Managing Towards Resilience and Results: Create Your “PAC”

Published: October 21, 2020
Estimated reading time: 5 min


Is this season of Black Mirror over yet?

There’s a reason why some of the creepiest scenes in movies are quiet and ripe with anticipation, like the light scraping of a spoon against a teacup—even if what comes next isn’t that scary, the waiting is excruciating.

You might be feeling similarly about this election season (rising dread, uncertainty about what’s around the corner). Of course, it’s not just about election day and the weeks to follow—2020 has been a horror show, unleashing a series of traumatic events that have (unsurprisingly) hit the most marginalized communities hardest.

As managers, we can’t end the pandemic or undo racial and intergenerational trauma, but we can influence how our staff experience this moment. We also can’t let fear get in the way of showing up—not just for our staff, but also for BIPOC communities, Black and brown students and families, queer and trans people, people with disabilities, immigrants and refugees, poor and working-class people, and the planet. We owe it to ourselves, our teams, and our communities to manage towards resilience and results.

At TMC, we’re using PAC (see what we did there?) to get us through this election season.

Purpose

In times of crisis, having something to work towards—a direction to go in—helps us stay focused, aligned, and in motion. (Re)establish purpose by connecting individual and collective actions to a goal or outcome.

Organization and Team Individual
Headline The role we are playing to serve our people. The contribution I am making.
Questions to ask
  • Why are we doing what we’re doing?
  • What do we want to achieve? For whom?
  • What do our most marginalized community members need us to do?
  • What does success look like through this period?
  • Why am I here (in this role / at this organization / in this movement)?
  • What are my priorities (this week / this month / this quarter)?
Ways to reinforce your purpose (don’t set it and forget it!) Repeat it often:

  • “Our job right now is to create a learning environment where Black and brown children can thrive.”
  • “We’re here to make sure that undocumented youth are seen and heard at every level of society.”

Co-create a team “vision board.” Use quotes, images, and words to depict what it will look like and feel like to have achieved your purpose.

Share progress and celebrate wins: “I’m so excited about the impact that we’ve been making. In the last week alone, we paid $X in fines and fees to restore the right to vote to returning citizens.”

  • Include the week’s or months’ priorities at the top of your check-in agenda
  • At your next team meeting, invite team members to bring a photo, quote, or object that helps them feel grounded in their why.
  • Create a brief 1-sentence purpose statement (you should be able to fit it on a post-it!).

Agency

To be okay, humans need to feel a sense of control over our environment. This year, many of us have experienced a loss of control—from how we work, to where we can go, to who we spend time with. For some people, our sense of choice was compromised long before the pandemic. While “agency” is typically about individual choice, entire communities have experienced disempowerment because of oppressive systems like racism, colonialism, and ableism. For many people on the margins, the feeling of not having control over our lives runs deeper than the inconvenience of not being able to go to the hair salon.

When leaders support staff agency, they not only reduce harm by using a trauma-informed response, they also help to create conditions for their people to thrive.

Managers can think about supporting staff agency in three ways:

  • Work — support staff to decide what to focus on (go back to purpose!). At your next check-in, ask: what are your top two priorities for the next two weeks?
  • Time — because of the pandemic, many managers have already become more flexible about schedules and hours. If you haven’t already, consider making election day a paid holiday (if you can) and/or offering additional time off. At TMC, we’re also adding three personal days between now and the end of the year for staff to take as needed.
  • Energy — be mindful of the mental or emotional toll an activity might take and find ways to either mitigate emotional drain or increase restoration. Pay special attention to your most marginalized staff. In most multiracial and/or predominantly white workplaces, women of color (and particularly Black women) already do a disproportionate amount of (often unrecognized) emotional labor. In your next check-in, ask: what are things that give you energy? How can we maximize those? What drains you? How can we minimize those?

Connection

To be resilient, we need relationships. None of us can get through this alone. Now, more than ever, managers and leaders need to cultivate authentic connections across our teams.

Before you take action, beware:

  1. PTR: The requirement is to provide ample opportunities for people to deepen understanding, support, and appreciation for each other. How that happens looks different from person to person (and relationship to relationship). Get to know your staff’s preferences and make sure your organization’s traditions around connection will serve the most marginalized people in your organization.
  2. Don’t force it. Ensure that staff have the agency to opt-out or choose their level of engagement. Being forced to connect leads to performativity—especially for those on the margins—and creates more emotional labor.

Some actions you can take:

  • In your next check-in, ask: what are things that make you feel more seen, cared for, and connected at work?
  • Schedule a team huddle shortly after the election (we have tips and a sample agenda!).
  • Inject joy, play, and silliness. Anything from taking ten minutes to learn the latest TikTok dance to hosting a virtual costume contest for Halloween to dedicating a chunk of your next meeting to shout-outs and celebrations. For those of you whose work is ramping up as election day approaches, these relationship-building moments will be critical for getting your team through to the next phase.
  • Set up peer support pods or pairs to check in weekly over the next month.
  • Make room for people to share challenges and ask for help. It’s not all rainbows and butterflies. Being comfortable with expressing vulnerability and receiving support from peers increases psychological safety and feelings of belonging.

Acknowledgments: Shout out to Sarah Gonzalez Bocinski of Futures Without Violence for sharing helpful resources and ideas that helped guide our thinking about a trauma-informed approach to management. Check out her work at Workplaces Respond to Domestic & Sexual Violence!

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