I don’t know about you, but when we went into quarantine in March, I thought we’d experience the impact of the pandemic for just a few months. Then, if we followed all the rules, we’d be back to business as usual. Clearly, I was wrong!
I thought we were running a sprint, when we were actually at the beginning of a marathon. My husband trains as a runner, and while he has yet to take on a full marathon, he has run a few half-marathons. When I shared this insight with him he said, “You can’t sprint a marathon; you’ll burn yourself out in the first few miles.”
If you still have a sprint-mindset, you and your team may be experiencing some exhaustion and burnout because the pace you set was too fast to be maintained for a marathon. Now it’s time to regroup and reset. You and your team need a new, steady, maintainable pace. They have to trust you as their coach for this race and they need to be resilient enough to get back up when exhaustion knocks them down.
A Sense of Security
To grow in resilience, team members need to feel a sense of security about their employment. Help them feel stable by checking in with them regularly with a one-on-one conversation. When checking in, remember to do a few simple things. First, inquire about their well-being and actively listen to their responses. Second, make sure they are up-to-date on what is happening within the business that is relevant to their role. Tell them what’s on the horizon. What new things will be happening in the coming weeks? What can you tell them about current local regulations and how you will respond to any changes?
Knowing you are prepared will help alleviate some of the uncertainty they may be feeling in our constantly changing world. Finally, offer encouragement. Tell them where they are doing well and thank them for their contributions. Reiterate the positive things that are happening in the business and conclude the conversation with hope for the future.
In my business, we recently implemented a system for our leadership team to help us stay connected to all team members. There are five of us on our leadership team, so we took the list of all employees and divided it evenly among us. On a weekly basis, each of us checks in with three staff members, which allows us to have a “touchpoint” with every member of our staff. We track this in a spreadsheet where we record whether we had an in-person meeting, a phone call, a Zoom call, or a conversation via text. This allows us to make sure we are reaching out in different ways.
In this document, we also leave comments about conversations and we discuss our touchpoints briefly in our leadership team meetings, if there are concerns that need to be addressed. If you’re a solopreneur, you could achieve the same outcome by dividing your staff in half and checking in with each team member every other week. Larger teams could be cared for by involving more managers and team leads in the touchpoints.
Remember the marathon analogy? One of my staff members, who is also a runner, recently shared with me that during a race she will often look to the people in front of her and think, “If I stay with them, I will make it to the end.”
The people you are running with can be the deciding factor as to whether or not you’ll be able to finish strong, so what are you doing to help your staff form connections and strengthen each other? Monthly staff meetings can refocus and re-energize your team. Don’t be afraid to mix it up; one month the meeting could be in-person (outdoors if needed), the next one could be a Zoom call, and the following one could be a video that team members watch at their convenience. When teams are kept connected and up-to-date they’re more likely to function as a cohesive unit.
The business operates with the highest integrity because everyone is on the same page, with the same vision, marching towards the same goals. We recently appointed a staff liaison to help motivate our team and ensure that all staff members are meeting deadlines and completing projects. In just two extra hours per week, she has provided support for the staff and improved their follow-through. Our private Facebook group for staff has also provided a place for employees to ask questions, share ideas, and solve problems. In this way team members, who might not otherwise see each other at all, are able to connect and inspire one another.
Train and Prepare
We’ve established that you can’t sprint a marathon—but you can’t wing it either! You don’t wake up and decide you’ll run a marathon that day; marathon runners train for months and months leading up to a race. During those months, while their endurance grows, so does their confidence in their own ability to complete the race. Similarly, providing your staff with ongoing training opportunities will build their confidence and their abilities. Short videos that teach a new skill or principle can be like vitamins; they are easy to consume and also contribute to the health of your organization. Upon viewing, team members can comment with their top takeaway.
Cross-training can also be of great benefit to your team. We know that at any time, a staff member may be out for two weeks or more due to quarantine. Always be training! If you’re placing an order for new inventory, who can you involve in the process so they learn alongside you? If you need to make a difficult phone call, invite a staff member to sit with you and take notes on how you handle tough situations. Spread knowledge around from team member to team member. It is no longer prudent to have a process that resides solely with one person. As your staff masters additional skills, their confidence will grow.
When you stay connected to your team, provide them with great training, and call out what’s around the next bend in the road, they will grow to trust you to lead them to the finish line and beyond. It’s so much easier to run this race together!