Why leaders need to take a ‘purposeful pause’

Purposeful Pause

The reality is obviously that this has been a traumatic time for many. Even if your organisation has come through relatively unscathed, that may not be the case for individuals, whose loved ones may have lost jobs, become unwell or suffered in some other way, writes Anthony Mitchell

Lockdowns are easing in many parts of the country; we can connect in larger groups and we can have greater freedom of movement. Before too long, if we do well, more people will be physically back at work and traveling from state to state. What a great time to get things back to normal and push forward as hard and fast as possible. Right?

Wrong. We need to take a ‘purposeful pause’ first. While tactical pauses are helpful – that is, a pause in the middle of a busy day to walk, meditate or grab a coffee – combining that pause with reflection is invaluable.

To maximise the impact of your ‘purposeful pause’, consider four key questions:

  1. What happened (in terms of processes, dynamics, thoughts and feelings)?
  2. Why did it happen?
  3. What can I/we learn from what happened?
  4. How might I/we apply from what happened?

Hopefully, most of us know to ask ourselves the first two questions on a regular basis. But it’s with questions #3 and #4 that we gain the greatest benefits. We should go through this four-step process every time we have a major success, failure or surprise.

The extreme nature of the pandemic has opened up a wide spectrum of insights, but we will forget them very quickly and easily if they are not captured, crystallised, communicated and amplified.

This is powerful at any time, but it is vastly more so right now. Why? For two reasons. First, our rivers of thinking have really been disrupted, so our minds are especially open. And second, the scale of disruption means an opportunity to gain massive benefits from pausing and reflecting – and a lost opportunity if we don’t.

How do we take a purposeful pause, at a whole-of-organisation level?
Using the four key questions, here’s a basic example of the kind of purposeful pause that many of us could do right now, at an individual level:

  1. I thought that virtual working would cause a reduction in team spirit, but we ended up being more intimately connected than ever before
  2. It occurred because we saw more of people’s personal lives on Zoom (their rooms, kids, pets, hobbies, household activities, etc) and we talk about this more
  3. I learned that we create an artificial work persona and pretend there isn’t a personal self in this. I learned that when we invest the time in learning more about each other, we enjoy connecting more and develop more intimacy and cohesion
  4. As well as using video on virtual meetings, I think we could find more opportunities to share personal information even if it’s as simple as starting weekly meetings by asking about a highlight from each person’s weekend

But let’s see what happens when we apply it at a strategic level:

  1. We thought that our business was robust to most kinds of threats, but our revenue has really tanked, and we’ve been at risk of insolvency.
  2. We never considered how much of our revenue is tied up in activities that require people to be able to travel and meet face-to-face and how much of it is not guaranteed for any more than three months
  3. We have the opportunity to make ourselves much more resilient in the future. That’s not just about a pandemic, that’s about any exogenous shock
  4. We could develop a subscription model, supporting a virtual service delivery model. We could invest judiciously in this, while taking other steps to bolster our cash reserves

We need to take a ‘purposeful pause’ first. While tactical pauses are helpful – that is, a pause in the middle of a busy day to walk, meditate or grab a coffee – combining that pause with reflection is invaluable.

That is just one example. Many organisations will be able to identify insights from their recent experiences that could be transformational in their impact if captured, applied and amplified.

This type of pause can be undertaken on either a small or grand scale. Regardless, it’s valuable to blend multiple approaches, for different benefits and to suit different respondent preferences.

Here’s an example multi-modal enquiry process that Bendelta is currently undertaking for a client:

purposeful pause

Getting the most from a purposeful pause
First, it’s critical to frame these kinds of processes carefully. Such a reflection process should not come across as ‘weren’t we lucky to have a pandemic’ or ‘this is experience has been all positive’. The reality is obviously that this has been a traumatic time for many. Even if your organisation has come through relatively unscathed, that may not be the case for individuals, whose loved ones may have lost jobs, become unwell or suffered in some other way. Therefore, the framing must be around “Within this difficult time, there have been many assumptions that have been challenged, unexpected benefits that have arisen, and things we have learned about ourselves. We want to understand these insights so that we can learn and benefit from them.”

Secondly, this process only works if it drives constructive outcomes. Not only should the findings be fed back to the organisation, but there should be a small number of concrete actions which are immediately instigated. The fruits of these initiatives must be communicated early and often, so that they achieve the intent of the purposeful pause, namely, gaining material benefits from the reflective process.

There may never be a better opportunity for organisations to take a purposeful pause. The extreme nature of the pandemic has opened up a wide spectrum of insights, but we will forget them very quickly and easily if they are not captured, crystallised, communicated and amplified.

So, before you press ‘go’, make sure you press ‘pause’.

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