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Texas A&M “Re-Entry Guides” Help Leaders Support Their Institutions During Times of Crisis

Shannon Deer, Ph.D, is Assistant Dean of Graduate Programs at Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School and a member of the BusinessCAS™ Advisory Board.  In her role at Texas A&M, Dr. Deer oversaw the creation of a series of Re-Entry Guides addressing the safe return to the workplace following the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Liaison recently spoke with Dr. Deer about the guides and will go into more detail during Back to B-School: What It Will Take to Thrive This Fall and Beyond, a free webinar on Tuesday, September 1 at 11:00 a.m. PT / 2:00 p.m. ET. 

 The five “Re-Entry Guides” posted online by Mays Business School address not only re-entering the workplace in the “new normal” but also how to advance with renewed energy. For those who haven’t had a chance to read the guides yet, what are the key takeaways?

The guides provide a good reminder that we are all human – as leaders, co-workers and customers. Uncertainty is difficult at any time, but the heightened uncertainty of COVID is having a significant psychological impact on all of us, in addition to the health and economic impacts often discussed. At this time, we are not just navigating uncertainty, but multiple fears. As it says in the first guide, we fear returning to work, but we also fear the impact on our jobs/businesses/communities of not returning to work. We are fearful (and maybe a little judgmental) that others are not being as careful. We can’t remove all of the risk, fear and uncertainty, but the guides provide tips for creating physical, emotional and psychological safety for our employees.

The guides have three key takeaways:

  1. Our employees need to feel physically, emotionally and psychologically safe.
  2. What we say and how we say it to our employees can either build or erode trust.
  3. Taking every physical safety measure without effective communication will not build trust or empower employees.

What can the re-entry guides teach leaders, in particular, about how to support the people who make up their organizations and how to thrive in today’s — and future — uncertainty?

One way the guides help leaders to support employees in thriving during today’s – and future – uncertainty is by focusing on the future. Leaders are spending so much time right now addressing urgent issues, but they can’t forget to focus on the future. Focusing on the future builds hope for employees, which is much needed at this time. The guides provide specific tips for showing kindness and building positivity.

What was the inspiration for creating the Re-Entry Guides?

We adopted the guides, because we know everyone is working hard to navigate the COVID-19 environment, which is a crisis for many reasons. We are all experiencing heightened stress, frustration and fear as a result of continuing to do our already demanding jobs and, on top of that, navigating leading through a pandemic. The advice in the guides is valuable at any time, but critical today.

Together, the five guides have dozens of insights and tips. Since reading the guides, which tip or tips do you now use the most?

The tip I have used most in communicating with our team is writing an email with the salutation “Dear Mom” and then changing the salutation to “Dear Graduate Programs Team” before sending. The process has made my emails more thoughtful and compassionate. I forgot to change it one time and sent an email addressed to “Dear Mom.” Luckily, our team had seen the re-entry guides and they knew I was putting them into practice. We had a good laugh about it though! The practice of pretending I am writing the email to my mom has been extremely impactful. I love my mom, I want her to be safe and I feel compassion when she experiences stress. My employees deserve for me to consistently extend those same courtesies to them, who I also love and appreciate.

There are five guides: The Re-Entry Guide, the Getting Back to Work Guide, the Re-Emergence Guide, the Eleven Re-Entry Wins Guide and the Re-Onboard Checklist. Which one did you find most helpful and why?

I have found Guide 2, Getting Back to Work: Building an Organization of Trust & Empowerment, to be the most useful as a leader. It has endless practical tips for managing a team at this time. Some tips include best communication practices in a crisis, advice for building short meetings to increase communication effectiveness and the reason we should never start a question we ask an employee with the word “Why.”

What advice would you offer to colleagues across the country right now who are trying to figure out how to navigate the challenges of the upcoming school year?

The upcoming school year will require, above all else, flexibility and compassion. People’s stress buckets are full. Showing ourselves and others some grace is important right now. Our students will behave in ways we have not seen, or have seen infrequently in the past, because they are stressed. We are still in the business of transforming students; the journey just might be a little bumpier this year.

Dr. Deer and her team at Texas A&M adopted the Re-Entry Guides through a partnership with their marketing firm, Deutser.

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