Four Strategies for Supporting Staff During Uncertain Times

Posted on by CATALYSIS

No matter the stage your organization is in during the COVID-19 pandemic, the rapid changes and new challenges in this crisis can easily derail people. So how do you get your teams back on track?

Recently, Kerri Burchill, PhD, Organization Development Leader from Southern Illinois Health, one of our Catalysis Healthcare Value Network members, shared four strategies to help guide people back on track.

Kerri started off with two key words to set the tone for how these strategies work – grace and generosity. In these unprecedented circumstances, the fears and feelings people are working through are significant. Starting from a place of understanding by acknowledging the extreme difficulty of this situation enables leaders to help their teams get back on track faster and stay on course.

Strategy #1 – Putting words on expected behaviors

Naming behaviors and the values they support helps team members understand why their behaviors matter and the kind of culture they are creating. In challenging times, going back to the guiding principles of your organization and the behaviors that support these is invaluable.

Positive Reinforcement Example: “Sondra, thank you for pulling Luis into that meeting yesterday. That’s exactly the type of system-wide thinking we need to effectively work together as a team.”

Constructive Feedback Example: “Lisa, when you shared that updated step to the process, I noticed that a few folks who regularly perform this process weren’t included. It’s important for each one of us to keep others doing the work up to date on changes so that we continue improving our processes as a team.”

Strategy #2 – Active listening

The process of active listening provides an avenue for struggling colleagues and teammates to slow down, process, and pull out of potential spirals. Kerri explained three degrees of this – repeating (saying back exactly what you heard), paraphrasing (putting what you heard in your own words), and reflecting (adding your reflections to what you hear them saying). Getting to the root of the concern/issue can be difficult for someone to reach on their own, so active listening creates space for them to figure out what is really going on. Whether or not someone feels heard and understood can make all the difference between shutting them down or opening them up.

Active Listening Example

Colleague A: “I’m so frustrated with all of these changes; I don’t know what to do.”

Colleague B: “I hear that you are frustrated.” (Repeating)

Colleague A: “Yeah and no one is talking about what is going on.”

Colleague B: “It sounds like you feel like people aren’t communicating with you about the changes, is that accurate?” (Paraphrasing)

Colleague A: “Yeah…I feel like I’m on an island and I’m worried we are making mistakes that are having a negative impact, but no one is talking about it.”

Colleague B: “It sounds like you see some potential defects or issues because of the lack of communication, and you are looking for a way to ensure that we aren’t overlooking these, which is important.” (Reflecting)

Strategy #3 – Translating

As active listening gets you closer to what is under the surface, it is vital to name what is difficult or uncomfortable about the situation by acknowledging back to the person the root feelings or issues you hear them sharing. But this must be done with the goal to help them move from the difficult feelings or situation towards action, which takes us to Strategy #4 below, asking questions.

Translating Example: “I can see how you are worried about potential defects and issues being overlooked…”

Strategy #4 – Asking open-ended questions

Your translation should shift directly into questions to help people move from understanding what is going on, to determining what their responsibility is to own in the situation (where they have power to do something) and actions they can take to move forward. Why or how questions (using a humble inquiry-type approach) encourage the other person to develop a plan they can act on.

Open-Ended Question Example: “…so, what is one thing you can do to help our team identify potential defects and help create a plan to address them?”

Kerri also explained in her presentation that these strategies can be used in cycles to support colleagues and teammates as they navigate current challenges in their work.

What is one situation you could apply these strategies to? If you utilize them, please let us know in the comments below how it went and what you learned!


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