Who could have known at the beginning of 2020 that our world would be turned upside down by a tiny organism without a name? By now, almost everyone on this planet knows what it looks like and what it is called – SARS-CoV-2, or more commonly, COVID-19.
In 2020, a total of 8.8% of global work hours were lost, impacting more than 2/3 of the global workforce (equivalent to 250 million jobs lost); the global economy contracted by an average of 4% (varying from +2.3% to -15% per country); 2.5 million are recorded to have lost their lives, and a myriad of emotional and psychological challenges have been thrown at us as a result of this pandemic.
When you are in the middle of change, it is easy to lose sight of what is actually changing and how it impacts you. We get busy with surviving and waste time on the things we can't control instead of the things we can control! In other words, we do exactly the opposite of what we should do to keep our head above water. During times of crisis, we should focus on the light in the tunnel – not the light at the end of the tunnel. We should focus on the things we can control and not on the things beyond our control!
Our team at KnowledgeWorkx spent some time reflecting on the past year and how we experienced this turbulent season. We believe we learned a lot in 2020 and wanted to share it with you, hoping that it will confirm, inspire, or challenge you to search for the light in the tunnel and stay focused on what you can control.
The bottom dropped out…
At the beginning of 2020, our portfolio for Q1 and Q2 was full: our team anticipated a good year ahead! By the end of February, we saw 90% of our portfolio wiped out. Although we had our time of denial (this will blow over quickly) and resistance (we can't change EVERYTHING we do overnight), we did pivot very fast and had to make fundamental changes.
The team pulled together, and we recognized this was going to be a tough year; consulting, training, and coaching were cut from our clients’ budgets, effectively eliminating our cashflow. We decided 2020 was going to be a manna-year instead of a year of bumper crops. We committed to keep everybody employed and revisited all expenses to see if more could be cut from our already lean-approach. The amazing thing was that some team members offered to take voluntary salary cuts.
On a webinar facilitated by Patrick Lencioni and the Table-Group, participants were given a challenge: "Clients will remember one thing: were you there for them during their time of crisis!" We took on that challenge for our clients and for our global Inter-Cultural Intelligence Practitioners network: our network consists of roughly 600 Practitioners in 70 countries around the world. We launched a community outreach initiative through virtual 'Deep Dives' and have continued to run those into 2021. The Deep Dives drew together our global practitioners network and resulted in equipping, connecting, and community building. Some practitioners said that the Deep Dives were the highlights that carried them through the challenging times. The Deep Dives proved invaluable for our team because they allowed us to test out virtual ways of delivering solutions that previously were only delivered in-person.
We also started to serve clients with smaller and more cost-effective ways to come alongside their teams. One client requested us to conduct weekly sessions to assist their intercultural team that was working from home, to stay connected and navigate the challenging season. This allowed us to be there for them and meet them practically and tangibly at their point of need.
Improving our workflow
Our KnowledgeWorkx team lives in the USA, Europe, Middle East, and Asia and so we had already been working virtually for the last 8 years. At the same time, we needed to improve the way we engaged and as such, we started daily check-ins for the core team.
We use Microsoft Teams for our daily check-ins and make sure significant points are typed up in a shared OneNote where all contribute to creating a historical record of our meetings.
Our global team meets twice every month to focus on the bigger-picture strategy and team development. We had the privilege of working with Linda Berlot, who took us through several ORSC team-development sessions - a fantastic way to bring the team closer together. We started to use Google Jamboard for visualizing our Big Picture and for developing Relational Strength on the team (e.g. affirmation boards for each team member, boards to flesh out what living out our core values means, a dream board for posting ideas).
We also use WhatsApp for daily communication on nuts and bolts-related stuff, and of course, email continues to be an important way to stay on top of tasks!
Our use of Office 365 has made it possible to work effectively across time-zones: our team is spread across 14 time zones. We use a predetermined way to name files, and we all use the same folder structure. This, combined with Office 365’s ability to work together on files in real-time, speeds up our delivery and completion cycles significantly: no more time is wasted on finding attachments, or not knowing the name of a file or where it might be stored.
We also had to create clear handover moments in our workflow, resulting in fast 24/7 circuit. Handover moments typically happen early morning, or mid evening, and involve a virtual live discussion on what has happened in the last 12 hours and what needs to happen in the next 12 hours ahead! It is exciting to know your colleague will continue the work while you are asleep.
Being a more human team
In our meetings and communications, we had to hike up the 'intentionality factor' when giving praise, saying thank you, and giving shout-outs. Being in a virtual environment makes it even more vital to offer sincere praise! It is especially true when somebody is not present- we call it 'positive gossip'. We make it a point to applaud somebody when they are not on the email string or not in the meeting. (e.g. "Did you see the great solution she came up with, I thought it was so inspiring!") Through this, we apply the "Three Colors of Worldview Litmus test" – do right by people, honor them, and be empowering to them).
Meetings also need to create more room for relationally checking in with one another! Since we all connect from home, we must accept that home and work environments are often not two different places any longer. Therefore, we make time for listening to what is going on in each other’s worlds before we get into the tasks of the day or the week.
If colleagues are dealing with tough situations, we simply make more time.
Technology is no longer just an enabler: it now has a seat at the table.
We never anticipated that meetings, training, and coaching would move into the virtual space so fast! Technology firms were scrambling, and companies and human development service providers have worked day and night to 'pivot' to accommodate the changing reality. Those who decided to wait out the storm have mostly closed their doors by now.
We never used to ask clients about their technology infrastructure as one of the early questions in a meeting. Now, this has become crucial. Their answer determines what we can and cannot do in terms of facilitating and coaching online.
In some cases, it is old IT policy - even IT people have great difficulty keeping up with the speed of development. In other cases, there are real limitations of living in parts of the world where electricity or the internet is not reliable or where bandwidth is too low for more advanced virtual collaboration solutions.
Redeeming the time, making us stronger
Since we had a lot more time on hand, we decided to redeem the time by focusing on three things:
1) Enhance the ways we engage with customers around the world. We used Donald Millers’ "Story Brand" philosophy and revamped our main website as well as most of the communication pieces. We also decided to take the bold step of creating a ‘build a program for your team’ page with full transparency on costing and time-commitment. In this time of crisis and uncertainty, we believe that knowing what you are getting yourself into from the outset is a more valuable way to communicate and engage with our clients. Have a look at the page and design your learning journey here…
2) We decided that virtual was to be the new normal and converted all our learning pieces into 90-minute sessions that can be mixed and matched into longer learning journeys. We realized that group learning is what we are good at and made the commitment to integrate the use of the Promote International Group Learning Platform into all our virtual solutions. The fact that 5 of our team members were certified on High-Performance Learning Journey Design (HPLJ) back in 2019 became crucial in moving in this direction with confidence
3) We also revisited our product development strategy and decided to fast-track several major product development initiatives because we now had extra time on hand.
When we facilitated longer learning journeys, we saw the power of using the Promote International Group Learning Platform as both an extended way to engage the learners and a way to hold learners accountable and keep them motivated. We are committed to focusing on group and not individual learners, and the Promote Learning Platform is uniquely designed with HPLJ and group learning in mind. It has increased average engagement by 30%, and the stories of real and sustainable change show that it is an invaluable component of designing virtual or blended learning journeys for our clients!
Two key-principles of the HPLJ philosophy proved to be invaluable to our success. First, we saw that stretching the learning journey over several weeks or months increased the Return on Investment (ROI). People are stressed, and that shortens their attention span – especially in online engagements. So, smaller bites of learning every week with the chance to apply it is a powerful way forward. We have seen the impact of stretching the learning journey over weeks or months and are committed to giving people a "Crawl-Walk-Run" – the second key-principle from the HPLJ philosophy – experience with each session.
The "Crawl" is a new insight method piece of knowledge. We try to introduce this through pre-work on the learning platform and give people a chance to prove they understand it through smaller pre-session activities. The live virtual session mainly focuses on the "Walk". We use the virtual session to dive into the new concept or insight; we then play around with it, practice it, and think deeper about it – all in the safety of a virtual learning environment where it is OK to mess up! This then is taken further into a "Run". The "Run" happens after the virtual session and is focused on helping the learner apply what they have learned and practice it in real-life (at home, amongst friends, or with colleagues).
We have a lot to learn about designing better "Crawl-Walk-Runs", but we have seen how powerful it is and are completely sold on and committed to this approach.
Thank you, Prof Brinkerhoff, for certifying us with your HPLJ method!
Looking forward; 2021 and beyond
“It is crazy out there!” or a fancy way of saying it: “The world is a lot more VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity)!”
Our KnowledgeWorkx team was excited to discover hope in the midst of crisis, and for us it came together in figuring out how to create ‘The Multiplier Effect’ on and through our team! An article on this topic will be published soon!
We hope that you will be inspired to look for the light in the tunnel, focus on the things you can control, and be a whole lot more human!
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.