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Afraid to Step Out of Your Comfort Zone? Then You Can’t Lead in the Age of COVID.

comfort zone

Afraid to Step Out of Your Comfort Zone? Then You Can’t Lead in the Age of COVID.

COVID-19 has disrupted the business world, and the “normal” of a few months ago may never return. In this new landscape, how business leaders process and react to new challenges will be crucial.

Using critical thinking skills to make sound business decisions in a complicated, constantly changing world has never been more important, says Dr. Jim White, founder and president of JL White International and bestselling author of Opportunity Investing: How to Revitalize Urban and Rural Communities with Opportunity Funds (www.opportunityinvesting.com).

“Critical thinking in the COVID-19 era will separate effective leaders from the pack,” Dr. White says.

“Before, many of us relied on linear thinking – that is, solving problems in a step-by-step fashion. When life proceeds in an orderly way, we can draw conclusions based on probabilities: this is what happened before; therefore, it will happen again. Or, we use contingency statements: if THIS is true, THAT is true.

“But COVID-19 changed those premises. Now, there are too many unknowns to rely on lazy thinking. The volatile economy is one example: we don’t know how or when the markets will recover. What will the business community look like post-COVID? Will people continue to work remotely, and which companies will thrive and which will crumble? Will entire industries – like cruising – buckle under the strain? How will communities deal with their struggling populations, vacant real estate, and shuttered businesses?

“Now is the time for non-linear (lateral) thinking, characterized by expansion in multiple directions rather than in a straight line. The concept has multiple starting points from which we can apply logic to a problem.”

Dr. White offers the following advice to developing non-linear critical thinking:

Step out of your comfort zone. “Critical thinking requires that we see and interpret information from a different perspective,” Dr. White says. “In our old comfort zones we weren’t necessarily required to make difficult decisions. But navigating COVID requires taking steps to adapt to new circumstances. For companies, it means being nimble, finding opportunities and ways to innovate. It may mean drastically reducing a brick-and-mortar footprint in favor of a digital presence. It may mean dumping obsolete inventory at a discount. Or it may mean lay-offs.”

Dr. White thinks many people have closed minds and don’t adapt well to change. “In military training, one is taught to pivot, to escape and adapt, since there is no such thing as a perfect set of circumstances,” he says. “The species that is capable of adapting well is the species that survives.”

Don’t jump to conclusions. “When jumping out of your comfort zone,” Dr. White says, “be careful not to jump to conclusions as well. Instead, ask questions, and organize and evaluate information. For instance, business owners should be asking, is now the right time to be re-opening? Who says the pandemic is over? Who is cautioning against reopening? What will reopening look like? Coming to a valid conclusion requires studying the available data: what is happening in other parts of the world, the country, or the industry?

“One criterion we rely on is, what do experts say? What are the credentials of these experts? Carefully evaluating data has never been more crucial than during this pandemic.”

Separate truth from belief. “People often have trouble separating what is valid from what is true because of ingrained beliefs, which we all have. This ‘belief bias’ interferes with our ability to think logically,” Dr. White says. “Critical thinking means making decisions based only on data. For business leaders that means putting aside what worked in the past and being completely open to new practices and protocols.”

“In the age of COVID-19, we must embrace challenges and make solid decisions based on critical-thinking principles.”

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Jim White, PhD, author of Opportunity Investing: How To Revitalize Urban and Rural Communities with Opportunity Funds (www.opportunityinvesting.com), is founder and president of JL White International. He also is chairman and CEO of Post Harvest Technologies, Inc. and Growers Ice Company, Inc., and founder and CEO of PHT Opportunity Fund LP. Throughout his career, he has bought, expanded, and sold 23 companies, operating in 44 countries. He holds a B.S. in Civil Engineering, an MBA, and a PhD in Psychology and Organizational Behavior.

experiment

5 Tips to Help You Lead & Experiment During Crisis

As a leader, during COVID-19 (or any crisis) it can be hard to find your feet and to feel confident in your path. You may feel inadequate, unsure, and out of your depth. That is to be expected. This is leadership like we have never seen before. So many businesses are closed or trying to find new ways of doing things. I believe almost every organization feels like a start-up right now. Uncertain times need new kinds of leadership. We don’t have the answers, only questions, and still, we are asked to be leaders. Being experimental in your leadership approach will help you try things, learn from them, and figure out your next experiment.

These tips will help you find a new center for yourself as a leader:

You are not responsible. It should go without saying, but this is not your fault. This is a global challenge that doesn’t have clear answers. Your people may want you to have answers, but you won’t and you can’t. They will want certainty about their jobs, their income, and their lives. You can’t promise them the future. Encourage them to do their job today and let them know you have compassion but cannot be the answer to their future. Give up being an all-knowing leader and be human. Practice compassion and be collaborative to help your team makes sense of the crazy.

Get bad news out of the way fast. If you have lay-offs and reorgs to do, do it quickly. Make a plan–even if it is a bad plan and clear this from your “to do” list. You will be a better leader with clarity. Kudos if you can be compassionate while you do it. There are some businesses that will not survive this. Don’t hide your head in the sand like an ostrich. Embrace information and communication even if it is bad news. Work on being a good leader in bad times. Figure out what being a good leader means to you. Kindness goes a long way when you are delivering bad news.

Think about a timeline. What is important 1 week from now? What is important 1 month from now? What is important 1 year from now? Some organizations need to be extending their timeline (How will we emerge from this crisis?) while others are busy changing to meet day to day needs (What do our clients need today?). Make sure to orient your thinking daily and consider multiple time frames. Make time to consider your leadership path before you face a day of decision making and are faced with the feelings and challenges of others. Find your own true north as a leader.

Be kind and firm. Your team members may be spinning and scared. Be empathetic and then ask them to get back to their jobs and produce good work. Having meaningful work is a privilege in these times and you can ask them to be achievers right now….today. You can deliver groundedness and purpose as long as they are working. There can be compassion for the challenges they face (kids at home, new environment, etc) but don’t let them off the hook. They are being paid to provide work. Your insistence on them delivering work is part of the work of leadership right now.

Practice extreme self-care. You are your own strongest asset. Experiment to strengthen your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Reach for the salad and smoothies instead of the martinis and chocolate cake. Exercise. Sleep. Meditate if that works for you. Journal or sit and think. Pause. Ask for help and love from friends. Schedule a virtual happy hour with friends or colleagues. Try and go deeper than you ever have before with your self-care. You have never needed to care for yourself as you do today. Experiment with giving yourself what you need.

You will get through this. You will learn from this. You will do your best and you will do your worst in this. As an experimental leader, it is important that you stay engaged in the struggle of leadership. Try and fail and dust yourself off. Figure out the change you want to see and what the barriers are. Figure out an experiment. Collect data. Figure out what you just learned. Ask, “What is my next experiment?” Go experiment again.

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Melanie Parish is a public speaker, author, and Master Coach. An expert in problem-solving, constraints management, operations, and brand development, Melanie has consulted and coached organizations ranging from the Fortune 50 to IT start-ups. She is the author of The Experimental Leader: Be A New Kind of Boss to Cultivate an Organization of Innovators. For more information, please visit, www.melanieparish.com, and connect with her on Twitter, @melanieparish.

pivot

How Businesses Can Pivot While Slowed Or Closed During Difficult Times

With businesses across the U.S. having closed temporarily or reduced services due to the coronavirus pandemic, company leaders are trying to find ways to stay afloat until the crisis passes – and figure out how to move forward into an uncertain future.   

Dr. Kyle Bogan,  a business consultant and speaker on workplace culture, says this unprecedented event has caused companies to learn how to pivot on the fly and consider changes that will not only allow them to survive the crisis, but thrive later on.

“Business owners are attempting to balance decreased demand with caring for and providing for their team, and protecting the future of the business they built,” Bogan says. “While there is a negative impact on revenue, many businesses will come out on the other side of this pandemic stronger as a business and stronger as a team.

Bogan suggests ways businesses can pivot during the pandemic that could help them short- and long-term:

Offer online services. “The critical element is to be creative and innovative to find new ways to deliver special services and products to your customers, and discounts where possible,” Bogan says. “They won’t forget that. Going as far as you can for them during an unprecedented time will make it likely they stay with you long after this is over.”

Expand how you inform and update customers. “Let your customers and audience know how and what the company is doing, how it’s adapting,” Bogan says. “Moreover, show you care how they’re doing. Offer links of advice on your website to help them deal with the many aspects of this crisis. If you’re authentic and honest, social media is a way to connect in a kind and helpful way, and that will add more substance to your brand’s image.”

Tighten connections with employees. Many companies are set up to work from home, and they aren’t as hobbled as others that are not. Bogan says consistent communication, enhanced by video conferencing, is vital to stay on top of business processes and to boost morale. “The entire team needs to be better informed and felt cared for and valued, and email alone isn’t sufficient,” Bogan says. “Owners and CEOs need to be transparent with teams about company situations. That builds trust. Send your team resources for anything that could help them during this difficult time. Encourage professional learning during downtime and get creative input from the team, giving them a stake in the future.”

Consider ways to make your culture stronger. Building stronger relationships can help build a better work culture, but that’s only one piece. Bogan says this is a good time for leaders to objectively look at their business culture and find ways to improve it. “The question is, do you want to be intentional about creating a team-first culture that represents you and your business, or do you want it to create itself without a clear vision?” Bogan says. “If you want to experience accelerated growth when this is over, creating a team-first culture is the path you must take. Financial success will follow. People are more willing to spend time and money with your brand if they can feel your team is happy.”

“Truly, we are all in this together – customers, business leaders, employees,” Bogan says. “That’s how a business should think and communicate now during the crisis and going forward.”

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Dr. Kyle Bogan (www.drkylebogan.com) is a general dentist and a speaker/consultant on workplace culture. He is the owner of North Orange Family Dentistry. Bogan earned a Fellowship in the Academy of General Dentistry and a Fellowship in the International College of Dentists. He is a member of the American Dental Association, the Ohio Dental Association, the International Dental Implant Association and the American Academy of General Dentistry. Bogan earned his Doctor of Dental Surgery degree from The Ohio State University, graduating Magna Cum Laude, and played sousaphone in the marching band.

Time Management in a Global Workforce

Time management used to be a much simpler challenge for businesses. Staff were given a schedule, they appeared, put a card in a clock then did their work. Workers were all co-located, with similar schedules.

The globalized economy has made time management of the workforce a much more involved process.

Now, some staff may be in the same office, but thanks to improved connectivity that is available to virtually everyone, it is just as likely that they are distributed across many locations, time zones and countries.  Connectivity makes it possible to be a mobile worker, participate in distributed work, work from home, or do work share or “Smart Work.”

Many organizations are embracing this new trend. According to globalworkplaceanalytics.com, more organizations embraced telecommuting in 2016 than they did in 2011. The advantages to having remote workers where possible are numerous, including reductions in workspace cost. The trend towards global and mobile workers who are not co-located is so strong that many larger employers find themselves unable to compete for top talent without these more flexible work options.

Time management in such a world becomes much more challenging.  If your staff members work from home, how do you determine that they are actually working? Suddenly, a passive timesheet system seems not to be enough.  Should you impose monitoring, or forget about time altogether and focus on getting work complete? For more and more companies that have employees in multiple time zones, how do you manage starting and stopping times in systems such as project management or timesheets, which are centrally located? If you have contractors who don’t work by the hour, should you track time the same way you do for full-time staff?  If you have people in multiple countries, how do you deal with things as simple as a timesheet in the correct language, or accessing the system from their location?

All of these are common time management challenges in today’s world.

My company’s experience with deploying a commercial off-the-shelf project-based timesheet system for global organizations has been about dealing with those challenges. With some clients, having software that is available both for on-premise deployment or in the cloud deals with connectivity issues from different parts of the world. Management is able to use the data collected from timesheets to better assess and manage employees to maximize productivity. For languages, we have had to make interfaces that are adjustable by the end user into the language of their choice without affecting the data. For staff accessing the system from many countries, we made it available in both an on-premise and Software as a Service subscription model.

According to CNBC, 70 percent of workers globally work remotely at least once a week. So for those people who are on the move, having a free Mobile App for Apple and Android devices has been a critical element of success. Our decision was to make the mobile application available on both Android and Apple devices, and to make it free for anyone with a Time Control timesheet license.

With the spread of workforces across many countries, even something as simple as “when is the weekend?” is not certain. In the US, it is almost always Saturday and Sunday. In the Middle East, it might be Friday and Saturday. For some workers, the weekend is no longer relevant as they work at different times during the week. We’ve had to support multiple calendars simultaneously in the background of our system in order to support collecting timesheets for all workers with different calendars and different schedule situations.

It’s fair to say that this trend towards global resources won’t stop anytime soon. As organizations consider how to manage the scheduling of time, and tracking time spent and what it is spent on, it is important to consult with stakeholders in different situations and different locations to ensure your systems will be able to keep up.

Chris Vandersluis is a public speaker, project management industry expert, and president and founder of HMS Software, a leading provider of enterprise timesheet and project management solutions. Over the last 30 years, he has helped hundreds of organizations, both small and large, improve their business management performance.