ (life changing impact that improves the lives of those touched by the choice of interacting with your organization)?  

In public service, we seek to create and sustain permanent outcomes.  Not to engage in change initiatives simply for the sake of recognition. Rather change and goal accomplishment for the permanent improvement of individual lives and communities.  We have learned in 2020 that the best laid plans can end without notice. Commitments can be derailed with no option for recovery. Pain and fear can be become the norm by which decisions are made.

We have learned that the ultimate strategic plan must have options for relief and rebuilding – even if these options are never used.  Most importantly we must recognize our organizations are nothing without the care and support of our workforce. In so doing, a strategic plan looking beyond 2021 must be built on the recognition that we are not immune from co-dependency in all we think and do.  This new reality is not negative.  It is the guarantee that we will be continually challenged to be better than we were, as an organization, before January 2020. 
From Surviving to Thriving - How HR Can Lead the Shift to Recovery and Growth
by Sarah Stewart, M.A.

For most HR departments the past 6 months have been a rollercoaster of reactionary, rather than strategic, changes to workforce management. Policies and procedures have been updated ‘on-the-fly’ to meet the immediate needs of the business with little opportunity to consider how these changes fit (or don’t fit) with the organization’s culture and longer-term strategic plans.

The COVID pandemic has changed employee’s priorities, and attitudes toward ‘HR clichés’ or ‘management fads’ such as agile, remote, flexible work, and resilient leadership have changed now that such approaches have become key differentiators between organizations most likely to successfully adapt to the current crisis, and those that are struggling. How can HR maximize this opportunity for change to help their organization bounce back stronger, better and more adaptable than ever?

The following framework sets out some key questions to help drive the discussions and decisions that will help you and your organization rethink your people and talent strategy while everything is fresh in our minds, and perhaps more importantly from a change management perspective, fresh in the minds of our leaders and employees:

1.    Re-think your organization’s operating model based on how people work best. Are there any areas of the business that are equally efficient, or even more so, working on a remote basis? Have there been any parts of the organization that have faced challenges maintaining a functional team while working remotely? What does this mean for how your employees will be expected to work moving forward? Does everyone have to follow the same approach? Do your policies and processes need updating to align with whatever is decided?

2.    Consider the changing priorities of employees. What is important now will be quite different to what was important 12 months ago. Employers of choice will adapt their approach and offerings accordingly. Do you have a good understanding of how your employee’s priorities have changed? How can you adapt your people strategy to ensure you are meeting these new priorities? 

3.    Talent management is seeing a shift of focus from critical roles to critical skills to support organizational resilience and adaptability. How might this impact your recruitment, training and career development program, and succession planning?

5.    Engagement. This is particularly important if remote working will remain a key part of how work is organized and delivered across some or all of your organization. Do your managers and leaders have the skills necessary to ensure remote teams remain engaged and productive? If not, what support do they need to be effective? What changes might be needed to your traditional methods of communication to ensure everyone feels valued and connected to the organization?

For many of us there is still a long road ahead before the positive changes we've experienced and identified as important to delivering our future strategy are embedded in our organizations. But it's reassuring to see that many of the recent trends HR has been championing to modernize the way we work were exactly the approaches seen in organizations that were quickest to adapt and remain resilient during the COVID crisis.

Sarah Stewart, M.A.
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