No one would argue that work landscape has changed significantly in the last years due to covid-19.
According to a Mercer report, 71% of employers said last year they were going to adopt a hybrid model. And, an Accenture report noted that hybrid workforce models are embraced by 63% of high-revenue growth companies.
Although there is no exact definition and it can vary according to each organization, hybrid work is understood as the possibility of alternating (fixed or flex way) working from home, from a remote location and a central hub or office.
While there are many advantages for organizations and employees in adopting a hybrid model, it needs to be planned and consciously managed to offset some of the disadvantages hybrid work has revealed in the past years. Let´s look at the main drawbacks people have expressed after forcefully adopting this new way of working.
It diffuses Human Connection: although technology platforms and collaboration tools have taken a quantum leap facilitating access to virtual experiences, human connection and sense of belonging have been diluted. In a virtual configuration, we tend to jump from meeting to meeting focusing on the task and results while investing little time on hanging out and mingling. Some people tend to experience weariness, loneliness, and disconnection.
If not carefully planned, cross group collaboration can drop dramatically, and organizations might become more siloed: some organizations are already reporting an impact on sharing collective wisdom and innovating. Although spending face to face time is a possibility, it´s not always assigned to becoming more collaborative.
Remote vs On Site Mindset: There are different shared beliefs by remote workers vs on site workers. Often people working from home can feel their career development is being impacted due to a lack of connection with their peers and/or leaders. We sometimes tend to believe we need to be “visible” to be considered by people who have decision making power in our careers. This might drive some additional tension to the implementation of the working model.
Human connection and sense of belonging are key to create a trusted environment and develop a high-performance culture.
So how can we as leaders, foster belonging in a hybrid environment?
Make face-to-face time count: no virtual experience can replace the physical connection, so plan and invest purposefully your time together — it´s precious and needs to be taken care of. Building and growing your “WE” into trusting and collaborative relationships is the best use of your time. Plan for formal and informal gatherings to strengthen your bonds and get to know each other.
Get to know your people — plan for 1:1s: We all come from different places, are immersed in different contexts, and have different needs. Let´s not approach our teams with a “one size fits all mindset”; ask your team what they need to feel more connected with you, the team, and the organization in this configuration. Make connection and sense of belonging part of your ongoing conversations and periodically assess with each team member their level of connection.
Encourage mentoring / peer sessions: Developing a mentoring program creates a safe container for people to come together and share own experiences, wants, and needs. People feel heard while being challenged to adopt new mindsets. Mentoring has proven to be a great mechanism to help people grow in all 3 dimensions (I / WE / IT).
During hybrid meetings, start with remote workers: Hybrid meetings can be messy and ineffective; it´s harder for remote workers to follow through and for onsite workers to be mindful of those who are accessing virtually. Before starting the meeting make sure you have the right technology in place so everyone can clearly hear the conversation that will take place in the room and in each virtual space. During the meeting periodically pause and check with the team how are they experiencing the meeting. Make sure you always give priority to remote workers to voice their opinion first without being overran by others. Setting clear ground rules is key for leading effective meetings.
Foster vulnerability & authenticity: showing up and being seen as who we truly are with our own strengths and opportunities bring us together. Embracing others without judegment and with compassion creates an inclusive culture. As leaders, we have a key responsibility in role model an inclusive leadership inviting others to do the same.
Implementing a successful hybrid work model requires more than ever creating an inclusive environment where people feel connected and have a strong sense of belonging.
It´s not about making the model itself work, it is about consciously managing our culture and creating the right conditions to enable people develop to their full potential in any given working environment.
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) is one of the top trends that is shaping organizations in 2022 and beyond.1 Best practices in DEI have been talked about for decades, but how much change have we actually seen? Recent surveys have shown that we still have a gap in turning intention into impact. According to a recent study, four in five (80 percent) of senior leaders think that their actions show that they are genuinely committed to greater DEI, while only three in five (58 percent) individual contributors say the same.2
Much of the traditional DEI efforts have been centered on corporate messaging on the company’s commitment to DEI, implementing HR policies to attract, retain and promote diverse employees, tracking DEI-related data and conducting mandatory training for managers to promote awareness of unconscious biases. These top-down and HR-driven actions are important, but not sufficient. In many cases, what organizations see as DEI challenges are underlying organizational cultural problems manifesting themselves as DEI issues.3
For example, the global pandemic has shown us that we need to think beyond traditional definitions of DEI and help people in organizations have more authentic conversations and conscious interactions. These day-to-day interactions are greatly influenced by the unwritten values and behavioral norms which guide the way we approach our work, interact with others and solve problems. In other words: the company culture.
For example, consider the impact that the following culture norms could have on team members feeling included, heard, and valued:
We are expected to come to our bosses with only good news
We shame people for making mistakes
We have a bias for action and value quick consensus over constructive debate
It’s not ok to disagree with others in a meeting
We only share business performance information on a need-to-know basis
Culture norms like this exist in every organization. They guide and regulate what is acceptable behavior in a group. The problem is that in many cases, these norms were not consciously defined in the first place, and we may not even be aware that they exist —they are “just the way we do things around here.” To drive culture change, the first step is to identify and name these unwritten norms, and discuss what may be driving them and whether they may be helping or hindering our journey to be a more diverse, inclusive and equitable workplace.
This process will be more effective if leaders work on adopting a learner mindset. When we shift to a learner mindset, we actively treat our views and opinions as our subjective interpretation, acknowledging that we don’t have all the answers and that there are multiple perspectives. This creates a positive snowball effect – we can better uncover and understand the culture norms that may be holding us back, benefit from the perspectives and ideas of others to drive the culture shifts, and visibly role model inclusive leadership behaviors.
A learner mindset also helps us to acknowledge that we will never be ‘done’ when it comes to understanding the context and experiences of others. By entering a space of humility and being willing to be vulnerable, we can better invite others to also be vulnerable and to openly share how they feel. This creates psychological safety: a space where people feel free to fail, to say ‘I don’t know’, to admit their mistakes and to be vulnerable about their feelings and experiences. It also encourages people to share their ideas, challenge others, raise issues and constructively disagree. Creating this safe space is the most important first step to creating a culture that truly values DEI.
This is an invitation to pause and reflect on what has and hasn’t worked in the last couple of years and to encourage ourselves, our leaders, and our employees to consider:
How can we facilitate more constructive and honest dialogues around what we need to change to drive representation and belonging?
Where are the gaps in our own cultures and behaviors?
What are the best experiments we’ve seen or experienced to drive a more constructive and inclusive culture? Why did they work? How can we refine and replicate those actions in other parts of our organization?
Creating a constructive culture that fosters DEI is a journey that will never end. Once you become more aware, you realize that there is much more to learn, unlearn, explore and do. We need to treat change as an ongoing process and experiment; not trying to get things perfect but working with conscious intention on making things better each day.
Oseas Ramírez Assad, ex-Cisco, has been named Axialent’s new CEO.
Our former CEO, José Suarez Arias-Cachero, will become a board member and will continue to be a strategic partner.
We are excited to announce the appointment of Oseas Ramírez Assad as the company’s new CEO. For the last 3 years he has been holding a strategic position, leading the development of new solutions. He has brought the Optimal Me methodology — based on how to ignite an effective personal growth journey focusing on mental and physical energy — to multinational companies.
Oseas Ramirez Assad, a native of Mexico and a resident of New York, has extensive training at prestigious universities such as the Thunderbird School of Global Management with the Fulbright program, and is an accomplished serial entrepreneur and intrapreneur with a 20-year track record leading the innovation both in new companies and within large established companies.
In the heart of Silicon Valley at Cisco Systems, he led three initiatives: developing the company’s top 2% of talent worldwide (focusing on senior managers), creating a program to bring innovation best practices from startups to the corporation and, finally, the creation of the innovation strategy for the worldwide network of Cisco innovation centers.
Passionate about the intersection between technology, human development and entrepreneurship, Oseas is part of the board of directors of the companies he co-founded, advises large corporations internationally on innovation issues and is an international keynote speaker.
Today he starts a new path: aiming to delve into unexplored channels and developing processes that will enable the company’s purpose to be taken to new contexts and markets and achieve a positive impact on many more people.
Currently, after having successfully led the pandemic period and achieving an internal digital transformation at Axialent, José Suarez Arias-Cachero, from Asturias, is leaving his position as CEO to be a board member, from where he will try to leverage his experience at Axialent to strengthen the connection with other global companies to meet its strategic objectives.
In the first article of this series, we shared the specific challenges we witnessed when launching an Agile Leadership Program at a leading financial services company. In the second article, we shared our thinking around the principles that informed our approach. Now in this third and last article of the series, we share the top lessons we learned alongside the participants and sponsors of this journey.
What we would keep doing
Preserve the spirit of wholehearted co-creation. As a consulting firm, we have our proven methods and tools. However, we chose to be highly vigilant and not drink our own Kool-Aid. Show me practitioners who have only a handful of red lines and are willing to adjust everything else on their book, and I will show you professionals who truly put clients first.
When working with top leadership, there is a weight attached to their positions – conscious or unconscious. We genuinely strive to connect from human to human, scrapping all titles. Now we insist more often that leadership journeys begin with coach and coachee sharing a virtual coffee, free from agenda, simply for the sake of connecting.
We will continue to act on feedback as if our lives depended on it. This is no minor task. The distinction between integrating feedback and accepting to do everything your client asks for is not commonly understood. It takes serious preparation.
We will always honor the past AND look forward with curiosity.
Allow me to emphasize this fourth lesson for a moment. Agile is often presented as the remedy that will heal all corporate ailments. This is overly simplistic, and some may even consider it an insult to their intelligence. However, the natural tendency of this person is to sway to the other end of the pendulum and negate any benefit of the new way of working. This, too, is foolish.
Many leaders feel trapped in a false dilemma because they think they are facing an either-or choice when we present the gap ‘From-To’. Either we are pro-command and control OR anti-command and control. When we introduced polarity thinking, this subliminal tension dissipated. We honor where we are coming from AND (not OR) acknowledge that moving forward, we need to do some things differently. In Dr. Marshall Goldsmith’s words, “What got you here won’t get you there.” It was no longer a problem with a single solution (agile or bust) but rather a polarity to manage. For leaders, that meant they needed to maximize the time spent on the benefits of agile and the benefits of what preceded it, instead of viewing agile as a new, unquestionable dogma.
If we could take a Mulligan…
If you’re not familiar with golf, the term Mulligan means a ‘do-over’. It’s a second try given to a player, without penalty, after a first stroke that did not go well. So, if we were granted a Mulligan, there are some things we wouldn’t have done or that we would have done less.
What we would do differently
We are executive coaches, so we didn’t think it was necessary to connect with the agile coaches in the organization. We figured that our work was different. In hindsight, this was a missed opportunity to join forces. In future assignments, we would make it a point to connect the ‘do-agile’ and ‘be-agile’ parties.
We took the sponsor’s brief for granted. Our prototyping, co-creating approach saved the day in the end, as it allowed us to pivot from the original learning journey design. Nevertheless, in the future, we would push for an if-then scenario planning. If the brief is accurate, we will deploy plan A; if it isn’t, we will go with plan B.
We used an in-house feedback tool. We knew it was not ideal and we wouldn’t compromise on it again. A robust feedback tool provides participants excellent traction for change. It is paramount to select it with care.
The preliminary design allowed several weeks between group workshops, and only two individual coaching sessions per participant seemed sufficient. Experience tells us that it is far more effective to shorten the time between team sessions to keep the cohorts focused and on-task. It would also be wise to dedicate a higher number of individual coaching sessions than we had initially planned.
These are the lessons we learned behind the scenes of one of the boldest adoptions of agile in a non-tech industry. Are there any lessons that you would like to share around leadership development in an agile context? Have you had similar experiences or were they entirely different? Let us know in the comments! We would love to have a mutual learning conversation with you.
Have you ever struggled to establish a trusting relationship with a perfectionist boss? Some people believe perfectionism is a positive trait. They believe it fuels us to raise the bar in the pursuit of excellence. However, if you have ever tried to manage the expectations of a perfectionist in your life, then you can attest that it does not drive effectiveness. On the contrary, perfectionism kills excellence, harms relationships, compromises results in the long term, and generates frustration and disappointment.
For someone who has strong perfectionist traits, nothing is good if it is not perfect. The drive for perfection sets unreal standards for the individual and those around them. A perfectionist will focus on the task and results over the team and the individual. This person will tend to lose sight of the forest for the trees.
They will be personally tuned in to all the details, taking on more than they can handle. This leader and their team will work hard for strenuous, long hours to accomplish the task… but it will still not be good enough.
For a perfectionist, establishing close relationships is tough. Perfectionists tend to alienate those around them. They do not trust others can complete the task flawlessly, so they try to control it by micromanaging each step of the process. People then disengage and disconnect, feeling oppressed and disempowered.
At an individual level, perfectionists are mainly trying to prove themselves and others right. Their self-worth is built on being seen as competent and flawless, by winning over others and delivering what they believe is expected of them: perfection. Perfectionists will often feel irritated, frustrated, and disappointed with themselves and their team for under-delivering according to unachievable standards.
Why do people think perfectionism drives sustainable results?
There is some common ground between a culture that embodies achievement and the one that promotes perfectionism: the drive, determination, and energy towards accomplishing the task and the commitment towards the quality of the outcome.
However, an organization that fosters a culture of achievement is continuously setting excellence standards (vs unrealistic standards of perfectionism). They look for new ways to become better, developing a growth mindset as the principle that underlies the culture. Fostering psychological safety and collaboration is key for teams and individuals to excel. Failure in these types of organizations becomes part of the game. It is seen and lived by its members as an opportunity to learn, adapt, and continue improving. For a perfectionist, failure is difficult to embrace. It is directly related to one of their fears: not being good enough.
What are the differences between a perfectionist leader and an effective leader?
Perfectionism kills excellence. How can we move from being a perfectionist to an effective leader?
Commit to fewer goals (no more than 3 at once): Do not lose sight of the WHY (purpose). Reflect on how each goal contributes to your purpose and prioritize your goals in terms of impact. When setting goals, frame them in terms of growth (e.g: improving from X to Y) and make sure they are realistic and possible, considering the timeframe.
Focus & practice letting go: When delegating tasks to your team, start small. Choose tasks/projects that represent a lower risk for you. Then agree on a process with your team where you can jointly review the progress in a way that everyone feels comfortable.
Get to know your team better: Aristotle said, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Explore how each person can contribute to creating impact. Test and learn. Challenge yourself to think outside of the box and invite others to try new things. People experience a flow state when working on something they feel passionate about.
Ask for feedback from your peers & direct reports: Make time for After Action Reviews after each major task/project completion. Appreciate what has worked well and reflect on what could you have done differently to contribute effectively to the project. Ask for specific feedback on your improvement goal from others. Let others know your developmental path and encourage them to offer feedback when they experience you moving away from your goal.
Be kind to yourself: Practice self-compassion. Perfectionists work towards unrealistic standards which generate frustration and feeds the “inner critic” that shouts, “you are not good enough”. Practice expressing gratitude and connecting with what works. Journaling is a powerful way to reflect and it reduces stress. Try this simple journaling exercise:
In the morning, ask yourself: What would make today a wonderful day? What do I feel grateful for? At night: What good things happened today?
Our VUCA context requires leaders to develop a learning agility and be able to anticipate and adapt to constant changes. In order to do this, we need to be able to cope with failure and setbacks, learn, and strengthen our resilience. Perfectionist traits hinder change and effectiveness but can be overcome by developing the right mindsets (growth & learner) and being compassionate with our own self and others.
As my colleague, Elena Ortega, wrote in her recent article, at Axialent we define culture as a set of values, norms, beliefs, and assumptions that govern how we work and what we do. So, how do we go about setting these values, norms, beliefs, and assumptions? Some believe that to define a company’s culture, its leaders simply have to state what they want the culture to be, the values, and mission statement. Having a clear vision of your ideal culture is an important step toward building a strong one. However, behaviors and decisions from leaders will always be the strongest representation of what the company’s culture truly is. Culture and leadership are intimately connected.
Culture and leadership: You cannot truly understand one without the other
Organizational culture and leadership go hand in hand. To understand the culture of an organization, you must examine its leaders and leadership styles. Employees learn the culture of the organization through the messages they receive from its leaders. Whether the messages are consciously sent or not, we observe what is encouraged and discouraged and usually learn to act accordingly (or are forced out).
Culture also plays a role in shaping leaders and their styles. Those leaders that “fit in” to the current culture will thrive. On the other hand, a new leader who brings a different leadership style that is not aligned with the company’s current culture will come up against a lot of resistance from the organization and its people. Culture is a strong force and leaders also receive messages about what they should and shouldn’t do to fit in. If leaders want to change the culture, all leadership must be on board to do so.
These are some of the reasons why we use the OCI® (Organizational Culture Inventory®) and OEI® (Organizational Effectiveness Inventory®) in combination with the LSI® (Life Styles Inventory®). The culture assessment tools (OCI-OEI) allow us to take a deep dive into the current culture. We invite a cross-section of employees to answer the culture surveys in order to truly understand their experience of the organization’s culture. At the same time, we measure the top leaders’ thinking and behavior styles with the LSI tool. Because of the links between these tools, the results provide a powerful way to connect the dots between the leaders’ styles and behaviors, and the current culture.
Leaders define the ideal culture of an organization
Leaders have the power to define the ideal culture based on what they value and believe leads to effectiveness. In turn, they shape the organization’s current culture through the messages they send about what is acceptable and unacceptable. In our culture transformation projects at Axialent, we like to take our diagnostic process a step further and define the ideal culture using another Human Synergistics tool: the OCI Ideal. Combining these tools allows us to get a complete look at the culture and the work that needs to be done to achieve the optimal culture for success. The OCI Ideal shows us where the leaders of the organization want the culture to be. The current OCI results show us where the organization is today. And the LSI tool allows us to examine the leaders’ role in the culture and create a game plan to make lasting change.
Culture and leadership are not two separate entities but are intimately connected. One influences the other and vice versa. This powerful information can be an important driving force in creating and maintaining the culture your organization needs to be successful.
Watch this live webinar recording where two of Axialent’s culture transformation experts, Thierry de Beyssac and Anabel Dumlao, talked to Tim Kuppler, Director of Culture and Organization Development for Human Synergistics, about the importance of intentionally managing culture and leadership development in an integrated way.
Axialent recently hosted a live debate, Return to the new normal: Leader’s top of mind, featuring Oseas Ramirez, corporate innovation advisor and keynote speaker to Fortune 500 companies, startup founder, and board member in several organizations, and Thierry De Beyssac, business cultural transformation expert and former CEO in 12 countries. The two explored and debated global organizations’ leaders’ top of mind topics and how to prepare for the “new normal”. The live webinar covered three pressing questions:
What do you think the “new normal” is going to look like?
The “new normal” won’t look the same for every person, company, and country and each one might experience their “new normal” on a different timeline, as situations progress differently worldwide.
Disruption is a fantastic window of opportunityto work onself-empowerment, to redesign ourselves, and to review mindsets and corresponding habits.
What is the implication of this new normal at a leader’s personal level?
Be a permanent LEARNER and develop yourself as a coaching leader. Invest at least half to a full day of your time on it every week.
Asaleader,youhaveaprofessionalresponsibilitytotakecareofyourself personally.Not practicing basic sleep and healthy nutrition routines can make cognitive capacity decline, which in turn can, make the quality of decisions suffer.
In Fran Cherny and Thierry De Beyssac’s article,Survivor Syndrome: Overcoming Organizational Trauma in Times of Crisis, they mention “meeting people where they are” as a way of helping your organization navigate this difficult time. What does it mean to “meet people where they are?” Why it is important? In life, we are all seeking experiences that make us feel good, loved, andgive us a sense of belonging. We crave connection.The workplace, in any format, is not theexception.According to Forbes Magazine†, on average, we invest a little less than half our time at work in meetings, interacting with colleagues.There are plenty of opportunities to build connection and strong, trusting relationships, and yet,often we feel disconnected and sense a lack of belonging. Moreover, duringdifficult times and crises in an organization, leaders tend to focus all their energy in trying to survive and keep the business going; learning to transform the business while running the business. Relationships are sometimes overlooked, and connection ispostponed for “when the right time comes.” In Axialent, we believe that what we do as leaders shapes our organizational culture and how we choose to respond during crisis is what makes the difference. Responding to the challenge in a constructive way and supporting people to be at their best will help organizations grow their power of adaptability and resilience:two things we all need desperately, now more than ever.
Building connections and meeting people where they are is a step toward supporting people to be at their best
So, if “meeting people where they are”makes us feel loved and valued and can help us thrive, why do we oftenexperience disconnection or misunderstandings instead? It turns out we can find it difficult to connect with others:
It takes work and energy: Empathy is hard work. According to the American Psychological Association‡,people sometimes choose to avoid empathy because of mental effort it requires.
It can be painful / uncomfortable to see people we love & care for suffer:We want to save people from suffering.We cannot “spare people from living the process.” The only way out is through.
We get frustrated and anxious for the time it takes to walk the journey:We sometimes feel that talking about what has happened is not the best investment of our time, and it’s frustrating.“Let’s go into solution mode NOW!”
Knower Energy: We believe we know what needs to be done, what’s best for the other person and what needs to happen. “How can they not see it? It’s so clear!”
Our own judgment:We experience disappointment when we feel that things or people are not being good enough. We put our own expectationson others.
It’s challenging to look inward atourselvesto a place where we can connectand resonate with others’pain and experiences. We are not always willing to do it.
So, how can we increase our connection to build bridges and “meet people where they are?”
Self-connection:Be aware of your own stories and emotions toward the situation. Clarify your own intentions. How is this situation making me feel? What is the story I am telling myself? How would I like to help others? What would make me feel proud, despite the results?
Acceptance:Whatever it is, is enough.Let go of any expectations of how things should be or how people should react. We are all in our own journey and the time it takes for each of us to process what is happening is the time each of us need.
Hold the space for others:Be fully present with your energy, intention, and attention. Create a safe space for people to share their own stories, without fear of negative consequences.Let people know you are in this together.
See people with kind eyes:Tap into your empathy and compassion.We are all doing our best to deal with our own challenges.It’s ok to feel whatever each of us is feeling. Be at their service, assume good intent, and seek to understand others’ perspectives and beliefs with genuine curiosity.
Help people getunstuck:The way we see the problem is the problem. Challenge people’s beliefs by offering alternative perspectives and support them in creating new possibilities for their business, their relationships, and their lives.
Invite people to move forward:Create a compelling and inspiring vision for people to join you and reduce the exit barriers for people wanting to leave.
Be the change you want to see in the world:Lead your team by example by demonstrating the standards (behaviors) you would liketo see in others.
Reaching out and offering our helping hands with the sole intention of supporting each other is the way we, at Axialent, choose to respond.
In a recent article,my colleagues Fran Cherny and Thierry De Beyssacoffered some thoughts on Survivor Syndrome;how the present challenges have the potential to create organizational trauma affecting all the dimensions of business and how to better cope with this. They offer in their article a list of actions to help and support your employees as we move through this time together. The first on the list being: “to put things on the table.” What does it mean to “put things on the table?”What can I do differently to help myself and others around me during this difficult time?
The emotions that are triggered in us by a world in constant “VUCA Reloaded Mode”may put us in a place that oscillates between harmfulrepression and brutal explosion. Anger, for example, permeates openly or simmersunder the surface. As we speak to colleagues, friends or family members, it can almost tele-transport itself across remote devices. I like to say that as long as the emotion “has you,” you have no choice. You will do whatever the emotion does,only to regret it later. You will say things that hurt others, make promises that are impossible to deliver… you name it. I like to offer to my clients the following concept:“the only way out is through.”In order toput things on the table, you must enter a space of higher wisdom and compassion.
You do that by:
Taking a few deep breaths of awareness:You separate yourself from the story. It becomes “you have the emotion,” rather than “the emotion has you.” You take perspectiveof your thoughts. The “I” (the person) that has the thought is NOT the thought. I feel angry, rather than I am angry.
Accepting the emotion unconditionally:Realize that the emotionmakes perfect sense, given the story you are telling yourself.
Analyzing the story behind the emotion:Every emotion has an archetypal story. For example, anger or frustration has the story: “something bad is happening and it should not be happening.”
Expressing your thoughts and ideas from a place of tentativeness and humility:As you engage in conversations with your colleagues or leaders about what is going on, you adopt the perspective of good intent from everyone. Even when you don’t understand what is going on, you assume that the people in charge of calling the shots have everyone’s interest at heart.
Inquiring about the thoughts and ideas of others from a place of wanting to learn, of curiosity:The combination of 4 and 5 creates the conversational dance where any topic can be addressed or put on the table.
Put things on the table
Working through steps 1-3 are paramount if you would like to have a constructive conversation. Taking these steps will set the conditions for the kind of conversation you want to have.The promise is that you will be better able to understand each other. And then make better and informed decisions, for the good of the business, the team and yourself. Being able to address difficult topics in an open, caring and compassionate way is a powerful way to increase connection among your employees in these difficult times.
First, a bit of context… 12 years ago, we went through a global financial crisis. I remember how we discussed at Axialent the impact of the crisis in organizations, people’s emotions and their effectiveness to give their best at work. At the time, one of my most brilliant mentors, Axialent founder Fred Kofman, said something that stayed with me: People will suffer Survivor Syndrome. He then developed this idea into a short article, and I think now is the time to bring back the “Survival Syndrome” issue to raise our consciousness on what people might be going through these days. Not only might people have lost someone due to the virus, but there is also a feeling of loss whenever we need to let go of the past, of what we were used to. And also when our organization goes through restructuring and we have to let go of colleagues and friends who are part of our community or business family. I call this organizational trauma in times of crisis.
My business partner, Thierry de Beyssac, and I, invite you to read the following article to raise awareness and build effective actions to deal with people’s struggles now. Everyone wants to be at their best, but often unconscious emotional stress gets in the way. We want to help everyone understand some of the hidden and unspoken dynamics we might be facing today and what is it that you can do to dissolve this. Fran Cherny
The Survivor Syndrome (in times of coronavirus)
Many war veterans realize that their psychological scars are much deeper than any physical pains, and that these will take much longer to heal. The joy and relief of returning home is sooner or later impacted by the things they remember; things they saw, experienced, felt, or feared come home with them. Stories from this past might invade their nightmares for years—perhaps even the rest of their lives. Beyond the happiness of feeling free and back home, the horror and the loss stays.
Psychological studies have found one thing in common in all these great stories of liberations and family reunions: survivor syndrome. One of the biggest emotional weights that those who made it through alive must bear is the guilt of surviving. “Why me and not my friend?” “Why am I alive when so many of my loved ones didn’t make it?” “Do I have the right to live when so many more worthy than me are dead?” Depression and other mental illness, and a great number of suicides are an outcome of not finding a way to deal with these questions.
Organizational trauma in times of crisis
Although organizational circumstances are not comparable with any of these extreme life or death situations, at a subconscious level there are some things that our mind starts thinking in a very similar way. For one’s self‐image and ego, the loss of a job has a deep impact in our self-esteem and how we are perceived by others.
When downsizing, many companies invest in psychological and outplacement counseling for those who have been let go. This occurred after the 2008 financial crisis, and we now see this as a common practice in most large organizations. But what about the “survivors”? What about those who now have to carry more responsibilities in a “leaner and meaner” organization? Who helps these people cope with some of the guilt and stress of remaining when some of their colleagues and friends have gone? People are asking: Why did I “survive”?
Some real situations
It is easy to think that those who still have a job should feel reassured, consider themselves lucky, and be ready to give the best of themselves. This might be very true for some, but also a bit more complicated for many others. Not facing a possible organizational trauma could prove to be gross negligence for your business.
In the past several weeks we have seen many people in coaching sessions, leadership meetings and virtual training sessions trying to talk about this and finding it hard to find the right words. We have seen a case of a company who decided to cut 40% of their workforce as their industry has been deeply affected. We heard from some of the people still there, who are working double the hours, and still investing a lot of time in connecting with their colleagues who are gone now, checking on them. We know of one employee even offering to give up 50% of their salary so they can offer a 50% job to someone else, as a way to take care of a colleague they valued a lot, which is an amazing gesture of generosity, but that has much more implications when the company does not know how to respond to these initiatives. All this takes time, energy and emotional resilience, and people don’t know how to deal with this.
Paying attention to the hidden dynamics
In the midst of the current global crisis, we are seeing a deep impact not only at a health and an economic level, but also at a mental health level. With so many companies of all sizes impacted by the coronavirus confinement and restrictions, and with the high level of uncertainty of the future, it is important to also take these work‐force survivors into consideration and help them to be at their best. Yes, many people have lost their jobs and we should definitely connect with them and support them emotionally and financially. But let’s also be aware that many others have kept their jobs and in a different way, they are struggling to. Yes, people are being supported by their employers to deal with technology issues, how to effectively work from home and many other things that are definitely needed, but we are seeing very little attention being given to the emotional issue created by survivor syndrome.
Why do we need to also focus on this when we have so many others issues? Because these are the employees that will carry us through the crisis, and their needs must be met as they face difficult situations, many times expressing symptoms of guilt, stress and fear. And many worry they could be next as there’s no guarantee that layoffs will not continue.
Our invitation is to at least consider it, because this might be a hidden issue affecting your employees’ state of mind and their capacity to be at their best. It is always better to check, to connect with people’s real concerns and fears, than to pretend that nothing is there, creating an “undiscussable” (something we all know exists, but no one really talks about openly, which creates even more tension).
Leadership responses will make the difference
We are raising this because with the current context and level of challenge everyone is facing on all levels, we perceive a risk that many managers might use “passive aggressive” or “passive defensive” behaviors, based on how our primal brain works when we are stressed and in really challenging circumstances: the flight or fight response. This could be expressed in various ways, for example by saying “Come on, let’s focus on the future, let’s move on” when others are not ready, or by just not talking to and connecting with colleagues as a way to avoid “rocking the boat”, or by feeling the need to connect emotionally with our own vulnerability and fears.
If these dynamics are happening today, we believe things will get much more difficult soon when we face the expected next phase of “people and business rightsizing“ that many are already calling, maybe too quickly, the “new normal”.
Responding to the challenge in a constructive way
So how can we break this vicious circle? How can you help your employees get back to their best and grow the power of adaptability and resilience they, and your organization, need now more than ever? Axialent has been working with organizational culture change, executive learning and team effectiveness for a long time now. During difficult times and crisis, people usually do not respond as they normally would. There is a layer of emotional challenges that blocks many people’s ability to face reality and to embrace new ways with agility and joy. And unless worked on, it is hard for many people to connect with the opportunity and explore how they can grow, bringing the best of themselves for them, their colleagues and even, for those who are not around in the team anymore.
As a way to start helping you, and leaders in your organization, support your employees to be at their best, we offer below some specific actions. These will help people move on, with resilience, integrating their feelings and refocusing on what they can do to make the situation better for everyone:
1. Put things “on the table”. What remains “under the carpet” or hidden, exists anyway and becomes a source of tension that will add unconscious “weight in people shoulders”. It is critical to create a safe space where people can talk about their feelings, engage in a constructive dialogue and build a collective emotional intelligence.
2. Meet people where they are. With empathy, compassion and non‐judgement, let’s allow everyone to be where they are before we invite them to move on. Don’t ask them to follow and meet you where you are, but walk towards them and let them know you are in it together. Show people it’s ok to feel what they feel. And recognizing our own vulnerability first is a strength that will allow people to move on faster and from a good place. 3. Ask people what they need to be at their best, inviting them to be players and gain control. People are often trapped in their own victimhood and find it hard to connect with what is in their control to make things better. We can gently invite them to connect with that part of themselves. It is always impressive to see how improving self-confidence and self-esteem is one of the most powerful ways to gain the resilience you need to face any crisis.
4. Create a future together. In the current uncertain times, it is critical to create a vision for what we can create together, in a way that strengthens our capacity to adapt. Building scenarios together, and adjusting them based on new information, is an exercise that helps people share possibilities and start working based on them. This helps everyone feel that they are contributing to solving things in each of the three dimensions of sustainable success: business KPIs, the way we work together building trust, and how each of us feel as individuals are aligned to our core values.
5. Gather information about how all this evolves and then act fast. The number one need that both employees and managers have been expressing is to be actively listened to. In today’s world you can leverage technology to gather data (even every day) about what your employees think and feel, and what their general mood is (always using it in a responsible and open way with the people from whom you are collecting the data from). Don’t miss this opportunity to know how your people are doing, and design actions that can meet their emotional needs.
Only from a place of awareness, we can choose how to best respond to each situation. This is the time to help everyone be at their best and each of us can play a key role in making this happen.
First published by Thierry de Beyssac and Fran Cherny in LinkedIn