A Chance to Start Anew

Why doesn’t the training stick?

We asked ourselves that question many times. Full of hope and possibility, we’d send employees to leadership development sessions, anticipating that they’d grow into their potential. A few did; most didn’t.

One day, Amy, our L&D director, had another of her glorious eureka moments—the company’s existing systems and processes were inhibiting new behaviors promoted in training from taking root. Like gardeners, we were placing our seedlings in an environment not conducive to their growth.

Senior management saw the situation differently. They said the training was ineffective, a waste of time and money. They weren’t interested in “tilling the soil” to ferret out biases and/or outdated practices and beliefs that stifled better leadership. The big bosses wanted to keep on making money. Our evolutionary efforts to improve leadership practices were ineffective in an environment that liked the status quo.

Our efforts at large scale change didn’t work because we lacked a revolutionary trigger that would propel rapid and pervasive change. Today’s Covid-19 pandemic is such a trigger.

Covid-19 has blown existing system routines and status quo patterns to smithereens. On one hand, the large amounts of fast change generated by the pandemic are bad. On the other, an opportunity for good has been created.

“The container in which we allow ourselves to experience life often gets smaller and smaller, until we can’t move without bumping up against a wall.” ~Steven Leonard

We don’t have to flip the switch and immediately go back to what we knew and did before. If we choose, we can make and take the time and space to assess. If we choose, we can willingly make ourselves uncomfortable and make it safe for others to do the same. A pause to re-assess the status quo can be both an evolutionary and revolutionary moment—a time for both improvement and innovation.

To seize the opportunity to start anew, we can ask hard questions about the status quo, probe what’s profoundly important, and refuse to settle for easy answers.

Let’s ask ourselves:

  • Why have we always done such-and-such? What purpose does all the levels of sign-off in the approval process have, and are they needed?
  • Is there a better way to do such-and-such? Do all our meetings yield the results we seek? If not, how can we address communication and problem-solving better?
  • Why do we believe such-and-such to be true? Why do we think we have to monitor teleworkers for productivity? What facts exist to prove they’re unproductive?
  • Why do we reward such-and-such? Why are the people who think like the boss the first to be promoted? Recognized? Included?
  • Why do we punish such-and-such? Those who willingly express differences of thought, opinion, perspective, and experience are described as troublemakers and not team players. Why is that?
  • How is it that such-and-such looks and acts a certain way? Why are all our senior team members white and male?
  • Do we say such-and-such is important, yet only give it lip service? When we measure diversity, are we only counting those who look different while keeping them separate? Do we sacrifice relationships for results? Do we forfeit the long-term to protect the short-term? Do we encourage employees to forego emotion in pursuit of logic?
  • Are we stuck in a rut? Have the routines and patterns of doing business become so familiar and comfortable that they’ve made us blind and closed our minds?

Reopening can be a unique opportunity to see with beginner’s eyes and reset what we do and think.

“In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's mind there are few.” ~Shunryu Suzuki

“Something interesting happens when we approach situations from a perspective of humility. It opens us up to possibilities as we choose open-mindedness and curiosity over protecting our point of view. This translates into moving away from pushing to allowing, from insecure to secure, from seeking approval to seeking enlightenment.” ~Bruna Martinuzzi

As we step into a new normal post-pandemic, if we want, we can choose to be gardeners who improve or change the workplace environment to everyone’s betterment.

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