Uncertain Times: 3 Questions Your Organization Must Be Asking

Life has a way of circling back on itself, testing to see what we’ve learned in the process. With scenarios changing again, leaders like you are concerned about sliding backward.

You aren’t alone. As everyone grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic and its many implications, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Perhaps you felt you were just getting out of the metaphorical woods, only to find the path ahead circling back into the dark forest.

In times of trouble, I often return to Harry Potter and his wise wizard friends. Don’t laugh, there’s some pretty good business advice scattered into those pages! Besides, if you've read our post about drawing business philosophy from “The Prince,” this type of non-traditional thinking is on brand for us. 

In book four, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, when the rise of the Dark Lord Voldemort looms, Hagrid says:

No good sittin’ worryin’ abou’ it. What’s comin’ will come, and we’ll meet it when it does.

As we learn more, and you gather information to make the best decisions for you and your organization, now can be a great time to get clear on three big questions. Sometimes the only way out of the forest is taking one step at a time.

Who are we and what are we doing here?

A lot has changed in 18 months. How might your perspective of your mission, values, and purpose have shifted as a result? Maybe you’ve had organizational clarity that’s guided you through the first storms. Or maybe it’s time to get clearer on both why you exist and who you have in the room.

If more clarity would be better, ask yourself and your team questions like:

  • What dent were we making in the universe before the pandemic? 
  • How much are we called to continue to make that dent, and what else is calling to us now?
  • Who were we serving before, and who do we want to serve going forward?
  • What matters most to us? 
  • What has stayed the same, and what is asking to be different?

The key here is to reconnect with what’s made you great until now, and surface what could be even better going forward.

How do we get together?

Leaders around the world continue to work to create supportive structures that keep their teams engaged, connected, and productive. As you consider what’s next, a good place to start is to ask the question, “What does the business need?” and actively challenge the assumptions you have about what’s possible.

For example: If you are a manufacturer, does your business truly need your people to be in the same place at the same time to get work done? Maybe your production line truly requires all hands on deck. But what about preventive maintenance — could that be done after hours or on weekends? What other work might be accomplished outside of the current constraints and still meet the financial needs of the business?

An example to share: At the beginning of the summer, our team made a back-to-office plan that seemed to be going OK. Last week an employee shared that she’s feeling anxious about being at the office. Feeling vulnerable, she asked for an adjustment in her schedule, and we made a plan to help her feel safer and ensure the work gets done.

At Kynship, we’re fortunate to have flexibility in our work — your business may or may not be able to accommodate specific needs of employees while still meeting business needs.

Also, I recommend you temporarily suspend the “I have to treat everyone the same” standard for the time being. Instead of not doing something that works for the business and some employees because you can’t do it for everyone, consider doing “prototypes” with people who have specific needs and balancing the burden others may end up carrying in other ways.

Whatever you do, share your collective plan to keep people safe and the business moving in the right direction. Your staff and your customers need to know how you’re getting together, for now.

Where are we going now?

If this question hasn’t already been said out loud, it’s definitely bouncing around in people’s minds. The simple answer is: If we’re going to go somewhere together, best figure out that destination together.

At the beginning of the pandemic, our team coached people through plans that were just two to four weeks long. We encouraged people to set a measurable goal, make progress, check-in, and repeat until they could squint forward enough to establish the next milestone. 

While the skies were clearer over the last few months, right now the fog is closing in and many people may need to plan shorter timelines to have enough certainty to commit to what’s next. Whether you’re planning in quarters or making targets for the year ahead, know you can continue to adjust as needed. You’ve pivoted before, and you can do so again, perhaps less painfully this time.

Here are some questions we find helpful:

  • If we had everything we needed right now, where would we want to go? How much of that future could we make happen today / in the next few weeks / in the next few months?
  • What’s the first thing we would see that would let us know we’re on the right track?
  • What rumble strips — that notched pavement on the sides of highways — would we experience that would let us know we’re going off course? And how would we course-correct?

If you’re a fellow Harry Potter fan, you’ll know in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry’s a year older and again facing danger. To reassure him, Hagrid offers some more Hagrid-y wisdom: “It’s changing out there. Just like last time. There’s a storm coming, Harry. And we all best be ready.”

No one actually knows what’s coming next, and hopefully these questions can help you and your team prepare.