Krish Shankar

Three key ideas for managing through the choppy weather

Story Highlights
  • Folks, we are going through some really challenging times across the world. Here is my summary of 3 ideas that I picked up from various literature that could be useful as we chart our journey through the stormy seas. Any other ideas you can thnik can help us now?

By | Krish Shankar | Group Head- Human Resources at Infosys, and also Hon President of National HRD Network, India.

What a last couple of weeks it has been! The Covid19 pandemic has been unprecedented in terms of the scale of the disruption to our normal activities. In India, we are in the middle of a lockdown that has seen organizations accelerate ‘work from home’ on a scale we didn’t think possible some time back. Manufacturing and retail organizations, especially those that need to keep essential services going, have been creative in expanding number of shifts and increasing social distancing, and for those who can’t work from home, they have focused on ‘learn from home’. Amidst all this, a large number of underprivileged people – migrant labour, daily wage earners- have been displaced leading to grave implications for them and the economy. Thus, this is more than a pandemic, a health and safety crisis- it is also a humanitarian crisis and an economic challenge.

However, I see that we are all responding to this admirably, and it is obvious that adversity brings out the best in people. The spirit, inventiveness, resilience, compassion demonstrated by people– I have seen numerous examples of this in the teams I interacted with, and that’s the silver lining amidst the gloom. However, from what the experts predict, this is going to be a roller coaster for the next 3-6 months before things get back to normal. For us in organizations, these few months are going to be a huge test of our agility, our ability to take decisions based on limited information, managing people’s emotions, as well as their health and safety, and bringing in optimism and confidence- all this while charting our businesses through the stormy seas.

Over the last couple of weeks, we have all been flooded with lots of literature on how we can manage through this. There have been advice and tips galore! As I was thinking about this, I thought it is critical to put the situation in perspective and summarise three key ideas I picked up from this literature deluge that can help us.

The 4 stages of transition

The first idea is about looking at this as stages of change/transition. No rocket science, but I am sure you would have heard of the various stages. I have adapted this from David Kessler and Elizabeth Kubler- Ross’ framework of the stages of grief. Here are those stages:

Stage 1: Denial– “Ah, this Coronavirus won’t come to India, the temperature will kill the virus”.

Stage 2: Anger – “Why should I go to work, why don’t they close all offices!’ or ‘How can we manage our daily provisions in this lockdown?’.

Stage 3: Acceptance– ‘I think I can manage this wfh, hope all are safe’. You accept social distancing.

Finally, this leads to another stage, which is Meaning or Growth- ‘How can I make the most of this”, or ‘’This is a good opportunity to experiment with remote engagement’ etc.

I thought this is a useful framework- and probably gives us guardrails to plan our actions. We will go through more such disruptive events in the next few months- so it’s good to think about what we could do in these phases. For instance, the Denial phase needs lot of communication, with a lot of objective data points to create greater awareness, which leads to change in mindset. The Anger phase needs lots of listening, providing opportunities to vent feelings, and keeping people occupied in activities- this is where empathy and compassion take centre-stage. Acceptance and the Meaning stages need some targeted emotion management activities. Reassurance and reinforcement are critical in the acceptance stage, followed by actions to drive optimism. For instance, thinking about future opportunities or actions brings optimism, which is key for the renewed sense of purpose and meaning.

Managing our emotions and those of our team members

The second idea is about emotion management. Honestly, the jargon sounds big, but let me try and demystify the steps. Let’s divide this in two parts- first is to manage your own emotions, and then focus on the emotions of others you work with. So, what do you do? I think the first step is to be aware of what you are feeling- is it apprehension, fear? Then there are many coping mechanisms, and you could choose what suits you. Doing some physical activity or exercises or yoga is one. Talking to someone you trust could be another. A third could be just doing something you like- could be watching TV or reading a book or doing crochet.

When it comes to managing emotions of others, it starts with empathy and listening. Just chatting up helps the other person express their concerns. You could ask how they are feeling? Just listening to them compassionately goes a long way. You could then follow it up with specific actions and tasks that keep them focused on the future, leading to reassurance and optimism.

Post trauma Growth

The third thought is that this massive disruption could be likened to trauma- which Prof Jamil Zaki of Stanford describes as ‘seismic psychological events that shatters our assumptions about life’. For many, Covid19 could have this effect. Many may be afraid to go into a crowded bus or train in the future. But the good news, based on the research by Tedeschi and Calhoun, is that post such a trauma, over half the people experience a sort of ‘growth’, they discover a renewed sense of purpose and deeper connection to others. And this ‘renewed growth’ could be a collective phenomenon, if people have come together to overcome it, with immense potential for transformation. Therefore, here is an opportunity for us to be conscious of this ‘growth’ potential and provide the right environment to tap into this renewed sense of purpose that a large number of individuals will have, as we emerge from this crisis.

I know these are tough times, and I suspect they are going to get choppier in the medium term. I just wanted to reinforce these three ideas that might help us as we chart our journey through these ‘troubled waters’. Wish you well, stay safe and take care.

Originally first published by Krish Shankar in LinkedIn


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