How to Turn Transition into an Opportunity

Michele Aikens is the CEO and Lead Coach of Sepia Prime Communications and Coaching (SPCC) which helps leaders and their teams embrace change with courage and compassion. This means acknowledging the messy parts of change: understanding, for example, that corporate culture may not reflect the beautifully written mission statement. She tells us more about it below.

As we learn to improve, we encourage compassion with leaders and their teams as they discover new ways of relating to each other.

SPCC has developed a coaching program for teams because the new normal will require even greater collaboration to successfully navigate the new ways of doing and being in business. The “Re-Writing the Script” © program uses the analogy of creating a story to help teams take a wider look at their organisations. For example, we use the term “plot twist” to talk about the thing no one expected to happen in the story, but that moves the team toward a successful outcome by harnessing their resourcefulness and creativity.

We have been thrust into this new normal by, among other things, a worldwide pandemic. This “plot twist” forced organisations to quickly find ways for employees to work away from the office. After the immediate problem of how to implement strategies for working at home, the big question became: “How will our business survive this new way?”. I believe this plot twist forced leaders to implement new ways of connecting with customers and implementing services while evaluating the organisation’s role in the local community. When Thomas Friedman wrote The World is Flat almost 20 years ago, we were only beginning to understand the effects of globalisation on business. The plot twist called COVID-19 accelerated our understanding of what it meant to communicate across the globe virtually, daily.

As coaches, we worked with leaders and their teams in the office or at an offsite location. Our work is hands-on, personal, and pivotal. In March of 2020, a colleague got a phone call on the way to the airport saying: “Don’t get on the plane. Log into Zoom for the meeting.” As coaches to leaders, we didn’t have the luxury of guessing how we would interact with our clients – this was the most critical time most of them had ever faced! Instantly our mode of connecting shifted from in-person to online. We were able to provide the same service, without the in-person aspect, in real-time to leaders and their teams. Now we meet with teams virtually; travel costs are lessened, and we found how to become efficient, empathetic, and expansive in our ability to serve. This plot twist that provided a different way of coaching is also available to organisations that want to find new ways of existing. In order to identify new ways of existing, however, we must be willing to look where we haven’t looked before.  We must be willing to re-craft our organisation’s story.

The plot twist called COVID-19 accelerated our understanding of what it meant to communicate across the globe virtually, daily.

If we watch the news with any frequency, we hear a lot of doom and gloom – from the stock market being impacted by the latest strain of the COVID variant, to accounts of murder, terrorism, and man’s inhumanity to man. As leaders, we have a divine opportunity to step onto this worldwide stage and illustrate creativity in how we solve the problems that have been entrusted to us. I used two words that aren’t often used in leadership discussions: divine opportunity, and problems that have been entrusted to us. I believe all leaders serve something greater than them, and to serve well, must approach each problem with an eye to what is inside of him or herself to solve it. When you understand that what is within you can provide a solution, you also understand that the problem you are facing has been entrusted to you for solving. The spark of divine that makes each of us unique has a problem-solving component. Unfortunately, many of us have become accustomed to leading the way we have seen others lead; by maintaining the status quo and playing it safe. To re-work the way your organisation functions after a worldwide pandemic means you must envision fearlessly. As the leader demonstrates a fearless strategy, the team gets permission to take greater risks and explore what the organisation could be in this new world.

Turning transition into an opportunity is not a one-man effort; I’m not sure if it ever was. Samuel Chand says: “Change is what is happening outside, but transition is what happens inside.” As organisations managed the challenges of the new normal, so have the individuals on your team. In addition to managing their workloads, they had to learn what work-life balance was when everyone was home together. Most of them likely put in more working hours than when they came into the office. Those team members also navigated where to put the home office, what supplies and equipment were needed, and how was the best way to get their work done. Ideas were born, new strategies for living and working were developed. All the while, they managed the stressors about job security, keeping families healthy, educating children and what might work better for your organisation.

When we work with leaders and their teams, our emphasis is on the value of the entire team. The spark of divine in each of us is what is needed to solve the problem entrusted to our organisations. If we minimise the value of team members, we cut ourselves off from their divine spark. Fearless envisioning means you recognise that the team’s contribution will solve problems and identify solutions. The most effective leaders will provide an atmosphere for team members to dream fearlessly, and safely share their insights and ideas for the organisation’s growth.

“While not all complexity creates discomfort, all discomfort is caused by complexity.” (Bill Eckstrom & Sara Wirth) The complexity of navigating COVID-19 personally, attempting to maintain profitability, leading teams that are offsite, and deciding if the business needs to pivot to remain profitable are what leaders and their teams are experiencing.  Those leaders and teams are also experiencing the discomfort of knowing that we are not going “back to normal” but forward into a new, developing normal.  Bringing the team to the table may be uncomfortable for leaders who are accustomed to envisioning, directing, and overseeing the implementation of their own directives. The team, now invited to the decision-making table, may also experience individual discomfort when confronted with the opportunity to provide honest feedback to the leaders. Embracing this discomfort and doing the work of becoming an authentic team, however, could open the organisation to new points of view that make it culturally healthy and relevant to its market’s new normal.

How do we find the creativity to employ the solutions necessary to move forward into this new normal? We use the lessons learned in the last 21 months. The enemy to creativity is rote activity, so take time to rest. Unplug from your electronics. Have at least one day a week where you spend time in nature. If possible, observe some children at play.  How many uses can they find for a large cardboard box? Can you find more?

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