01 April 2020

Managing the COVID-19 Transitions



"It's not the change that gets you, it's the transition."

--Dr. William Bridges


At the beginning of recent video and conference calls those in positions of corporate leadership or direct supervision are asking their colleagues a very important question--"How are you doing?"

It's a personal inquiry indicating a level of human concern that underlies the health and strength of our relationships in spite of social distancing.   

Images posted online or in print publications are a reminder of how a younger generation is now in positions of top management or owners of companies.  They feel responsible for the health and safety of their employees during this global crisis, dealing with a threat to millions of livelihoods that is not of their own making.

Dealing with sudden adversity

Professor Marvin Minsky from MIT used to say, "We don't know how to do something unless we know how to do it more than way." 

One example of Dr. Minsky's idea is Ventec Life Systems teaming with General Motors to produce up to 10,000 critical care ventilators per month beginning in May of this year.  That's when manufacturing will be ramped up at a currently closed GM plant in Kokomo, Indiana.  This is a partnership between Ventec's technology and GM's assembly experience. 

While the medical and scientific professions seek to slow the spread and overtake the deadly virus known as COVID-19, we must concern ourselves with how to go about our life and business in new ways under safety guidelines from local, state and federal officials.  (Centers for Disease Control Guidelines)  

For now, business strategy (e.g., Ventec/GM), and public health policy are inextricably linked.

A disappearance of the known

The headlines are about infectious disease and its economic impact.  However, the underlying story is about the serious loss of what four weeks ago was taken for granted--our health; a job in a robust economy; the ability to travel at will for business or leisure; or attend a worship service.  

How about watching March Madness or the Masters Tournament on television?  Not this spring.

Most of what I learned about change--and the transitions that follow--come from the late Dr. William Bridges. The teaching was theoretical in the beginning but soon turned practical shedding light on personal experiences.  

Change, Dr. Bridges said, was external and transition internal.  He used the terms "endings" and "beginnings" not stop and start.  A "neutral zone" was inserted for processing and renewal.  And his writings remind us that everyone goes through a transition at their own speed.


Bridges Transition Model | William Bridges Associates

If the external change is losing loved ones, access to freedoms, or work itself, then the internal transitions to be addressed are the emotional and psychological responses to those extremely difficult, sometimes heartbreaking developments, that follow.  

All this in the context of a global shock to economic, social and health care systems that arrived in days, not months or years.  Who had a global pandemic in their contingency plans?  

One way to gain insight into what people are going through, especially small business owners and their workers, is to understand transition or what's going on inside in response to transformative change.  How does someone who was cutting hair days just a few days ago, but can no longer do so, pay their bills?  How does an enterprise make payroll without an income?

How fast will appropriated government funds get to the neediest persons and businesses?  

Finding ways to deal with those realities is necessary in order for individuals and families to recover and move ahead with their lives.  There's nothing easy about succeeding at that task but the right actions speak louder than words.  

Crossing a great divide

In the coming weeks and months, living under varying public policy guidelines, consider the following for personal or corporate discussions--

-What's our assessment of the current crisis, and what does it mean for our business or nonprofit? And keep asking that question. Know as much as is possible what's happening on the ground.

-What are we losing?  

-What's not over?  What should we think about holding onto?  

-How much of "normal" is likely to return and when can we know?

-In the midst of a crisis, how does one think with a clear mind?

-What are the more reliable sources of information for our business and employees?  

-How do we communicate with clarity and consistency and how frequently?  

A crisis requires moral leadership

During a period of reordering, it's our responsibility to identify and keep alive those things of greatest value such as one's faith; commitment to family; good character; a strong work ethic; and service to others.  These values are irreplaceable.   

As in all catastrophes, including outbreaks and wars, we'll get through this by showing courage and a selfless spirit, both of which are inspiringly on display in doctors, nurses, first responders, and others who serve at great risk for the benefit of all.    

Stay well.


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