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Inspiration for Action
The Newsletter / Edition 021
From Sylvain Labs, this is Progress Report.
In our Off-White Papers, we provide practical guidance on how to respond to our rapidly-changing world. This weekly newsletter explores those topics in real-time, with information and action steps on how to make progress now.

In today’s newsletter…
  1. Getting comfortable with the real you from Joanne Bolens
  2. The case for keeping review season from Katie Cowden
  3. Why we must share our burdens from Jenny Cavaioli
And this time, our illustrations from Nora Mestrich.
From the Field

01 / New Year, Real Me

From Joanne Bolens
WFH has scattered office-related stresses and insecurities — from discriminations based on appearances, unspoken dress code, to after work socializing — laying out new foundations for employees to be themselves. In the midst of all the horror, Covid managed to break outdated office dynamics and make way for more inclusive ones.
Why It Matters
According to a study, ¼ of employees have experienced discrimination based on their appearance, a number likely to be higher for people in minority groups. From appearances to group dynamics, there are a lot of subtle structures that prevent us from being ourselves at work.

But that time might be over! The new era of distributed work is dismantling these anxieties and structures. Liberated from office conformity, employees can finally be themselves. Parents can further their careers without compromising on their kids, location biases are bypassed, a more comfortable and less discriminating environment is created for people with disabilities, and spatial hierarchies (who’s got the best desk?!) are erased.

A self-confident workforce is good for business. Not only confident employees are more likely to bring new angles and high-level suggestions, but inclusive workplaces are twice as likely to meet or exceed their financial goals.
One Thing You Can Do Right Now
Harness the power of distributed work to create a more inclusive workplace.
  • Consider maintaining distributed work, or hybrid models, as an equally viable option for all employees, even if 2021 allows us to go back to on-site offices.
  • Identify all pressures, anxieties, and insecurities that remote work has alleviated, and think about how you can ensure these newly acquired dynamics stay in place once you all return.
  • When hiring, expand your horizons to people from other locations, making room for talent from underrepresented backgrounds.

02 / Review Season

From Katie Cowden
Ahhhh….December. Eggnog Season and Review Season. Odds’re either revolted at the very thought, or you eagerly await its but-once-a-year arrival. No all things 2020-style, this year will be different.

Already a hot topic, Performance Reviews are under full fire this year. Burdensome process, bias potentiality, existential dread--multiplied to the 2020th degree. Responsible leaders are taking stock and changing approaches that may be inequitable or unsustainable.

According to this article in the Washington Post, a significant number of companies are adjusting how they do reviews—whether by format, or cadence, or performance expectations. ABI streamlined their process to be less ‘bureaucratic,’ but maintained 360 input by employee request. And some companies, like Twitter, have suspended or cancelled them altogether.
Why It Matters
Before you call the whole thing off, remember this: reviews are feedback, and feedback has never been more important. This year, each of us has faced an onslaught of challenges, picked up new blindspots, and developed unprecedented competencies. That all deserves reflection, attention, and dialogue.

No one’s professional goals should be put on hold, not when they’ve worked infinitely harder this year. Some may actually welcome consistency in process or format, over yet another shake up. (Familiar and those twinkle lights that went up way early this year.)

But if you are cancelling reviews for the season, make sure you’re creating space for regular feedback and growth plans. You’ll find good reason to move towards a continuous cycle anyway.
One Thing You Can Do Right Now
Reviews aside, audit and improve your channels for feedback— for you and your teams.
Managers can...
  • Get good data. You have less visibility and are even more prone to bias with remote workers. Make sure you’ve gotten specific and fair inputs.
  • Be empathetic. Dial up the accomplishments. Choose your battles for the toughest feedback. Dig into the ‘why’ on both.
  • Move to real-time. Distributed work means more scheduled face-time, so use it intentionally for two-way feedback and tracking goals.
Reviewees can...
  • Take pride. Your accomplishments this year may look very different than last’s. But if you’ve navigated and adapted this year, you’ve got a lot to be proud of.
  • Embrace vulnerability. Confidence doesn’t come just from successes. Honesty, trust, and understanding around challenges can build you up too.
  • Set goals. Long term, short term, big and small. Even in uncertainty. Especially in uncertainty.

03 / The Whole is Greater Than The Sum of the Parts

From Jenny Cavaioli
When it comes to the stories we tell of “how capable I am” or “what I delivered on”, it’s easy to focus on the “I” but “we” all might be better served by flipping the script. Rather than focusing on discrete paths for high individual contribution, effort from leaders would be better spent focusing on building resilience within teams that will ultimately facilitate higher, collective performance.
Why It Matters
If 2020 has shown us anything it’s that no matter how isolated we are, we need to share the burdens rather than shoulder them all on our own. There is a reason the saying “it takes a village” has remained relevant and resonant. Imposter Syndrome, dwindling sense of belonging, burnout and job insecurity may take the holidays off but, as soon as we go back to work in the new year, those challenges will reappear. Rather than trying to design them out by raising the bar for ourselves, we can shift the focus to the unit we know allows organizations to create a rising tide that lifts all ships. It’s not an individual’s performance that makes or breaks an organization, it’s the performance of teams that drive results at scale.

Throughout cycles of work, it’s only natural that people are more or less engaged, or have a good or not so good day. A resilient team can withstand those ebbs and flows and serve as a stabilizing force, expanding and contracting as needed. A diverse team- different expertise, ways of working, perspectives, etc.- bolstered by psychological safety achieves more not only because there is strength in numbers, but because they can be adaptive in the face of changing conditions, emerging challenges or opportunities leading to stronger outputs over time and increased sense of pride. Teams are the critical unit of organizational success to focus on as we look ahead to setting goals, demonstrating value and feeling confident that we are part of something bigger than ourselves in 2021.
One Thing You Can Do Right Now
Strengthen team purpose and cohesion by clearly defining, elevating, and celebrating the value exchange within teams.
  • Communicate explicitly in front of other team members (on slack, in meetings, etc.) why someone is part of the conversation, the value they bring, and the role they’ll play.
  • Celebrate individual accomplishments, absolutely, but highlight how those successes connect to the shared mission of the team
  • Foster psychological safety by starting meetings with a check-in round, allow humans to show up as their whole selves.
  • Create & share user manuals for team members to build understanding of how stress manifests, what support should look like, etc.

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