How many of us were complaining about our mundane circumstances before COVID-19 disrupted our daily lives? I admit to being guilty of this. I wished I had more time to spend with my family. I wished I had more time to write a new book. I wished I had time to thoroughly review my business model in light of the increasing prevalence of digitalisation. I was deeply dissatisfied with the state of things. Oddly enough, now that it’s a month into the Circuit Breaker (stay-home law) here in Singapore, I find myself amongst many others fearing that things will never go back to normal. Why do I long to go back to something I was unhappy with in the first place?
The uncertain future of our economy and business structures propose that we may have to get used to work-from-home (WFH) for an indefinite future. Daily life, as the government has warned, will not be the same immediately even once the Circuit Breaker is lifted. We’ve got to get used to a new way of life in order to survive the present economic upheaval. Many institutions have termed this as the “new normal”. How then can we accept this change psychologically?
The Bridges Transition Model is an apt framework for helping us cope mentally with the flux of changes all around us. This model identifies 3 stages an individual experiences during change: Ending What Currently Is, The Neutral Zone and The New Beginning.
According to Bridges, transition is the inner psychological process that people go through as they internalise and come to terms with the change, which in this case is COVID-19. As leaders, empathy is key to supporting people through transition. Let’s take a look at practical ways we can help others embrace this new normal.
Ending What Currently Is
The paradoxical truth is that every new beginning starts with an ending. Leaders have to help people identify what are the losses that come with endings and process it to a place of acceptance. It could be a job, freedom to go where you please, a conducive work environment or even a loved one to the virus. Leaders help people learn to let go, but leaders also remind them of hope and a greater purpose. What are the things we can be grateful for in this time? How can we turn this disappointment into opportunity?
The Neutral Zone
The transition that occurs after we let go. There will be a period of limbo where the old has passed but the new isn’t fully operational yet. Think of it as a test-drive or prototype. It is when critical psychological re-alignments and re-patternings take place. With these cognitive adjustments, our identities will at the very least be marginally altered. People need time to explore and learn new processes. Some will work and some won’t, but the new normal we all speak of will be a result of trial-and-error. As the implications of this pandemic are unprecedented, be patient with others as we all need time to navigate confusion and distress. It is important that a leader recognises that The Neutral Zone is fertile soil for new beginnings to emerge.
"The essence of life takes place in the neutral zone phase of transition. It is in that interim spaciousness that all possibilities, creativity and innovative ideas can come to life and flourish." - Susan Bridges
The New Beginning
Finally, the last stage of the transition process. This is where we fully embrace new understandings, values and attitudes. With this comes a new identity. Perhaps you will be forced to re-skill and upgrade yourself in order to remain employable. Or maybe you will leave corporate life for the first time since you started working to take care of your children. Or start pursuing your long-neglected entrepreneurial idea you think would help the world right now. Whatever your new beginning is, remember that you are a leader - yes, leading yourself counts too. Leaders will take on their new role understanding their purpose, role and contribute effectively. This is a chance for all of us to reset and renew ourselves.
For Singaporeans come 1st June 2020, we will need to know our must-haves and weeded out the nice-to-haves in order to know what we’re bringing into The New Beginning.
Here are some lessons I’ve learned during this time and will be bringing into my New Beginning:
- Only have relevant and necessary people present in a meeting to make decision-making more efficient.
- Workers need to have a flexible and scalable unified platform of communication, preventing a Silo Mentality, where departments or management groups do not share information, goals, tools, priorities and processes with others.
- Companies need to capitalise on the advantages of technology and fully learn its capabilities in order to remain competitive and functional in times of crises that require physical separation.
Each individual’s duration of the 3 stages of transition will be different. Take time to fully grieve over the losses, adapt quickly in the interim to gain clarity and finally synthesise all you’ve learned and processed into your new normal.
To guide you and your company during this time, Pace is offering virtual coaching sessions tailored to your needs. For more information, contact email@example.com.