As the global Covid-19 pandemic deepened this spring, and as each of us scrambled to adjust to a new (ab)normal – I (like many others) struggled with what to say and do to add value for clients, colleagues, and friends. Candidly I wasn’t in the mood for selling – anymore than I was interested in buying. Sure, my mailbox was stuffed each morning with the wailing voices of opportunists offering ‘the three things you must do now,’ or ‘the five keys to pandemic success’ or ‘how to pivot now’ (to God knows what). Undoubtedly, some of these folks had good stuff – but frankly, their timing sucked. I was remined of David Maister’s trust equation, which suggests that trust is inversely correlated with self-orientation. This was a moment for collective, shared empathy – not self-promotion.
So I began with me, asking myself what I needed most, and what I most wanted or needed to hear from others. Then, I began to think about what I might share myself, if I had a chance to sit down with colleagues and peers. What was most important to them? Were their concerns the same as mine, or different? What opportunities, or silver linings, might we find in this mess? What should we focus on most, and right now? What was the right next step?
Out of this came our JOB Sessions – a series of four complimentary, live, virtual sessions I offered to existing and former clients and connections, each focused on an issue I felt to be of critical importance and timing, and relevant to professional firms across the spectrum. Each of these sessions included a mash up of new content and old (and thus connected both to the current moment and also to subjects I see as core to sustainable success). I wasn’t after a polished solution as much as a discussion, a chat on the fly, about what we all might (and should) be doing – to take back control where possible, stand atop a firmer foundation, and move forward to defend and grow our business.
These sessions, though exhausting, went well – and we received some great encouragement from attendees. Feedback words included: thoughtful, helpful, provocative, energetic, useful, strategic action-focused, and timely…
And afterwards, in a wonderfully real example of the payoff of my philosophy to “go first, add value, expect nothing,’ several clients engaged us to bring similar sessions to larger teams in their firms (and in a couple of cases to the entire staff).
In another client session this week I asked leaders to share how they felt at the current moment – about what we have and where we’re likely headed – and one principal, speaking words that I believe will resonate with many, said “I feel right now that I’m realizing that this isn’t going to change very fast, that we’re in for a longer, slog, before we come out of this.”
A slog. Yes, I agree, and as I reflected on this further over the weekend, this seemed clearer: our JOB Sessions material is worth much more than a once and done. Perhaps I should offer this program (in some form or fashion) yet again – and focus the effort on touching many more client organizations. Because, what we have is what we have – and it’s like to be a slog before that changes much.
In review, here’s is (briefly) what we focused on in these four virtual workshops:
Strong Foundations: This presentation (of almost all new material) offers ten thoughts for building and strengthening as an individual professional (and human) – in how to adjust to our now radically transforming world. How to set up a work from home space, be more productive each day, take care of yourself, do the work that matters, and such. While most of us have shifted and adjusted in some remarkable ways, there is still much more that can be done.
Client Connections: The subtitle of this workshop is “What to Say to Clients, When you Don’t Know What to Say,” and is I think one of the most important opportunities before professionals today. Early on, the new rules of connecting were unclear, and we had logistical challenges and distance issues to deal with, but for many the biggest roadblock seemed to be “I don’t know what to say.” (This remined me of the big collapse of 2009, and then, not saying anything in the moment proved to be quite detrimental to client relationships). Of course, in times like these, what to say is often less important than just showing up, and being connected. So we reach back into the basics of winning seller-doer strategies, but also focus specifically on actions for today, the moment we’re in, what to do now.
90-Day Action Plans: – Much of my work is about the future, and carving out the big, bold, and important objectives that drive us as individuals and organizations. And nothing about this year has changed my view about the central importance of purpose, vision, and intentional business strategy – even especially in the midst of a radically uncertain future. But still, there’s no denying that some must focus more now also on the short term, on tactical, on stability and survival. As I’ve shared many times recently, ‘you can’t sell life insurance policies in a mash hospital.’ Instead, we’ve dipped back into the shortcomings, mistakes, and foibles of business planning, as well as the secrets of planning success, and focused these strategies on creating a very short, tactical, action-focused plan for personal development success over the next 90 days. This is, for many participants an exceptionally powerful message: hyper-focus on getting just a few things done, over a very short period, then rinse and repeat.
Difficult Conversations: Dealing with other human beings often sucks (!) – and in fact, almost all conversations that matter are challenging in one or another way. Avoiding these situations is an endemic problem – for professionals, yes, but also across the spectrum of business and life. Now, add into this mix distancing requirements, virtual only connections, and remote work mostly from home, and well, this looks like a potentially epic disaster for relationships, project collaboration, and business growth. In this session we reject the idea that we can’t work on these simply because we can’t meet in person. So it’s back to school (of sorts) on how to see and address difficult conversations head on, and we challenge attendees to commit to conducting two of these within the next 30 days.
In the near term, I’ll unpack each of these sessions a little more, and share with you some ideas (and what we’ve learned so far) that might help you in your situation – personally and professionally. I do believe that there is a lot here to reflect on, consider, and try – and that you and I have both an opportunity and an obligation to do just that – helping, supporting, and encouraging each other in this crazy, topsy-turvy moment. As one author described it so well, “you and I may not be in the same boat, but we are in the same storm.”
In the interim, if you’d like to know more, and consider how best to encourage, support, and build up your team – let’s chat. This may indeed be a slog – and until further notice, this new abnormal is simply what we have.
Why not work, together, to make it great?