“COVID-19 is like running a marathon with no finish line. In any feat of endurance, humans want to see the goal – and in the pandemic, we’re not there yet, despite the breakthroughs in vaccine research. Staying in the moment might be better for us than fantasizing about a future just beyond reach.”
A cruel and pointless head game.
When I was a young soldier, we were sent out an endurance test. Fully loaded with our rucksack and equipment, we walked about 40 kilometres through the dark of night.
Exhaustion overtook us, feet burned inside our boots, skin was rubbed raw by straps and webbing, and everything hurt.
But we knew what we had to do, and step by step, the kilometres clicked by, and we closed in on the finish line.
At the finish line, we saw the back of the truck that was to carry us back to camp.
Our pace quickened as we drew on the reserve energy required to get to that idling truck.
Just as you could almost touch the truck, it revved up and raced away from us.
We knew it was going to be hard when we started. We knew the goal was clearly defined. But when the finish line suddenly moved, the impact was heartbreaking and completely demoralizing.
The truck stopped about 100 metres away, and we loaded up and went home.
It was a cruel and pointless head game.
COVID is that heartless sergeant who controlled that stupid truck. As we close in on a shutdown date, the finish line suddenly moves, leaving us heartbroken and demoralized.
What is a Leader to do?
In light of spiking rates of coronavirus infections, hospital admissions and deaths, the emotional pressure and economic pressure are soaring as people worry about losing their jobs, paying their rent, and protecting their health. The barrage of news, questions on how to safely get groceries, and fears for relatives are deeply distressing.
It is time to dig deep and tap into your reserves of energy and double down on being an exceedingly human leader.
What you measure is the single strongest signal to your people of what you care about.
Given today’s challenges, here is a simple set of recommendations.
If you want to show them that you care about their motivation, you can measure it by.
- Holding a reflection huddle with your team once a week and ask: What did I learn this week? What impact did I have this week? And what do I want to learn next week?
- Explaining the why behind the work of your team.
- Considering how you’ve designed your team’s roles. Does everyone have a space to play and experiment? Finally, find out where each team member wants to be in two years and develop a plan to help them reach their potential.
Then, discuss what drives their motivation and what would maximize it in the weeks to come.
Make sure your weekly routines are not only focused on tactical work. Half of your week should be focused on adaptive performance, where there is no plan to follow, but instead, experimentation and problem-solving.
A weekly rhythm
The Harvard Business School Review recommends this simple weekly rhythm for remote teams:
Monday: Hold a performance cycle meeting for the team that covers the following.
- What impact did we have last week, and what did we learn?
- What commitments do we have this week? Who is on point for each?
- How can we help each other with this week’s commitments?
- What are the areas where we should experiment to improve performance this week?
- What experiments will we run, and who is on point for each?
Tuesday-Thursday: Have at least one individual meeting with each of your team members. To help motivate your employees, focus on assisting them in tackling challenges that are a slight stretch. You can also coordinate small group meetings in which employees can collaborate on the week’s experiments and tackle problems together.
Friday: Focus on reflection. Showcase and gather input on the experiments of the week. This might include presentations from project groups during which team members share metrics and insights. It’s also important to check in on each other’s motivation and progress. As the leader, set the example by asking people how they are feeling: Where did they struggle with their motivation, and where did they thrive?
Some people believe that COVID will be impacting how we live our lives and do our work until 2022, the goalposts keeping moving further away.
The finish line is a mirage on the horizon.
It isn’t a cruel and pointless head game; It is reality.
In this reality, consider the Buddhist practice of Five Remembrances, which says:
Knowing when that the end will come is clarifying.
Counting the hours is paralyzing. – The Globe & Mail.