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Bringing the Conversation Back to Strengths, Not to Normal

During Gallup’s first-ever Virtual Summit “Gallup At Work 2020” on CliftonStrengths, there was a lot of talk about how the global COVID-19 pandemic has shifted our normal for the foreseeable future and the impact that it has had on organizations.

It was almost as if COVID-19 had put the entire world on hold in the beginning, essentially stopping all business for some companies. Many entrepreneurs are still struggling to adjust to this new reality of business in 2020; a reality that involves isolation, restrictions, and working from home for the majority of the population not considered the frontline.

And so, at the Virtual Summit, most of the sessions and discussion groups that I attended were focused on how we can get things back to the way they were before. How can we pivot back to what we already know works best to achieve success? How can we get our employees to increase their productivity at home so that we can get back into a period of growth? How can we become functional in this current state of dysfunction?

While these are all valid points, I personally feel that this type of conversation misses the boat completely.

Before we can even begin to talk about getting to a place of expansion and continuous growth within our businesses, we need to take a step back to reflect on what this crisis has ultimately taught us: that most of our current models of business are unsustainable.

I find it quite surprising that we haven’t talked at all about business sustainability. Or about business durability. Why is growth still the key metric in determining the success of a business during a pandemic?

Shouldn’t the discussion shift towards building companies that can withstand any hardship, while still being able to support their staff and clients financially for six to twelve months? Six to twelve months is the timeline recommended by most business models, and requested by most banks, for businesses to be able to continue their activities without revenue in a time of unaccounted for crisis - i.e. Covid-19, so this idea shouldn’t be too unfathomable.

I believe that durability should be the new business standard moving forward, and that the Strengths of our employees can help us get there. True durability is not only the capacity to survive hard times, but to also be a thriving business during these down periods.

Right now, the reality is that many employees are struggling to balance work with their newfound pandemic life — if they are still working. They’re happy to no longer spend two to three hours on their commute to work, but when asked how they’re taking advantage of this extra time in their day, most can’t give an answer. What most people fail to realize is that this pandemic is very demanding of our energy due to so many conflicting priorities. Some employees may suddenly find themselves juggling extra family responsibilities: having their kids home all day, supporting others in the community, or helping to care for their elderly parents or at-risk loved ones. While others might need more personal time to process the effects of this crisis and are struggling to care for their mental well-being. The collective anxiety over the unknown, being felt globally at this time, is draining.

We need to remember that everyone’s experience and needs throughout this social and economic crisis are unique and that work is, understandably, not everyone’s number one priority right now.

With all the extra pressures that employees are facing, is it really necessary to be adding on to their stress by asking them to continue working 40 hours a week from home? Is the number of hours worked, a legacy of the industrial era, still the mark of an engaged and performing employee? The answer to both these questions should be no. There is simply too much going on in our lives (personal, work, community, etc.) for us to be working in the same capacity that we were working before. Plus, we now have the rare opportunity to revamp the ideology behind the 40-hour workweek: by changing the focus to results rather than presence.

Tim Ferriss sent ripples through the corporate world when he first released his best-selling self-help book “The 4-hour Workweek.” Challenging the necessity of being productive for 40 hours a week, Tim advocates doing the grunt work of putting systems and teams into place now so that you can reap the benefits of only having to work four hours a week later. Millennials are also big believers in having a healthy work-life balance. Having seen their parents’ generation prioritize work over most other things, millennials argue that there’s more to life than just work — and are they really wrong?

Do we really need to continue to punch in virtually for “40 hours a week” so that we can keep up the appearance of being productive? If you are a good fit for the work that you’re doing, and are able to deliver the results in less time, should you be penalized? Should we not be focusing on results, and the capacity for everyone to achieve those results? Should we not be looking at how we can help our teams not only to be great at work, but also at home? What if we could help everyone get more done in less time, so that we can focus on the other areas of our lives that we’ve been taking for granted.

CliftonStrengths has proven time and time again through studies that you are at your best when you follow your natural innate talents. Top tier athletes and performers are public examples of this: they focus their entire lives around areas that they have a passion and talent for, which in turn energizes them and makes them perform at a higher level. It is through this approach that they are able to achieve incredible results that allow them to have regional, national and international recognition.

Instead of focusing on how many hours our employees are working a week, we should be looking at how their Strengths can be used to allow them to perform their work at a higher level. How can we support them and encourage them to perform at their best, in the three to five hours per day that they are now able to dedicate to work? How can we work together to figure out how to approach their work in a way that quickly puts them into a state of flow, of being “in the zone”?

Now’s not the time for everyone to work harder at getting back to the same number of hours we worked before, it’s the time for us to all work smarter. Instead of forcing employees to show up and stay logged in, in order to justify their hours, let’s take away some of the pressure by helping them complete their work in a manner that they can excel at, using an approach that is true to them. Let’s help support our teams, our colleagues, and our friends so that work doesn’t just feel like another task that they need to complete, but rather a time for them to be energized and motivated. Let’s create an environment where they see work as being a space where they want to be, because they can be themselves.

As Strengths enthusiasts, Strengths coaches, Strengths champions, and even Strengths evangelists, I believe that we need to bring the importance and the impact of being Strengths-based back to the forefront. We need to help those who are struggling to deliver, who are struggling with the situation or with conflicting demands, by using their Strengths to discover how they need to approach all aspects of their lives. And we need to do it in a way that respects both the individual and this new reality.

Helping our teams, our colleagues, our neighbours, our loved ones and our friends should be our priority right now, and supporting the discovery of and the use of Strengths is one of the easiest and most effective ways to do this. It’s time to focus on how people can be better in these new circumstances — which will lead us to a new way of operating and living — instead of trying to find ways to bring people back to the way they were.

I sincerely hope we will find a solution to this worldwide pandemic. But in the meantime, and especially should this last for many more months, let’s help people understand what they are living, discover how to concentrate on who they already are, and understand how they can be at their best in order to manage all of the challenges that we’re currently facing. Let’s help people, employees, businesses, organizations and governments not only just get through these trying times, let’s help them thrive over the long term. Let’s create durability in our approach.

After all, our greatest potential for success comes from understanding our talents, claiming who we are, exercising these gifts and using them every day.

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