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Fall Forward, Not Back
It’s hard to believe it’s November already! The impending arrival of holiday feasts and dark winter nights has many of us reflecting on a year that challenged our usual ways of thinking. We’ve learned a lot about ourselves and our businesses over the past few months, during which much of our equilibrium was thrown into disarray. The clocks recently “falling back” during daylight savings time has me giving some thought to the concept of falling forward and wondering:
How can we apply our insights from the “year of COVID” to prepare more intentionally and purposefully for what’s ahead in 2021?
What Does it Mean to Fall Forward?
The concept of falling forward is not a new one — it’s simply a way to describe leaning into our failures or challenges and using them as a learning tool to continue growing. I was first introduced to the concept in John Maxwell’s book “Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes into Stepping Stones for Success,” which ascribes the difference between success and mediocrity to how we respond to failure. In Jonathan Horton’s novel “Falling Forward,” we see the same notion explored in a more personal way, as he describes the failures and lessons he endured on his journey toward the Olympics. While you may not be an Olympian, you ARE capable of great success — especially when you harness the lessons to be found in a post-COVID world.
When COVID arrived, many of us assumed (or at least hoped) that “this” would all be over quickly. While school-age kids embraced an extended spring break, those of us working in offices and practices may have relished the idea of a couple of weeks working from our kitchen island or guest room. Meanwhile, those of us with summer vacation plans were hopeful — or in my case, convinced — that we would be good to go by August. Who could have predicted that so much of our “usual” would continue to be turned inside out for so long?
Truly, the sudden onset and unexpected length of the pandemic have taught us the value of flexibility. While some of our daily dynamics are slowly edging back to a sense of normalcy, what we would have considered a guarantee a year ago may not feel like a remote possibility today. Knowing this, consider implementing the tips below to help you overcome unexpected challenges moving forward.
- Plan for every scenario. Consider how you can adjust your business plan and operations to endure unexpected challenges. For example, if you are still operating with reduced staff, plan for periods of high demand without necessarily requiring an investment in more fixed overhead.
- Embrace virtual tools. While there is NO substitute for many in-person components of our regular business plan (e.g., patient testing and procedures), there are aspects that can be completed virtually (e.g., accounting and billing). Embrace technology that allows for remote work where it makes sense.
- Be especially flexible with your people. In addition to the regular “stuff” we all have to deal with from time to time, we now have to be much more sensitive to those unexpected curve balls that can and do wreak havoc on our best-laid plans. Having and expressing well-founded trust in our employees helps them to feel supported and valued. In turn, this support empowers them to give their all whenever possible.
Another important lesson from COVID is the value of simplicity. The current state of the world has many of us thinking about staying connected with loved ones while minimizing the risk of contracting COVID; balancing homeschooling with work responsibilities; preparing our business for the unknown future; and approaching and resolving issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. It is hard to imagine that we can navigate too many other concurrent complexities — and quite honestly, we need to stop and ask ourselves if that is really necessary.
According to Clare Boothe Luce, an American playwright and politician, as well as the first American woman appointed to a major ambassadorial post abroad, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” As the complications of 2020 persist, the contrast and power of simplicity has become more apparent than ever before. Consider the tips below to simplify your mindset moving into 2021.
- Get back to basics. The Herzog Hierarchy of Needs (Figure 1) reminds us that some of our basic requirements may still be under threat post-COVID. Our baseline physiological needs, level of safety, or feelings of belonging are being threatened. Worry over paying the mortgage because a partner has been laid off, anxiety due to a hospitalized family member across the country, or exhaustion from working overtime to compensate for the shortage of staff are just some of the very real challenges brought on by COVID. By forcing yourself to focus on only the most fundamentally important priorities, you will lower your stress and increase your chances of success and personal well-being.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. Mistakes happen and things are forgotten, particularly when we or our team members are under continued stress. As long as we can take care of our critically important business needs, we can give ourselves permission to demonstrate leniency in other areas. That said, I believe it is as important as ever to both understand and address performance issues. Leading tough conversations with compassion can help uncover individual stressors and reveal training opportunities.
At the onset of COVID, no one could have predicted that our daily lives would continue to be thrown off balance through the end of the year. As we begin to make plans to fall forward into 2021, we must ask ourselves how we can harness the lessons we’ve learned — namely, the power of flexibility and the sophistication of simplicity — to position ourselves for growth as individuals and leaders across our organizations, ready to face the challenges that will inevitably come our way.