Right now, I think that pretty much everyone would like to hit the reset button.
We’re currently in the midst of a global pandemic. And while we’ve been here before, social media has fuelled not just useful information but also fear, overwhelm and panic. Covid 19 is the world’s first info-demic.
As I started to write this, we were in the middle of the first week of large-scale closures in the part of the world that I live in. Today, we’re three days into a general shutdown of the population, with only (a broad list of) essential services operating. People are trying to work from home, children are figuring out how to home school (as are their parents) and some folk just want to buy a few rolls of toilet paper.
This is one of those global events where it feels like we are recalibrating to a new normal. Every day brings new information, new challenges, new escalations, new concerns, new questions and new uncertainties. It’s not an exaggeration to say that most of us feel the rug keeps being pulled out from under us, and the majority of us would really like that to stop. It’s an awkward reality for most of us to cope with, and there is an enormous amount of information to process and change to manage day by day and hour by hour.
The current situation is unquestionably one where we would like to hit a reset button. The only challenge is identifying where we’d reset to. Two weeks ago? January? A world where this virus doesn’t exist? All of those things aren’t possible, however, delightful fantasy though that might be.
Instead, we’re hitting a reset button on how we operate. We are figuring out new routines. We are learning how to be in the same house with our family for days on end, with minimal in-person contact with anyone else. We are navigating new routines on shopping, with limited numbers of people in stores at a given time and taped out lines on floors telling us where to stand and how to keep our distance. For many of us, we’re exploring new ways to get our work done. We are re-embracing phone calls, and the internet is abuzz with videoconferences. We have new vocabulary, new processes and new technologies to navigate.
All of this change is a lot to process at any given time. The underlying stress and anxiety of the virus, change in our own work patterns, presence of our immediate family and concern about the health of others all adds up to a massive hit of overwhelm. The desire for a reset is to make all of it stop. But none of it is stopping. Changing, yes; relentlessly changing. And that’s the problem.
Unsurprisingly, I’m being forced to hit my own reset button. As a consultant, I typically have two work modes: I’m either in front of clients, facilitating workshops and guiding meetings, or I’m in front of a computer producing deliverables. Right now, there is no capacity to meet with any of them. Much of what I do when I am interacting with clients is face-to-face. While in-person interaction has a great deal of value, doing so right now is actually discouraged. The individual client contacts that I work with are also actively leading their organizations’ response to the crisis; the urgency of the immediate situation is significantly displacing the important work that we have been doing, for very good reasons.
What this means for me currently is that I’m in a bit of a holding pattern on the work that I have been doing. That holding pattern, though, is rapidly turning into a source of opportunity on a number of fronts. I’ve had the luxury of time to think and reflect, or at least to start that process. I’ve been spending some time contemplating where I am at, what that means for me and where I want to go next.
This reexamination isn’t specifically a product of the current situation, and is something that I’ve been working towards for a few months. I have been working through a progressive period of change for several years now, much of it related to my relocation back to Ontario. My client base has progressively shifted from west to east, although that transition has taken time to occur. Even early last year, I was spending significant time on planes, and up to half of my time away from home.
The change in focus is also directly related my most recent post, that the organizational is personal. I do a lot of work in organizations, but all of the work that I do is with individual people. For all that my consulting is organizational in nature, it is the impact in individual peoples’ lives that is most meaningful, most relevant, most rewarding and most enduring. That has led me to consider how to approach my work to be able to sustain and maximize that impact. This might sound vague and abstract, but ultimately isn’t.
Until recently, my most direct personal impact was teaching. For a number of reasons, I’ve done progressively less of that. I am wanting that to change. That doesn’t mean that I’m going to dust off my old workshops and courses, though, and simply start delivering them again. They were, once again, largely face-to-face in nature. My most popular courses—and the ones that I most enjoyed delivering—tended to be more advanced. And while there is and will continue to be a demand for workshops and learning opportunities that push boundaries, there are fewer individuals in any one geographic area looking for that kind of experience. That makes it challenging to offer a workshop and know that you will have enough participants to be able to deliver it.
The business model of training, development and learning has been changing for some time. The current reality is simply accelerating things. When we move beyond the existing crisis, in-person workshops will once again exist. Training providers will be more anxious than ever to offer workshops and fill up classrooms. That isn’t the model of development that works for everyone, and what gets offered tends to focus on introductory content that appeals to the broadest possible audience. My emphasis is on providing in-depth experiences that allow individuals to challenge themselves, advance their knowledge and understanding and progressively work towards their own individual learning goals.
This is one dimension of what, for me, is a broader reset. It’s an illustration of the changes that I am making, but not the only specific change. Some that I make will be of necessity a result of the fact that the world has altered massively over the last two months, and won’t revert any time soon. More of them, though, will be on a refined recalibration of what makes sense for me, what makes sense for my clients and what makes sense for the work that I do—and that I want to be doing.
That’s not to say that I won’t continue with some of the work that I do, in largely the manner that I’ve done it in the past. I will continue to work with organizations in developing strategic plans, formulating implementation strategies, developing methodologies and frameworks to flexibly guide project delivery and navigating the delivery of complex initiatives. In other words, I’ll be facilitating exploration, understanding and decision making around the big, difficult, messy and uncertain changes that organizations will continue to navigate.
Some of that work will inevitably be in-person and face-to-face. Not all of it will, though. That reality is a product of the fact that sometimes it isn’t desirable (our current reality being a case in point), sometimes it isn’t practical and sometimes it isn’t even possible. I’m in the process of developing several proposals in response to RFPs that are surprisingly (and positively) still being published. Providing meaningful responses requires a reconsideration of the work that will be done and how it will be delivered in order to provide on the expected outcomes and meet the define timelines in a world that doesn’t behave the way it did last month. While responding to RFPs can often be boring and rote, this is currently a fascinating process of reinvention and exploration of what can be accomplished when the normal ways of doing business aren’t available.
Not only am I rethinking how I do my work, I’m also revisiting what I actually do. More specifically, I am building on what is my traditional consulting practice to find ways to provide greater relevance and meaning at an individual, personal level. That involves a rethinking of the services I deliver, where I spend my time in developing and delivering those services, and the capabilities that I leverage. Work that makes a difference to individual people is finding its place alongside the work that I do organizationally.
What in particular is changing is who I do the work for. Embracing the individual alongside the organizational is an important acknowledgement. It has always been implicit in my work, but now I’m making it explicit. What I want to ensure above all is that individual people are able to succeed in facing their challenges and delivering on their commitments. I want them to be able to recognize opportunity, develop strategies and deliver results that make a difference. That is the impact that I have always had, and it is the one that I want to put front and centre.
As I said at the outset, this isn’t a change that is prompted by our current reality. The time to reflect, reframe and redevelop is certainly being made possible by it, though. Our current world of social distancing means we have space and time that we rarely get to focus on what’s important and meaningful. Even while we are navigating the uncertainty of today, we actually have the luxury of thinking about tomorrow in a way that we rarely get to do. Every single one of us has the opportunity to use this time to hit our own reset button. We can think about what we do, we can take the time to reframe how we do it and we can get clear and deliberate about who we are doing it for.
That is a luxury that we are rarely afforded. My challenge and invitation to you is to take advantage of it.
Michael Hilbert says
Thank you for sharing your internal reflections. I believe many people and organizations are, knowingly or unknowingly, rethinking what their new normal will be once the sun comes out and we return to whatever the new normal will be. Hitting the reset button should also allow us to address what priorities actually are (both personally and professionally) and to focus on those priorities when we are on the other side of this crisis.
Thank you again for what you do. Stay Safe My Friend….
Mark Mullaly says
Thanks so much, Mike. I sincerely appreciate it. Safe here, and hope the same for you! I’ve got a post brewing on this, but I think that many organizations are right now doing a huge amount of triage on what is operationally necessary to get done. That means that some important but not critical functions may not be getting the attention they need. But it also means that many things that fall into the category of “we’ve always done it this way” also aren’t getting done, of sheer necessity. It’ll be important to examine what didn’t get done and ask ourselves, “Do we need to go back to doing this?” For some, yes; for many others, I think not.
Nancy Batty says
Thanks, Mark, for another thoughtful post. These are challenging times, for sure. I was about to go through a second interview for a job, and that got postponed…it seems indefinitely. As you are, I’m trying to take the time to reflect and reorient, hoping to come out of this stronger and more connected to what’s really important in my life. Stay safe and healthy. And keep on blogging!
Mark Mullaly says
Working on the safe and healthy part, Nancy. And thank you. My sincere wishes to you for the same. And I’m sorry to hear about the interview postponement; I know that’s frustrating. But yes, this really does create a tremendous opportunity to stop and take stock. (We don’t have much choice in the stopping department; we do have choice in terms of where we pay attention and what we do while we are stopped). And while none of us have an idea of how long our current reality will last (probably longer than many suspect) I do hope to come out of it better focussed on the things I value and enjoy, and that deliver value that others appreciate. Stay safe and sane.