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Supporting Your Team During Times of Unprecedented Change – Sector Leadership Spot

April 13, 2020

By Monisha Kapila, ProInspire

Over the past month, people across the United States have realized we are in a moment of unprecedented change as we face the Coronavirus pandemic. Human services organizations are at the frontlines of this pandemic as our country’s key institutions solely focused on making communities stronger. So how should you support your team during this complex, stressful period where their work is needed more than ever?

At ProInspire, we have been using this moment to create space to support each other, shift work responsibilities considering many unknowns, and give ourselves grace to pause work on some things that may no longer be possible or important. You can see a recording of a webinar we recently hosted about supporting your team during times of unprecedented change here, and sign up for additional lunch and learns here.

Here are some ideas for what leaders at all levels can do to support their teams in this time of unprecedented change.

> Live into your values of equity and inclusion: COVID-19 is highlighting inequities and structural racism that have long underlied the work of human services organizations. Our response will only be effective if it includes the places and the people left out by our current systems. Everything we do now must take into account the issues that communities were facing before the pandemic.

    • Who is at-risk based on their work or housing conditions?
    • Who has access to health care? How does this amplify existing health inequities?
    • Which jobs are most vulnerable to the economic hardships that our country is just starting to grapple with?

The work we do as nonprofits, and our relationships with our communities, has taught us that a focus on equity must be front and center. We also know that anti-Asian racism, ageism, and ableism are showing up in rhetoric and actions. Organizations should shift to more inclusive and equitable decision-making. This includes considering the racial equity impact of decisions, lifting the voices of people with less formal authority, ensuring that community is part of creating the solutions, and giving staff more autonomy. Human services organizations need to allocate resources and make decisions in ways that align with our vision for the future: a fairer, more just America.

> Workplaces are community, and we need community now more than ever: As individuals implement social distancing measures, we realize how much we crave social connectedness. Workplaces are one of the most important communities we have in today’s society, and creating a place of emotional safety is critical. This means adjusting work policies, encouraging people to share their fears, and recognizing that individuals may need different things from their community. Leaders should increase the level of communication, expand and establish new working norms, and collaboratively create shared outcomes for what work is needed in this period. Treating each other with humanity in the workplace is critical, especially in moments of crisis.

> Recognize the psychological process people go through in times of change: In our work with organizations going through major change (for example, a CEO transition or race equity change process), we often reference the Bridges Transition Model, which helps organizations and individuals understand and more effectively work through the personal and human side of change. According to Bridges research, change is external – it happens to you even if you don’t agree with it, and it can happen very quickly (as we are experiencing right now). Transition is internal – it’s the psychological process people go through as they come to terms with the new situation. Transition happens inside of your mind when you face change, and can happen slowly over time. Leaders need to show empathy and recognize that each individual will go through their own transition to adapt to our new reality.

> Support people through the “messy middle” of change: According to Bridges, the neutral zone is an in-between time when the old is gone but the new isn’t fully operational. We refer to this as the “messy middle,” which is certainly where we are in organizations and as a society right now. During this stage, people feel disoriented, unclear and anxious over the future. With Coronavirus, this is amplified by the many societal implications – Will there be a recession? What if someone I care about gets sick? Can I afford the health care costs if someone gets sick? How can I work when my kids are not in school? During this period, it is really important to open up regular communication across the organization. Individuals in positions of authority should model with authenticity and humility in communication. Informal communication is also critical during this time of change and remote work. It is okay to admit that you don’t have the answers, but share information often and name the anxiety that people may be feeling.

> Prioritize safety and self care, not productivity: American work culture, shaped by white supremacy culture and capitalism, prioritizes productivity and efficiency. This is a time where many organizations need to acknowledge that less productivity is okay. The constant state of stress and uncertainty literally triggers emotional and physical reactions in our brain. People do not have the emotional bandwidth to work at the same pace that they may be used to, and that is okay. “Essential workers” in human services organizations are facing additional stressors given their exposure to the virus, often without the personal protective equipment that is needed. Leaders should prioritize safety and self-care as a workplace norm, and prepare for the long arc of this pandemic. Ask people to prioritize their self care, model that yourself, and talk about why mental health is particularly important during times of stress.

It is hard to imagine how life will change when we are on the other side of this pandemic, but I hope that this will support shifts towards more humanity, empathy, and justice in our communities.

Monisha Kapila is the Founder and CEO of ProInspire, a nonprofit focused on activating leadership to accelerate equity in the nonprofit sector. She also serves on the Board of Directors of the National Human Services Assembly.