Make Haste Slowly 

Cynthia Milota of Ware Malcomb explores how slow forward momentum in workplace planning – while incorporating safety, patience, perspective, and transparency – will ease adoption of the next normal. 

Photography credit: Nico Marques

Festina Lente, the Latin translation of “make haste slowly,” has been adopted as the motto of emperors (Augustus Caesar), business moguls (Medici Family), writers (Shakespeare), school districts (Houston), motorcycle racers (Mike Duff) and soy sauce makers (Kikkoman). “Make haste slowly” may also serve as a call to action for organizations caught in the inertia and uncertainty about what’s next for their workforce. COVID-19’s challenges and constraints are real, but so too are the possibilities and opportunities for workplace change.

What do you do when you don’t know what’s going to happen?

Organizations across North America are responding to the uncertainty of COVID-19 impacts in a variety of ways. Six common approaches include:

Wait & See

Some companies are delaying decision-making, perceiving their current situation and problems as less risky than the uncertainty of identifying and transitioning to a new organization or approach.

Mirror Others in the Industry

Some are following the lead of corporate giants such as Apple, Amazon, Google, and Starbucks, delaying or postponing their plans to re-open their workplaces due to new COVID-19 variants. 

Back to the Way it Was

Other organizations are certain that their best course of action is to get their teams back to the office as quickly as possible and re-create their pre-COVID-19 work strategy.

Planning Underway

Often leaders have a potential plan to move forward, but only share the ideas with their inner circle. Uncertain of how and when to implement an identified plan, organizational leaders delay as a result of perceptions of possible employee pushback.

Paralysis by Analysis

Other organizations fail to convey any definitive direction and sink into a perpetual state of information gathering, considering an infinite array of options and scenarios without arriving at any actionable vision for moving forward.

Slow Forward Momentum

Many organizations are assessing numerous perspectives, reviewing options with the executive team and key stakeholders while carefully implementing a pilot plan for their version of a hybrid work model.

While these six approaches are common, the last option of slow forward movement maintains a dynamic posture, even if the action is continually monitoring the circumstances until a “stable long term work environment” (Aten, 2021) can be maintained. Transparency in communications will increase certainty and manage expectations. In times of unpredictability, “the price of inaction is far greater than the cost of making a mistake,” a sentiment first shared by the 13th century German theologian Meister Eckhart, (Quote Fancy, 2021).

The guidelines for an organization to test out a new strategy should include safety, patience, perspective, and transparency. Let’s explore the process.

Photography Credit: AO Photography

Safety: Good Enough for Now & Safe Enough to Try

The consent decision making process “urges (the leadership team) to accept a ‘good enough’ solution,” (Nobl, 2021) in the absence of major objections. Combining speed and inclusiveness, consent decision making does not require 100% agreement in the process. It is important to acknowledge that there are few benchmarks or best practices for guidance and that trust and adaptability will enable course corrections based on feedback.

As in any innovative endeavor, reimagining the workplace for most organizations will not require a “first time right” standard. Non-linear process thinking will eliminate the perception of the first workplace change model implemented, as permanent.

Patience: Progress over Perfection

Prototyping, piloting and “presenting the change as an experiment” (Fosslien, Duffy-West, 2021) removes the stress of seeking perfection. The agile software development process with its sprints and iterative release model, provides a good framework for a workplace transformation roll-out. Testing new workplace models involves planning and vetting concepts, establishing stakeholder partners to test, gathering qualitative feedback and quantitative data, re-evaluating the model, and reporting back. There will be anxiety with change, but building a stakeholder tested model builds consensus and reduces uncertainty.

Perspective: The Rubber & Glass Balls of Your Organization

In his legendary, Five Ball Speech, Brian Dyson (Maxwell, 2014), the former Coca-Cola CEO, identifies the glass balls in our life that can shatter if we drop them (family, health, friends, and spirit) and rubber balls that bounce (work). Using this five-ball framework to examine workplace change, these questions explore the glass and rubber balls of an organization, (Eblin, 2017).

  • What are the priorities of the reimagined workplace plan?
  • What aspects of the organization might shatter if the reimagined workplace plan was not perfect on day one?
  • What are the long-term impacts of the reimagined workplace plan? Will it matter in a month, a year or five years from now?
  • Who else is impacted by the reimagined workplace plan?
  • Should all the workplace factors be in play initially, or could some be phased in over time?

Undertaking a business planning premortem is another valuable tool to investigate what “might go wrong (with a plan) …team members are task(ed) to generate plausible reasons for the project’s failure,” (Klein, 2007). The project plan assesses and integrates potential problems. There are no sacred cows in a premortem, “by making it safe for dissenters who are knowledgeable about the undertaking and worried about its weaknesses, to speak up to improve a project’s chances of success,” (Klein, 2007).

Transparency: Uncertainty Breeds Anxiety

As a result of COVID-19, uncertainty and ambiguity impact the employee experience and organizational productivity. Overly anxious, stressed-out employees are not productive or engaged, (Gino, 2016). Transparency in communications counters the uncertainty.

Employees are uneasy with the ever-changing COVID-19 situation. They want to be heard and informed of their organization’s workplace plans. “Employers must be transparent about policy changes and the impact on employee health…we must be comfortable talking about flexibility, safety and security with our employees and listening to their concerns,” says Scott Gutz, CEO of Monster Worldwide. (Robinson, 2021).

Being pro-active in broadcasting and managing messaging, internally and externally, will address employee uncertainty gaps. Maintaining a robust change communications plan, even when plans are still being formulated, will build positive employee sentiment and stronger adoption of change.

Future Workplace Readiness

As organizations define and redefine their post-COVID-19 workplace, the “Great Wait” confirms “that employees are feeling uneasy with their work’s ever-changing plans,” (Robinson, 2021). The implications for mental health, staff mentoring/advancement and social capital continue to build with the disconnection from the office and co-workers. The Leesman Index, a measure of workplace effectiveness, suggests three factors for appraising and improving an organization’s workforce readiness for change (Leesman, 2021):

People

  • Put employee purpose first.
  • Understand the organization’s workplace why.

Place

  • Go big or they will stay home.
  • Delivering the best workplaces via an ecosystem to support employee needs.

Time

  • Do it now and with urgency.
  • Acknowledging and acting on lessons learned to be ahead of the game.

Employees want more agency, choice, and flexibility in how, when and where they work. Understanding the employee’s mindset, will help to inform workplace transformation planning.

Photography Credit: ArchLenz Photography

Make Haste Slowly

In workplace evolution, employees understand that things will not be perfect. Slow forward momentum in workplace planning which incorporates safety, patience, perspective, and transparency will ease adoption of the next normal. The process will not be linear; there are no benchmarks and few best practices along the way. In this Make Haste Slowly process, an “esprit de corps” and camaraderie will permeate the culture. The uncertainties of the circumstances will be replaced with an optimistic sense of opportunity for positive change.

Set in motion, make a move, carry on, go for it, just do it.

We cannot predict the future of our workplaces, but we can work to create it.

Finished with the article? Let us know which approach describes your organization here

 

 

References

Aten, J., (2021, Dec), “With 5 words, Google just explained the best reason yet not to return to the office,” Retrieved from: https://www.inc.com/jason-aten/with-5-words-google-just-explained-best-reason-yet-not-to-return-to-office.html.

Eblin Group, (2017), “How to determine if the balls you’re juggling are rubber or glass,” Retrieved from: https://eblingroup.com/blog/juggling-rubber-or-glass/.

Fosslien, L. & West-Duffy, M., (2021, March) “How to prevent the return to offices from being an emotional roller coaster,” Retrieved from: https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/how-to-prevent-the-return-to-offices-from-being-an-emotional-roller-coaster/.

Gino, F., (2016, April), “Are you too stressed to be productive? Or not enough stressed?” Retrieved from: https://hbr.org/2016/04/are-you-too-stressed-to-be-productive-or-not-stressed-enough.

Klein, G., (2007, September), “Performing a project premortem,” Retrieved from: https://hbr.org/2007/09/performing-a-project-premortem.

Leesman Index, (2021), “Workplace 2021: appraising future-readiness,” Retrieved from: https://www.leesmanindex.com/workplace-2021-appraising-future-readiness-launch/.

Maxwell, J., (2014, June), “When a ball has to drop, make sure it’s the right one,” Retrieved from: https://www.johnmaxwell.com/blog/when-a-ball-has-to-drop-make-sure-its-the-right-one/.

NOBL, “Consent decision making,” Retrieved from: https://thedecider.app/consent-decision-making.

Quote Fancy, (2021), “Meister Eckhart Quotes,” Retrieved from: https://quotefancy.com/quote/1023198/Meister-Eckhart-The-price-of-inaction-is-far-greater-than-the-cost-of-making-a-mistake.

Robinson, B., (2021, September), “The great wait: workers in limbo with delayed return to office plans,” Retrieved from: .https://www.forbes.com/sites/bryanrobinson/2021/09/17/the-great-wait-workers-in-limbo-with-delayed-return-to-office-plans/.

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