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An Old Model Finds New Relevance in a Post-Pandemic World

As consultants to workplaces across the Northwest, Cascade Employers Association has been helping workplaces adjust to change for decades. Recessions, restructurings, renovations, relocations all put a burden on employee connection and productivity. Now we are experiencing what may be the biggest disruption of our lifetime that is both testing and revealing the resilience of our teams.

A model that had proven very effective in helping teams embrace transition is the Bridges’ transition model that gives us some insight into how our people may be experiencing workplace disruption and change and what leaders can do to flatten the disruption curve.

We often push our employees to embrace the new realities and new identities that come with change. This push may neglect other important transition dynamics. The Bridges’ model encourages us to not only define New Beginnings for our teams, but also to acknowledge and process the things we are losing (the Endings) and, most important, support our employees as they navigate through the Neutral Zone.

Transition Model Illustration

During the last couple of months that have brought enormous disruption to our workplaces, our members have been sharing stories of how they are helping their employees cope and thrive in an ever-changing work world.

The process looks something like this:

  • Endings: Identify and discuss what is really ending? Decide and clarify what we have lost? Develop suggestions for a ritual or process for grieving these losses.
  • Neutral Zone: Acknowledge the anxiety and uncertainty that employees may be experiencing. The neutral zone may also bring about Creative and Resilient Responses? Look for them.
  • Beginnings: Define with clarity what the new way of doing things is. Are there Personal Mission Statements or a Temporary Rallying Cry that the team can circle around?

This development of a temporary rallying cry for our team can be both fun and rewarding. This may center around your organization’s mission, but may also be very time-targeted, as in “Let’s get through the week safely and with dignity”.

As with all models, the Bridges’ approach has some limitations. The processing and discussions that go with walking through these three stages implies linearity. And we all know that everyone processes change and transition differently. We find that other formal and concrete change models can help ground us as we work through transitions with our teams.

How is your work group coping with all the disruption? Please let us know your challenges and success stories.

You may also find some of our upcoming training of interest, currently presented live online:

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Cat Adoption Team Image with Logo

With over 20 years of experience and more than 50,000 adoptions, this organization knows cats! Did you know:

  1. In the late ‘90s, county shelters in the Portland area were overrun with lost, stray, and surrendered cats. Euthanasia rates were high. Adoption numbers were low. Homeless cats didn’t have many options. On May 1, 1998, with 35 cats for adoption and a dream to save more lives, a small private shelter opened its doors. That shelter was Cat Adoption Team (CAT).
  2. By the end of its first year of operation, CAT had found homes for 219 cats. The adoption numbers and shelter population more than doubled in 1999, and during the following year, CAT celebrated its 1,000th adoption. In 2002, CAT became the first animal shelter in the Pacific Northwest to open an onsite veterinary hospital.
  3. In the mid-2000s, CAT upgraded to stainless steel kennels. Later, in 2014, they further updated this housing to give twice as much space to each cat. In 2019, a full kennel upgrade project was completed, increasing safety, improving disease control and appearance, and reducing noise in the shelter.
  4. Today, CAT is a nationally recognized, professional nonprofit. Their multiple adoption rooms, onsite hospital, private intake area, and offices fill about 16,000 square feet — all in the same building where they got their start!
  5. Working collaboratively with other animal shelters, rescue groups, and veterinarians — and with the support of cat lovers, adopters, volunteers, and donors — CAT has helped transform the Portland metro area into one of the safest in the nation for homeless cats.

Cascade is proud to feature Cat Adoption Team, now helping over 3,000 homeless cats and kittens find loving new families each year.

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Company Values at the Forefront As We All Adjust

I don’t know about you, but in the past few weeks I have received about a ton and a half of advice about how to cope with all the change and stressors that have hit us recently. To be honest, I am also guilty of adding to the advice pile. Convinced that humans can absorb only so much advice on coping and balancing, I am experiencing for myself and witnessing in others a point where, like a saturated sponge, people just stop absorbing.

All of this advice is, of course, well-intentioned. I suppose in a crisis we naturally jump to some kind of support-the-team mode.

  • We are encouraged to adapt to the “new normal,” although what we are experiencing is neither.
  • We are encouraged to keep regular schedules.
  • We are encouraged to keep up on our sleep and exercise (I have a co-worker waiting for delivery of her storable stationary bike).
  • We are encouraged to reconnect with our family members.
  • We are encouraged to “Balance Work and Family” as if each has had some equal weighting in our social-emotional worlds. Somehow we are virtually in each other’s homes on a daily basis though ZOOM meetings, virtual happy hours, Facetime. I now know the distinct bark of my co-workers’ dogs and the rhythms of their children’s learning schedules.

To be sure, we all need to take care of our physical, intellectual, emotional, social and spiritual selves. Not sure we need a bombardment of advice on how to do it.

And what about the teams we are part of?

In the last month what we have witnessed in our Association Membership is a revealing of what strong companies are all about. Whatever individual adjustments we all make, the good, bad and ugly of the culture that we have developed is shining through. Not my job to judge these, although I am pretty good at it. We are now observing that many organizations are finding their “Best Selves.”

As we temper the therapizing, perhaps we will get back to what makes great workplaces great. Borrowing from Lencioni’s The Advantage, here are some of the more important organizational questions for any day, perhaps especially for times of challenge and transition:

  • Why do we exist?
  • How do we behave?
  • What do we do (what business are we in)?
  • How will we succeed?
  • What is the most important thing right now?
  • Who on the team must do what and by when?

This massive work-from-home experiment may be a blip, just a temporary thing. Maybe not. But, in this truly personal and invitation-to-reflection time, I am leaning toward turning off my email advice stream a couple of times a week. I may not need therapy right now. Perhaps just being quiet and reflecting upon what is important for my teams might do.

I have a hunch that those workplaces that have given voice in the past to self-care, balance, and wellness will reconnect well with their employees throughout these COVID-19 changes. I also have a hunch that those workplaces that have neglected self-care, balance and wellness may try to address these concerns and, perhaps, wish they had started a bit sooner.

Please continue to let us know what is working for you to keep your team going. We have been witnessing Cascade Employers Association members being their absolute best selves.

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Before you say you believe in someone, before you encourage them to pursue their goals, it’s worth remembering: They need more than your words.

Passively believing in someone is easy; there are a lot of leaders who do this. That’s why actively believing in people is a differentiator.

Actively believing in someone means you:

  • Amplify their strengths
  • Ensure they’re accountable to higher standards
  • Offer constructive feedback (even when it’s hard)
  • Give them the tools to do what you believe they can do
  • Re-connect them to their purpose (when they’re doubting themselves)
  • Acknowledge their accomplishments (publicly and privately)

Believing in people isn’t the act of telling them so. Believing in someone is a course of actions.

Who do you believe in? And do your actions show it?

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