January 25, 2022

What I’ve noticed as a coach during the COVID pandemic

Benedek Frank, Bravely Coach

As we begin the third year of a worldwide pandemic, we’re all longing for a “return to normal” in 2022. But the pre-COVID “normal” will likely never fully return, as organizations and employees alike have found things worth holding on to in our new ways of working. 

As I coached hundreds of clients from organizations around the world this past year, I began to notice behavioral patterns that my clients brought up over and over again. Many were surprised when I shared that others were in the same situation. These employees saw their issues as outliers, but from my perspective they were trends. So what are they, and how can you act on them if you experience them yourself? 

Read on to find out what these trends are, and how you can act them on in your own workplace.

#1. Onboarding is becoming a DIY activity.

Onboarding is a critical moment in the employee experience. Unfortunately, it’s also a casualty of our new hybrid environments. Many organizations have created a self-serve format, providing ready-to-consume training materials for new hires to view on their own time, on their own computers, in their own living rooms.

Hence one of the most common messages I get from new hires these days: “I feel like I’m on my own with onboarding; can you help me?” I don’t work there myself, so there’s only so much direct guidance I can offer in this situation. Besides, as a coach, it’s not my job to tell you what to do. What I can do, though, is work your mind a bit to help you decide how to find out what you should know and do.

Employee perspective

We tend to think that the company should tell us our objectives, or to want to plan in terms of defined 30-60-90 day timeframes. That’s when we find ourselves saying things like:

  • “I don’t know where to look for information.”
  • “I don’t know who to contact.”
  • “It’s so difficult to reach out to people virtually.”
  • “My manager has a really busy online calendar.”

These statements place responsibility with the external environment and people around us for not giving us the knowledge and processes to be properly onboarded. There is some truth to that idea, but you should start by asking yourself:

Questions

  1. What have you tried so far to answer your questions and overcome your difficulties and challenges?
  2. Do you know what evergreen resources the company has, such as an intranet or internal knowledge base?
  3. Is there an opportunity for you to have informal conversations with people across functions — to find out what they do, what their needs are, and how your work might intersect?
  4. If you had to let others know what you’ll do here, when/why they should come to you, and how you can help, what would you say? What’s your “elevator pitch?”

Manager perspective

As a manager, you might hope that after a grueling hiring process, your new direct report should be able to “hit the ground running” — especially if you told the recruiting team that you wanted someone “with experience” to minimize training time. After your first meeting with your new direct report, you may have shaken their hand, given them a big thumbs-up, and let them know that they can always find your calendar online if they need you. And of course, you’ve let them know that the onboarding training is handled by HR. The ball’s in their court now, right? Not so far, first ask yourself:

Questions

  1. If you were in the shoes of your new hire, would you be happy with your managerial approach?
  2. What else can you do to build trust?
  3. Do you and your team member know each other’s strengths and needs? How can you be sure?
  4. Have you been transparent and honest about how you prefer to work with others?

#2. We’re longing to belong.

With work-from-home as the norm, the office “buzz” (literally) is a thing of the past. While it may not seem like a big deal, the environment around us is indeed a very significant, and often overlooked element to how much we feel connected and “in the loop.”

The good news is, nothing that we’ve lost from our office lives is totally irreplaceable. That said, the water cooler / coffee machine chats you had, the times you strolled to a teammate’s desk to make sense of something together, and the serendipitous realizations that you and a colleague have support each other’s work in hidden ways… they were a shortcut to the foundations of belonging, which are much harder to achieve from behind your laptop, where your cat is the only other being in sight.

Employee perspective

Many of us hold the deep-seated belief that in order to get in touch with anyone in our team (or outside of it), we should have a specific project on the agenda. Otherwise, “why are we bothering them?” We also often feel that we should solve or overcome everything ourselves, and otherwise consider ourselves “failures.” And my all-time favorite: “I can’t ask for help. How 

will I get promoted if they find out I don’t know everything by myself?”

Questions

  1. Flip the scenario, and suppose you’re the person being reached out to. Would you find it strange or bothersome that someone wants to connect without a specific project in mind?
  2. What could come from you choosing to be vulnerable with others? (For instance, might it help others be vulnerable themselves?)
  3. What are the downsides of trying to do everything yourself?
  4. Let’s say people decided to stop asking you for help. What would be lost?

Manager perspective

Your job isn’t to take charge of every situation or to make every tough decision on your own. It’s to develop a team where everyone can belong and thrive — which, more often than not, means involving your direct reports and giving them opportunities to connect and shine. After all, they can only be engaged if you let them.

Questions

  1. What does your team really need from you?
  2. Where does the inclination to “do everything” come from? (If it’s a need to prove your worth to your team, how else can you do that?
  3. Where do coaching and empowerment fit into your leadership style?
  4. How might you learn more about how your team members feel about the topic of belonging in their current work environment?

#3. We want to work with mind readers (but we don’t).

When it comes to communication, it can seem easier to wait to be told what to do, who to contact, and what to say. The path of least resistance might work in the short-term, but it ultimately leads to a frustrating Groundhog Day of a life at work — same stuff, different day.

When you don’t communicate your needs, how can anyone know what they are? What reason does anyone have to believe you’re anything but perfectly content? That is, until the moment you quit, leaving your manager and HR saying, “We had no idea.”

Employee perspective

Wanting advancement, but not getting enough visibility with senior managers. Staying quiet in meetings because you don’t feel your input is welcome. Wondering how your performance is being assessed and how you measure up.

All of these experiences are frustrating and all too common. The fact of the matter is, none of them go away by themselves: you’ll have to create your own opportunities to resolve them by communicating what you need.

Questions

  1. What are the benefits of staying quiet for you? Do they outweigh the benefits of speaking up in your own interest?
  2. If you believe your manager or peers are already aware of your needs or concerns — how do you know?
  3. When you’ve spoken up in the past, what was the result?

Manager perspective

Most managers picked up their worst communication habits from their own managers. You can be the one to break the cycle by focusing on being the best people manager you can be and surrounding yourself with a strong team, whose development you can support and vice versa.

Questions

  1. What opportunities does your team have to share their feelings, needs, and questions?
  2. When did you last take account of each team member’s strengths and skills and where you could use them best?
  3. How does performance factor into your everyday conversations?
  4. What could happen if you spoke candidly about your own fears and insecurities as a leader?

Final thoughts

The above of course is not the whole story, nor is it the definitive truth of how we think and feel in certain situations – our reactions and intentions are as diverse as we are. I hope you can take it with a pinch of salt and add your own questions and responses to become the person you want to be in 2022, and build the life at work you want for yourself.. This is what coaching is about.

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