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There Is No Finish Line
There Is No Finish Line 1080 565 Jason Lauritsen

Last week, my daughter ran her first cross country race. For those who aren’t familiar with cross country, at her age, it’s a mile and a half run in the “country” (i.e., on grass, through the trees, up and down hills, etc.).

She’s new to running and had never run any kind of race in the past, so this was all new territory for her. To help her prepare, we talked a little about strategy.

Most of our conversation focused on where she was in the race relative to the finish line. For example, one of the ideas that resonated with her was to remember that it is “only a mile and a half.”

She knew she could definitely run the length of the race, so the idea was to remember that the finish line was never too far away. She could push through the pain and struggle in the middle of the race because she knew for certain that it would soon be over.

I remember having that same thought when I ran half-marathons in the past.

“It will be over soon. Just keep running.”

Whether in a race, at work, or elsewhere in life, we crave the comfort and motivation that a finish line provides. We can endure anything for a short period of time, as long as we know when it will be over.

My Orangetheory trainers have a phrase they like to say just before asking you to do something difficult, “You can do anything for thirty seconds.”

Finish lines are powerful.

Why We Are Struggling

Last week, I listened to Brené Brown’s conversation with Amy Cuddy on her Dare to Lead podcast. They were talking about an article that Amy co-wrote for the Washington Post in August titled, “Why This Stage of the Pandemic Makes Us So Anxious.”

In this article, she and her co-author outline something called “pandemic flux syndrome” that they attribute as the reason so many of us are really having a tough time right now with where things are in the world, particularly related to the pandemic.

According to Cuddy, if you are feeling amped-up anxiety or depression right now, there’s a good reason for it. Listening to this discussion helped me sort out why the past few months have felt so challenging for me personally.

I suspect the same might be true for you.

The more I’ve reflected on what I learned, the more I’m convinced that our struggle with the pandemic has everything to do with our fixation on finish lines.

We desperately want there to be a finish line—a point when this is all over and we can return to some semblance of a normal and a predictable existence. The belief that there is a finish line can help many of us to get through the most challenging times in our lives.

Earlier this summer, we thought we were very near the pandemic’s finish line in the U.S. The July 4th holiday was supposed to be a declaration of our independence from COVID’s grip on our lives. We were ready to move on.

But that finish line turned out to be an illusion with no end in sight.

Ever since, we’ve been searching for the real finish line, desperate for anyone to tell us where it is. Our craving and belief in a finish line may be a big part of what’s dragging us down right now.

The Reality We Must Face

The pandemic isn’t a race.

There is no finish line. Not really, and not in the way we want there to be one.

There won’t be a day when we will wake up, open a browser, and see a news story declaring that today is the day it’s over.

Anyone who tells you that the finish line exists is probably just trying to give you something to fuel your hope and bolster your motivation to push through the ongoing challenges.

“Just keep running. You’re almost there.”

It seems that we keep running towards a finish line that doesn’t exist. No wonder so many of us feel so tired.

I think about my daughter’s cross country race.

What would have happened if they kept moving the finish line? What if the kids were left to just keep running in circles with no immediate end in sight? After working through their initial confusion, I’m betting it wouldn’t be long before many of them just gave up and quit running as they got progressively more tired.

Does that sound familiar?

People everywhere are quitting their jobs, moving to new places, making relationship changes, and more. These are all different ways of quitting the race. We are tired of running towards a finish line that never appears. So, we are trying to create our own.

Running towards a finish line that doesn’t exist is breaking us.

This Isn’t a Race (There Is No Finish Line)

It’s time for a mindset shift. I know I’m working on mine.

The pandemic isn’t a race. Things are shifting daily, and even when it looks like it might be nearing the end, another variant or another virus could emerge and erase all the progress we’ve made.

There is no finish line.

Figuring out the “return to office” and future of work isn’t a race. There is no singular right answer because even if you create the perfect plan and get it rolled out, something will change and disrupt the balance again.

There is no finish line.

We must learn to embrace the reality that we aren’t in a race; we are on a journey. Along this journey, everything is constantly changing.

Rather than try to “endure it” as we would the pain of a race, we must instead adapt and respond to it in a way that helps us find success and happiness.

What Is Helpful Now?

The idea of a finish line also implies that there’s a “new normal” on the other side of it. This leads us to believe that things will settle down and be somehow better when we get there.

It’s a mirage.

When we let go of the illusion of the finish line, we can stop waiting for it. Instead, we can start asking different questions and focusing on what we can do today to make things better.

Admittedly, this is no easy task. Whether you are trying to tackle this personally or figure it out for your organization, there are few easy and clear answers.

Here are a few things to consider as you chart a new path forward on this journey.

We need to take better care of ourselves and each other.

Living with constant change and uncertainty is hard. It’s okay to admit that this is challenging. And it’s frustrating that we can’t control what’s going to happen to us or around us.

The thing we do have some control over is how well we care for our well-being and that of those around us. Our well-being fuels our ability to show up and thrive regardless of the circumstances.

We don’t know how long this leg of the journey will be. We must take care of ourselves, to rest when we need it. No matter what lies ahead, if we are broken down and burned out, we will not be in any shape to meet it.

Focus on what is helpful right now.

A lot of plans made for this fall were built on an assumption that we’d be in the “post-pandemic” phase (i.e., we would be across the finish line). But that’s not what happened. And yet, I see many organizations (and people) trying to stay the course even when the finish line never appeared.

Instead of making plans for what happens “after the race,” we need to start embracing the reality that we have no idea when things will change again. So, let’s start asking a different question.

What would be most helpful right now?

This is a particularly helpful question when it comes to sorting out questions about where and when and how people should be allowed to work as we move forward. Debating if your organization is going to be an in-person or hybrid or remote workplace in the future may feel really important right now. But there’s a much more pressing question that should come first.

What do our people need right now to be able to do their best work in a way that supports their well-being?

If you focus on answering continually this question, you won’t need to worry as much about the future workplace question because you’ll answer it along the way. You’ll create whatever you need to support your people’s needs.

What Do You Think?

Are you feeling the drain of chasing a finish line that never seems to appear?

If so, how are you adapting? What are you finding helpful?

The journey is long and the road is winding. It’s not the end of the journey that should command our attention.

It’s traveling well.

We can do that together.


P.S. For those who are wondering, my daughter did great in her race. She ran better than she expected and learned a lot. She’s looking forward to her next race today. 🙂

Is a “Thank You” too much to ask?
Is a “Thank You” too much to ask? 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

I’m a fan of the This American Life podcast. I rarely miss an episode.

In a recent episode titled “Essential,” they talk to a series of people whose jobs were deemed essential during the pandemic about how their experience working through COVID changed them.

As I listened, hearing these stories really reminded me of the importance of the work we do.

It also reminded me again of something I’ve tried to keep top of mind through the pandemic. We are all having very different experiences of this pandemic that are shaped by a lot of factors, including our jobs, our circumstances, and where we live.

There’s been so much emphasis on remote work, but the majority of employees haven’t had the luxury of working from home. They’ve had to show up to work in person every day. Some of them never got the choice to do otherwise because their job was deemed “essential.”

When you think of essential workers, you probably think of healthcare and first responders. They were at the very literal front lines of the pandemic fight.

There are also millions of people working in retail, production, manufacturing, food service, transportation, and so many other roles who also have had to show up each day in the face of significant risk.

The podcast explores their stories.

What these stories reveal should be a stark reminder for us as managers and leaders about our role and responsibility to our people. It boils down to a pretty simple truth.

The Experience of Being “Essential” 

Let me share a few quotes from the people interviewed for the podcast that really hit me hard.

This first quote is from a woman named Shelly Ortiz who was a restaurant server in Arizona when COVID hit. In Arizona, restaurant workers were deemed essential by the state so she either had to come to work or quit her job.

She talks about how the experience of working during COVID changed how she felt about her job. Her story also reveals the really terrible treatment that servers, specifically a female server in this case, are forced to endure from customers.

The pandemic apparently dialed up the intensity. Here’s how she described her experience with one customer.

“And it was just a reminder that like, I am not a human to her. I have never been a person to her. I am just someone out of her world that doesn’t deserve to be treated like a human being.”

I feel really fortunate that I’ve never been made to feel like this at work. Hopefully you’ve been as lucky.

While there’s a lot we could talk about in this story, it’s a reminder to me of the importance of treating everyone everywhere with kindness.

It’s also a reminder that the people who we pay the least in our organizations are often doing the hardest and most punishing work. They need more care and support from us.

This brings me to the second story I wanted to share with you from the podcast. It’s about Flato Alexander, a 61-year-old breakfast cook at a McDonald’s in Michigan.

The Unexpected Impact of Thank You Meals

Like Shelly, Flato never stopped working during the pandemic. He had worked in his job for years, and he enjoyed it. But things changed during the pandemic.

In this story, Flato shares his experience when McDonald’s announced in the spring of 2020 that they would give free egg McMuffin sandwiches to essential workers. They called them “Thank You Meals.” Overall, McDonald’s gave away 12 million free sandwiches.

You may or may not remember this. I didn’t. From the outside looking it, it seems like a really nice thing to do.

But, here is Flato sharing his take on it.

“They was giving it–giving free food away. If you got the audacity to waste millions of dollars on giving somebody some food, take some of that money and make a difference with one of us. You making a difference with other people, but you still ignoring your workers. So I didn’t understand it. I guess that was probably one of their shareholders meeting to come up with that idea.

“You scratching your head like, wow. No appreciation gets shown towards us. Show some type of appreciation towards the ones that’s doing some work. That’s what I mean. It’s not no jealous thing; it’s common sense. It’s like a show of unconcern.”

When the interviewer (the amazing Chana Joffe-Walt) asked him what it would have meant if the ownership or management had shown some concern, this is what he said.

“It would’ve meant a lot. It would’ve been a very touching thing for somebody to let you know that they have the slightest respect for your life and your livelihood. Because not showing—a sense of unconcern to people, it’s not a good feeling. It’s like having a relative that won’t speak to you. It makes you sad.”

The Lesson Is Clear

These stories left me with a heavy heart.

What they each really wanted was the same thing: to be seen and valued.

In Shelly’s case, her customer was not only not seeing her as a fellow human being, but the customer was actually making her feel like she had no value or worth. That is perhaps the worst thing you can do to another human being.

Flato, on the other hand, just wanted to be told that he mattered. In the end, it wasn’t that he wasn’t given a free sandwich when they were giving them to other essential workers that really hurt him.

Listen to his words again. “It would’ve been a very touching thing for somebody to let you know that they have the slightest respect for your life and your livelihood.”

The slightest respect for your life and your livelihood.

That’s a pretty low bar. And the leadership at his restaurant isn’t meeting it.

Regardless of what kind of team you manage or what kind of work they do, every person on your team has the foundational need that Shelly and Flato shared.

People want to be seen. They want to know they matter. 

So here are some simple tips for how to do that.

1. Say thank you often.

Your people show up and do the work every day. And every day, there’s a little voice in their head that wonders if any of it really makes a difference. As a manager, you can make sure they know that it does. Let people know that you appreciate them. Tell them that you are glad to see them. Thank them for showing up. It seems like a small thing, but it will have a huge impact.

2. Make time to be with your people.

I’ve shared the story many times about how my daughter taught me about the importance of time. When she was 7 years old, I asked her how she knows if someone loves her. Her answer was, “They spend time with me.”

There is no more powerful way to signal to your people that they matter to you than making time to be with them. That might be through one-on-one check-ins or team huddles. It could be setting aside time to record a video to send out to each person or a personal note. Invest your time in your people and they will reward you with their loyalty and effort.

3. Be kind to everyone.

Lead with kindness and compassion. One small act of kindness can transform someone’s entire day (or week). Every time we encounter another human being, we get to make a choice about how we will show up at that moment. Choose kindness.

And for those closest to you (like those you manage), be extra kind. Give the benefit of the doubt. Take care of your people, and they will, in turn, take care of you.

It’s really that simple.

When your people know that you care about them and that they matter, everything else becomes so much easier. Make this your priority as a manager, and you’ll be well on your way to having a high-performing team.

Are we okay?
Are we okay? 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

At least in some places (like where I live in Nebraska), it can be easy to forget that we are still trying to escape a pandemic.

We are all anxious and ready to move on and move forward. I know I am.

But in our fervor to get back in action, we need to remember that everyone has been through some pretty heavy stuff over the past year (some far more than others). And we might not be able to leave that behind so quickly.

This was brought into focus for me this week as I listened to a podcast about “Shot Girl Summer.”

And it made me wonder, “Are we okay?”

How to Quickly Build Connection
How to Quickly Build Connection 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

In 2012, I published my first book, Social Gravity, with my coauthor and long-time BFF, Joe Gerstandt.

We wrote the book to share what we had learned about the importance of networks and relationships to achieve important things in your life.

Joe and I met while working at a small, headhunting firm that made Michael Scott’s Dunder Mifflin in The Office look like a healthy, productive workplace. Our day-to-day work was hard and management was, at best, dysfunctional.

Fortunately, the owner of our firm believed in a work-hard/play-hard mantra so we had a lot of office social functions. These included golfing, happy hours, riding jet skis, and trips. So, in spite of the misery of our day-to-day work, it was easy to make friends.

This created the opportunity for me and Joe to meet and become friends. By nature of being the smarter of the two of us, Joe didn’t stay at this firm very long before moving on to another job, but we were connected for the long haul.

We shared a passion for making the work around us better, and together we tried to make it happen. We began by starting a couple of non-profit organizations. That evolved into speaking, writing, and hosting retreats together.

As I look back on all that Joe and I have done together, it’s pretty amazing. I’m not sure I would have done any of it had it not been for Joe. It was our relationship and connection that threw the sparks and gave us the confidence to go create and make things happen.

While my relationship with Joe has had a huge impact on what I’ve accomplished in my life, he’s not the only one. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of people who have propelled me forward or made me a better person throughout my life.

In fact, the older I get, the more aware I am that for everything I’ve accomplished that really matters in my life, I can point to a particular person or people who helped make it possible. There’s nothing that I’ve done completely on my own.

Our success is a product of not just our effort or talents, but also of the people who surround us.

Anyone who tells you they’ve accomplished great things all on their own is either delusional or oblivious to all the people who have supported and enabled them. We are interconnected and interdependent.

Connection matters in more ways than one.

Over the past year, there has been a lot of focus on the importance of connection in both our personal and work lives. Loneliness was an epidemic before COVID arrived, and it’s only gotten worse.

Our connection with other humans has very real consequences on our mental health and well-being. But there are so many other benefits.

When Joe and I wrote Social Gravity, we were making the case that having a big, robust network of relationships (what we called “your posse”) was perhaps the most powerful tool you could have if you wanted to do things of real consequence in your life.

That is as true today as it was when we started working on that book 15 years ago. A strong network gives you access to “social capital,” the resources and advantages available to you through your relationships with others.

As managers, teaching your team the value and power of relationships can help you amplify performance and innovation. When people are more connected, they tend to be more resilient and more creative.

In our book, Joe and I outline the six laws of social gravity. These laws provide the “how” to build a network of quality relationships. Rather than get into all the six laws here, I’ll share two recommendations that you can use right away to begin cultivating greater connection for yourself or your team.

1. Be helpful to others.

One of the most powerful laws of social gravity is “use karma.” As humans, we have a natural inclination towards reciprocity. In other words, we are driven to keep balance in our relationships with others. So, when someone does us a favor or is helpful, we are motivated to repay that favor.

The act of helping others creates a sort of natural bond between you. When you help someone else, it’s like making a karma investment in your network. The more you help others, the more they want to be helpful to you. And, as a bonus, helping others also feels good. It’s a true win-win.

2. Express gratitude to those who have played a significant role in your success and happiness.

Maybe the biggest overlooked opportunity to build connection is with the people you are already connected with. A network of relationships is like a garden. It requires regular and ongoing care and feeding.

If you aren’t working to actively stay in touch with people, the connection weakens with time. But, unlike gardening, it’s rarely ever too late to reconnect with people you knew in the past.

As we (hopefully) near the end of the pandemic, now is a great time to reach out to people and invest in those relationships.

One powerful way to do this is with gratitude. I invite you to do the following.

  • Reflect on your career (or life). Think about the people who played even a small role in supporting or encouraging you along the way. Maybe they referred you to get a job or introduced you to your significant other. Or maybe they had your back in a meeting when you really needed it, or they were encouraging when you struggled. Make a list of names.
  • Reach out and say thank you to each of those people. You can send an email, make a post on social media, send a text, or go old school and call them on the phone.

You’ll be surprised and delighted by what happens.

A few years ago, through a random conversation, the name of an instructor I’d had for a college class was brought up. I hadn’t heard her name in decades, but I instantly remembered the impact she’d had on me.

I decided to send her an email. The subject line was “Gratitude.” In the email, I shared with her the impact she’d had on me all those years ago and said thank you.

She responded to me quickly with a really lovely email, and we’ve stayed in contact ever since. I’d surely do her a favor should she ever need one, and I suspect she would say the same about me.

Make your list and reach out with your gratitude and appreciation. You’ll be glad you did, and your network of relationships will begin to grow immediately.

Happy connecting.

Related Reading:


Upcoming Course Information

My next online course, Managing in the Future of Work, starts September 13, 2021. Learn more by clicking here.

Campfire Conversations on the Future of Work
Campfire Conversations on the Future of Work 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Things are changing fast at work. Where, when, and how we work is undergoing a transformation that might be leaving you feeling unsettled and unprepared for what lies ahead.

With a recent study suggesting as many as 95% of people are looking for new jobs, it’s time to think beyond “do we really need people back in the office?” In the midst of all the change lies a great opportunity if we can seize it.

To help you make sense of what’s happening and how to chart a course forward in this dynamic, new future of work, I’m hosting a series of virtual “Campfire Conversations. ” This is an opportunity to gather together to discuss these changes and challenges, how they are impacting us and our organization, and explore solutions together.

Campfire dates and topics:

  • Friday, July 30, 12 p.m. ET – Well-being at the Center of Work
  • Friday, August 6, 12 p.m. ET – How Management Must Change
  • Friday, August 13, 12 p.m. ET – Enabling Team Performance

Click here to sign up and learn more.

Self-Care is a Management Skill
Self-Care is a Management Skill 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

I didn’t get it.

When I heard people talking about self-care, it conjured up images of self-indulgent escapism. Self-care was going for a spa day or taking time for a guilty pleasure to forget about the challenges of life.

It didn’t feel like something relevant to me.

But I was wrong. Self-care is vital. In fact, it may be one of the most important skills we can learn if we want to thrive and be happy in our lives.

This seems to be the lesson that I have been repeatedly trying to learn since March 2020. It will be one of the permanent marks this pandemic will leave upon me.

When I don’t take care of myself, my ability to do all the things that are important to me diminish.

My work suffers. I don’t show up in the way I want as a parent or spouse. I lack energy for things I generally love to do. Joy becomes harder to find.

It’s not good.

I came face to face with these consequences last summer when I experienced burnout. A big part of how I got through it was self-care.

What is Self-Care?

While there’s a lot of different definitions you can find out there, I like to keep it simple. Self-care is the commitments, behaviors, habits, and actions you undertake to preserve and maintain your well-being.

When you are well, that means that you are happy, healthy and thriving in your life. It means that you can be your best and offer your best to others and to your endeavors. Well-being is what fuels our ability to live life up to our potential.

And when our well-being suffers, so too does our ability to show up in our lives in the ways we want and need to.

So, another way to think of self-care is as maintenance.

If we don’t perform regular, routine maintenance on our vehicle, it will slowly and predictably decline in performance until it finally breaks down. Self-care for us is the same.

Sure, we can get away without doing it for a while, but our performance in all areas of our life starts to decline until eventually, we break down.

This is what we are seeing all around us right now. Over the past 18 months, all of us have experienced some serious wear and tear on our well-being. And, unless you’ve been tending to self-care, you might feel like you are about to break down.

I know I did.

Self-care helped me get back up and running. But since then, I learned another important lesson about self-care. It isn’t a one-time event.

If you only change the oil in your car when it breaks down, you are in for a lot of future breakdowns and costly repairs.

It’s easy to get motivated to do self-care when you realize you’re burnt out or broken down. But, that’s a costly and painful time to tackle it.

The real work of self-care is the routine part. It’s committing to it on an ongoing basis to ensure you can be at your best in life and at work (and avoid the unnecessary breakdowns).

Why Self-Care is Vital for Managers

Managing effectively is hard work. Now more than ever.

As teams become more distributed, as pressure mounts to create more just and inclusive work experiences, as employee expectations of flexibility increase, the pressure on managers is mounting.

Take all this and multiply it by the fact that our collective well-being has been under constant threat for the past year and a half.

As a manager and leader, you need to be on top of your game right now. Your people need you at your best and unless you are invested in your self-care, you won’t have your best to offer.

They tell you to put your own oxygen mask on first in an airplane because if you don’t care for yourself first, you can’t help anyone else.

Self-care is your oxygen mask. You need to put yours on right now because your team needs your help.

How to Practice Self-Care

Now to the tricky part. There is no one-size fits all approach to self-care. What works for one person may not be ideal for another.

What I recommend is to find a framework of well-being that resonates for you and then use that to help you think about what commitments, behaviors, habits, and actions to take to maintain your well-being.

A few good frameworks you can peek at are WELCOA, Gallup, and the Center for Spirituality and Healing. There are others, but these are three good ones.

For today, let’s use the model from the Center for Spirituality and Healing as an example.

This model of well-being includes six elements:

  • Health – Are you caring for your physical and mental health?
  • Relationships – Do you have healthy, supportive relationships?
  • Security – Do you feel safe and free from threat and fear? Do you have a healthy relationship with money?
  • Purpose – Do you find meaning in your work and life?
  • Community – Do you feel part of and contribute to a larger community?
  • Environment – Are you living and working in spaces that are positive and supportive? Do you have a good connection with nature?

This model might not feel quite right for you. That’s okay. You can find one that does.

But, hopefully you can see that by finding a model like this, it can help you start to ask the right questions that lead you to the self-care practices. Having a framework like this to reference will help you maintain and enhance your well-being.

Exactly what that looks like will look a bit different for all of us.

What Self-Care Looks Like for Me

Since there is no single best way to approach self-care, it feels like the most helpful thing to share are a few examples of how I practice self-care. Perhaps it will inspire ideas for you to find your own unique approach.

Below are some parts of my self-care practice. Many have evolved over the past year as I’ve developed a deeper appreciation for the importance of self-care.

  • Get 7-8 hours of sleep nightly. One of the realizations I had recently is that when I’m feeling off, drained, stressed, or afraid to the point that it is affecting how I show up in my life and work, it’s almost always during times when I’ve not been getting enough sleep. When I am rested, I am 1000% more resilient.
  • Do at least 1 hour of exercise daily. Almost as important as sleep for me is to move my body every day–walking, running, yard work, or OrangeTheory.
  • Practice daily meditation. I’ve been a meditation dabbler for years, but on the heels of my burnout last summer, I committed to a daily practice of meditation. It has been a game changer for me.
  • Make time with family and friends. If you want great relationships in your life, you have to make time for them. Time is the currency of relationships. If you feel like you don’t have time for this, it’s time to reevaluate priorities in your life.
  • Learn something new. I realized that I spend more time teaching than learning, so I decided over the pandemic to finally start taking lessons to learn how to play the harmonica. I’ve always loved blues music so this has been something I’ve talked about for a long time. It’s both humbling and rewarding.
  • Take time off. Admittedly, I’m not as consistent on this as I want to be. I’m behind on this one, so I’m planning to do more of it in the upcoming year.
  • Watch some TV. I love watching good TV and sports. Getting immersed in a great story or game gives my brain the opportunity to let go and take some downtime.

When I am doing these things, I feel like I am fully powered up and strong. I feel like I can be present in my relationships and life.

This isn’t my full list but hopefully you get the idea. Your list will look different. The point isn’t what’s on the list, the point is that you have one and that it helps you feel stronger, healthier, and more energized for life.

What you practice for self-care will evolve and change as you do. The key is to stay committed to it and continually check-in on what’s working and what needs to change.

You Need Self-Care

Don’t fall into the trap of believing that self-care is only for certain people who need it, it’s for everyone. We all need maintenance. And our well-being is too important to wait on others to care for it.

If you plan to succeed as a manager and leader in the upcoming months and years, you are going to need to be on top of your game. There’s no way to pull that off without a commitment to self-care.

Do it for you. Do it for your people. Do it now.

Related Reading:


Upcoming Course Information

My next online course, Managing in the Future of Work, starts September 13, 2021. Learn more by clicking here.

[Video] What if your team (and you) don’t want to come back to the office but you have no choice?
[Video] What if your team (and you) don’t want to come back to the office but you have no choice? 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

What do you do if your organization has decided that everyone is coming back to the office and your people don’t want to come?

And what if you feel the same way?

One of the most challenging times to manage is when you get stuck between a company decision (that you may not agree with) and your people.

It’s not an easy thing to navigate, but there is a path through it.

Upcoming Course Announcement

I’m excited to share that registration for my Managing in the Future of Work online course is now open. The next class begins on September 13.

5 Words to Help You Master the Future of Work
5 Words to Help You Master the Future of Work 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Some of the best advice I ever got came almost 30 years ago. I was in high school. 

Being a bonafide band nerd, I was spending a week of my summer vacation at the Clark Terry Jazz Camp hoping to polish my trumpet skills enough to become king of nerds—First Chair Trumpet. (Not sure that’s how I would have described it at the time, but I digress). 

As a high school trumpet player, getting to spend the week hanging out around and learning from accomplished professional jazz musicians was a head trip. These musicians seemed like musical gods to me at the time. 

That might be why I can still vividly remember a piece of life advice offered to me by one of those musicians (not coincidentally, a trumpet player)  so many years ago. 

A few of us were standing around in the hallway talking. And while I don’t remember what specifically was said that sparked the offer of advice, it must have involved one of us youngsters making some bold declaration about our future. 

What this trumpet player said next has stuck with me ever since:

Never say what you ain’t gonna do.” 

I can still hear him saying it. 

He went on to share how when he was younger, he said he was never getting married. Then, he got married. He said he was never going to have kids, then he did. 

He had a whole list of things that he’d been certain about as a young man, but that had gone a completely different way later in life.  

The real wisdom has grown with me over the years as I’ve thought more about his words. 

Our human instinct is to try to bring certainty to the future. So we make declarations about what we’ll do or not do and who we’ll be. 

If the future were a person, she would likely smirk and think, “good luck with that.” 

What does this have to do with the future of work?

Most organizations and leaders have spent several months trying to sort out what to do with the workforce they sent home in March of 2020. 

Bring them back to the office? 

Make work from home permanent?

Or pursue the mystical third option, the “hybrid” arrangement (whatever that means). 

This feels like a big decision, particularly given the increasingly hot job market and threats of a looming “Great Resignation,” where hoards of people will quit their jobs to move on to new, more fulfilling adventures. 

It’s unclear what the future holds. It’s hard even to get clarity about what’s happening right now. 

One survey will tell you 85% of employees want to return to the office. Another will say it’s only 10%. So, which is it? 

In all of this uncertainty after a year defined by uncertainty, it’s our natural human tendency to grasp for clarity and make declarations (just like the young camper in my story). 

Twitter was among the first to declare they are going to a work-from-home-forever policy. And on the other end of the spectrum, Goldman Sachs is requiring everyone to come back to the office

This is where the advice I received about 30 years ago is worth considering:

Never say what you ain’t going to do.

We don’t know what the future holds. And, we don’t really know what our employees will want or need going forward. 

Instead of grasping for certainty and making declarations, we should instead learn to use these five words to help us navigate the path forward:

I don’t know. Let’s experiment.

The future is unknowable. It hasn’t been written yet, and we play a vital role in shaping what it will look like. 

Sorting out what is going to be best for your organization or team is going to be complicated.

Chances are you’ve got employees within your organization who have very different needs and preferences regarding how they’d like to work going forward. And, you probably also have business units and teams that have different needs and requirements based on what they do. 

You don’t know the right answer now. 

Making some declaration today about what your forever policy is around “where” your employees can work might feel good in the moment, but you’ll inevitably end up having to revisit and change that decision in the future. 

Instead, when attempting to answer the question of what to do next, try saying this:

“I don’t know. Let’s experiment.”  

Employees crave certainty, so they’re probably calling on you for a decision. But, they also crave trust and flexibility, which you may inadvertently diminish by rushing to a conclusion.

Let’s admit that we don’t know what’s coming or what will work best. Then, let’s invite our employees to experiment with us. Nothing says you have to solve this riddle today. You just need to be working on it. 

You just need to think like a scientist. 

How to Experiment at Work

If it’s been a while since you’ve been exposed to the scientific method, that’s okay. I’m here to help. (Fun fact: I have an undergrad degree in biology). Here are the basics you need to know to create a meaningful experiment.  

1. Start with a hypothesis.  

A hypothesis is simply a proposed explanation or theory that you can test. Creating your hypothesis is a critical first step of any experiment. The purpose of the experiment is to prove or disprove the hypothesis.  

You likely have some insight into your employee’s preferences regarding where and how they work. And you have some ideas about what’s needed to get work done the best way. Unfortunately, those two things may be at odds. 

A hypothesis is your best guess at how to create the best possible win-win solution given both sets of needs. 

An example of a hypothesis related to work location could be, “We think the best way to optimize employee performance and engagement is to work two days a week onsite and three days work-from-anywhere.” 

2. Test your hypothesis.  

This is what we typically think of when talking about experiments. You design a way to test if your hypothesis is correct. There are many ways to approach this at work. 

One popular way is to run a pilot. You might identify a division or two and ask those managers to implement the work plan you are testing (two days onsite, three anywhere). This allows you to test the approach with a smaller group to see how it goes.

If your organization is large enough, you might be able to run pilots testing multiple hypotheses at once. Every experiment gives you new information about what the right solution may be. So running several of them at once can be a way to accelerate towards a solution.

If your organization is smaller, another way to test is to deploy the solution to the entire organization for a fixed period of time. In this case, you’d communicate that as an organization or team, you were going to try out this approach for the next 60 days and then re-evaluate. 

3. Measure results and gather insights. 

The purpose of an experiment is to learn. So, it’s critical to determine upfront how you will measure the test outcomes against the hypothesis.  

In the example I’ve been using here, there would be two obvious ways to measure the test’s success. You could track measurable employee performance over the trial period. And, you’d want to gather employee feedback.  

If performance holds steady or goes up and employees are happy and engaged at the end of the test, then it seems like your hypothesis has proven correct. If one of these indicators goes the wrong way (i.e., employees hate it), your hypothesis fails. It’s back to the drawing board.

4. Go back to step 1 and begin again. 

Experimentation is a process used to solve problems and find truth. One experiment informs the next, and so on. It frees us from a need for certainty and gives us the means to explore our way to an answer.  

Master the Future of Work

By learning to embrace and use these five words, “I don’t know. Let’s experiment,” you equip yourself to successfully navigate forward into a wildly disrupted future of work. 

When you let go of the need to know the future and instead use what you know about the present to shape informed hypotheses that can be tested through experiments, you will find your way to success regardless of what the future holds.


Related Reading:

The Simple Way to Avoid Being a Bad Boss

No. The Future of Work is NOT Work From Home

3 Big Things You’re Getting Wrong about Post-Pandemic Work

The Simple Way to Avoid Being a Bad Boss
The Simple Way to Avoid Being a Bad Boss 1080 608 Jason Lauritsen

While it’s been a long time since it first happened, I still remember the gravity of the responsibility I felt when first asked to supervise people at work. 

A manager has a profound impact not just on our experience at work but also on our life. When you get it wrong, there are real consequences for your people. 

How many times have you sat with friends and either complained or listened to someone complain about their boss? 

Nobody wants to be that boss. 

But the fear of being “that boss” can make it feel like you have to be perfect and not make any mistakes. And when you do make mistakes, it can feel risky to admit them.    

You are a complicated, emotional human being trying to manage other complicated, emotional human beings. That’s no easy task. 

You will make mistakes. 

One of the hardest things about being a manager is learning to balance that desire to avoid being a bad boss with the reality that mistakes are inevitable. 

The truth is that how we show up as a manager when we don’t get it right is just as important as getting it right in the first place.   

You Will Make Mistakes

After my burnout wake-up call last summer, one of the things I committed myself to as part of my well-being ritual was a daily meditation practice. 

One of the most powerful things you learn through meditation is to cultivate awareness. Awareness of the moment; awareness of how you feel; awareness of your thoughts. 

It sounds simple, but ask anyone who has tried—it’s much more challenging than it sounds. 

The benefit of cultivating this skill of awareness is that it allows you to be more present in your day-to-day experiences, allowing you to be more mindful of what you do and how you show up with others.  

One thing I learned right away about meditation is that you must let go of judgment in your practice. Mindful awareness isn’t natural for most of us, so meditation is a practice of trying and failing over and over again.

It can be easy to get frustrated if you don’t recognize that trying and failing is part of the learning. 

In nearly every guided meditation I’ve done, early on you will hear something like this:

“You may notice at some point that your mind has wandered and you’re lost in thought. That’s okay. It’s normal. Once you notice, just return to where you started and begin again.”

No judgment. 

Just validation that it happens and an invitation to return to your intentions and give it another shot. That’s the practice. 

Begin Again

As a manager, if your goal is to help others to do their best at work, support their well-being, and advance in their career, it will be challenging work. 

Managing is only easy when you’re doing it wrong. 

Becoming a good manager is like learning meditation. It’s not natural for most of us, so it requires lots of practice. And as you practice, you’re going to make mistakes.  

The list of mistakes I’ve made in my management career is long enough to be a book of its own. The goal isn’t to eliminate mistakes. They’re inevitable.

The goal is to cultivate an awareness of your actions as a manager so that you recognize when you’ve made a mistake.  

When you say the wrong thing. Or you shut down an idea before you’ve heard the person out. Or you avoid a hard conversation. Or you fail to set clear expectations.  

It’s what you do when you make mistakes that matters. This is where meditation guidance is valuable. 

  1. Recognize you’ve made a mistake. 
  2. Don’t judge yourself for making a mistake. It’s a natural part of the job. 
  3. Acknowledge your mistake. Apologize to the person if it’s warranted. 
  4. Remind yourself of your intention to be a good manager and what you learned through this mistake. 
  5. Begin again. 

Every time you do this, you’re not only becoming more skilled as a manager, but you’re also building trust with your team. When people know you will own up to your mistakes and make things right, it amplifies trust. 

Mistakes are part of the process. Don’t be afraid of them; embrace them and turn them into progress.


Related Reading:

Managing Through Love

The Other Side of Burnout – What’s Working for Me

How Much Should a Manager Know About Their Employees’ Personal Lives

[Video] Do You Have This Management Blindspot?
[Video] Do You Have This Management Blindspot? 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Over the past year, you’ve probably learned that when a team is “distributed,” it becomes more complicated to manage.

And we’ve focused a lot of attention on how being distributed out of a centralized office location has changed how we manage and work.

Distributed = greater management complexity.

But there’s a bigger lesson we should be learning.

Our teams have always been distributed, way more than we knew. And this distribution had largely been in our blind spot until now.

Ignoring it may be your downfall as a manager moving forward.