“…the more unexpected something is, the more there is to learn from it.” Michael J Fox.
2020 was unexpected. March 15th was not circled on anyone’s calendar as the day that life as we knew it would cease to exist. As the year progressed, employees were furloughed and businesses shut down completely. 2020 also forced to look at our systems that discriminate and create inequities for others based on the color of one’s skin. And as the pandemic continued with no end in sight, our communities struggled, people gathered together to protest violence and inequities, families stayed physically distant for safety, first responders worked relentlessly, and still we got sick and lost loved ones. No one was immune from the key events of 2020.
The workplace and business community were forced to either pivot to a new normal or weather the challenges. Were any of us prepared? Despite the fact that my years with FEMA have taught me that organizations should have a Business Continuity Plan (see below) just in case of disasters or interruptions to operations, connecting that type of thinking to a pandemic most likely never entered the realm of planning and thought. However, if we can glean anything from Michael J Fox, 2020 has been a year to learn from. 2020 provided the opportunity to question why we do what we do and the way we do it.
I have seen several friends, family and colleagues use 2020 as an opportunity to take a risk by changing careers, going back to school, or moving to a new state. If 2020 had been a “normal” year, the risk of change might have been too great. 2020 was the year where it felt less risky since there wasn’t really an alternative.
Others have thrived in their present careers/jobs. Mortgage lenders are working with clients to refinance or purchase homes due to the low rates. Those in delivery and online businesses are working non-stop -- 60, 80 hours or more a week. And our tireless grocery workers keeping us fed (well maybe too well fed!) by showing up every day, cleaning and stocking shelves, and bagging our groceries.
Tech, entertainment, and office based businesses have had to rise to the challenges of this year. Yet, the larger the organization, sometimes the harder it is to change. 2020 provided the opportunity for companies of all sizes to push the “pause” button and take the time to internally make those changes due to necessity and vision. As one CEO of a PBJ top 100 Fastest Growing Companies shared, 2020 allowed for the “restructuring of the organization in a much shorter amount of time” because of the interruption that 2020 offered. Her team had the time and motivation during 2020 to “do differently” and beginning January 2021, that is exactly what they will be doing. Other CEO’s and community leaders have generously shared their strategies for keeping employees motivated and their doors open. Another PBJ top 100 CEO shared that “finding ways to celebrate good things…making each other better” as ongoing cultural values that sustained them during 2020 and into 2021.
If 2020 has shown us anything, it is that we are resilient and can rise to the challenge. This doesn’t mean that there are quick fixes. Words are important but actions are what demonstrate true change. From Majora Carter, once listed as one of the 100 Most Creative People in Business by Fast Company magazine, “If we are going to be part of the solution, we have to engage the problems.”
The calendar has flipped to 2021. There is now hope that didn’t exist 8 months ago in regards to the pandemic. But engaging in the real problems is where the hard work continues. What we learned from the unexpected of 2020 can help us better navigate and do better in 2021 and beyond.
With gratitude and a wish to you for a prosperous, healthy and Happy New Year. Most of all, take time for self-care and to just breathe. There will always be time to explore the unexpected...
Sunny E. Sassaman Conflict Management and Dispute Resolution Consultant