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COVID-19: A Turning Point for Business Management

It’s hard to believe it’s been more than a year since the world was blindsided by a global pandemic. My son, Scott Blanchard, had just become president of our company when COVID-19 hit. Talk about trial by fire! In one of his recent weekly messages, he summed up the past year well: “One year of COVID has been one year inside a spanking machine. One full year of whitewater, of change, of transformation, of adaptation, of countless sleepless nights, of debate and dialogue about what we must do to survive. A year of guessing, of hope, of despair, of incomplete and virtual goodbyes, of gut-wrenching meetings, of tears in private and tears on Zoom.”

Like millions of others, our company has mourned the loss of family members, friends and colleagues who have died, jobs that have been lost, savings accounts that have been depleted, visits and hugs that we’ve had to do without. Acknowledging these losses is difficult but necessary.

However, it’s also important to see the upside in regards to how things have changed. As Scott concluded in that weekly message: “The past year has also been a year of pride, of innovation, of adaptability, of coming together, of personal sacrifice, of heroic effort, of virtual teamwork, of Zoom after Zoom after Zoom.”

The marvels of video conferencing

The pandemic marked a turning point in the way many of us around the world do business. Offices were closed, people were quarantined at home and nobody was flying. So, we met online. The technology was available — all we had to do was log on and use it.

With so many people now working remotely, our teams meet more often because it’s easier to get everyone together virtually.  It’s ironic that having to stay away from people has helped us get to know them better — especially those who didn’t work in the home office.

As Blanchard consulting partner John Hester recently observed, people who worked remotely used to feel like second class citizens: They often were left out when it came to development opportunities, information about what was going on in the organization and social gatherings. Once nearly everyone was working from home due to COVID-19, their situation drastically improved.

The virtual one-minute manager

The same technology that enables everyone to meet with clients and teams can be used to manage direct reports. This is especially helpful for leaders who are not in an office and able to practice “Management By Wandering Around”— a technique originated by the Hewlett-Packard Company in the 1970s.

When Spencer Johnson and I wrote “The One Minute Manager®” in 1981we made the practice one of our title character’s management habits, although we never used the phrase. In our original book, the One Minute Manager “never seemed to be very far away” from his people so he could observe their behavior face to face and catch them doing things right. In 2015, when we wrote the updated edition titled “The New One Minute Manager®,” we acknowledged the fact that managers were no longer always in the same place as their people. Since the advent of COVID-19, of course, remote workers are far more common.

So, what’s the virtual equivalent of management by wandering around? As a leader, make sure you set one-minute goals with your direct report, so you’re both clear on expectations. Stay informed on data and performance relating to those goals, and regularly schedule virtual one-on-one meetings with them.

When your direct report does something right, call the person or schedule a quick Zoom meeting to give a one-minute praising. If you notice them moving in the wrong direction, use the same method to contact the person and help them get back on track with a one-minute re-direct.

New norms for a new era

The era of COVID-19 has pushed the training and development business to change. While there will be a return to the classroom, virtual training is here to stay. That’s a good thing, because virtual classrooms allow for a wider swath of potential participants.

Working from home is here to stay as well. Cloud-based software enables people to work from any location with an internet connection, so employers not only can reduce overhead costs, they also can hire talent from a bigger pool of candidates.

While we will all be glad when the pandemic is truly over and we can hug our loved ones again, let’s remember to celebrate the positive new norms that have come from the struggle.

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