How to Produce Thoughtful Designs that Generate Big Results

Design is a process that turns an idea or a requirement into a finished product.

While many people believe designs just “happen,” that isn’t the case. Some designs may come together quickly, but generally, there are many stages along the way. Whether you need full-service graphic design or collaboration together along the way, it can be helpful to approach the design process in stages.

Want to produce more inspiring designs? Approach the process in a strategic, focused way. Here are four key stages:

1. Define & Research

At this stage, the design problem and the target audience should be clearly defined.

Preparation reviews information such as the demographics of the target market, the key concepts or language that connect with these people, and the focal message you want to share. The more precise you are in this pre-planning, the more targeted your design solutions will be. Here’s one inspiring example:

Three is a British mobile communications company that used its award-winning “Holiday Spam” campaign to feature travelers sending a flood of cliched holiday photos to people back home. The company appealed to new customers by offering free data services during holiday travel abroad.

Tracking mobile data of customers traveling abroad, Three’s research found that, during holidays, people used 71 times more data than they would have used if they had to pay extra (and this was mostly generated from holiday snaps on social media!). By featuring travelers “spamming” their friends with holiday snaps, Three successfully tapped into audience desires while driving awareness for free data services. This brought a 90% increase in their social conversation volume, higher brand metrics, and increased customer savings as people signed on for new service.

2. Ideate and Prototype

Ideation involves the generation of ideas through creative thinking and prototypes.

Idea generation may come through brainstorming, sketching ideas, adapting previous ads or designs, or by using creative design exercises. While many people rush through the brainstorming stage, ideation strategies are paramount because they allow designers to flow in a life-giving, streamlined environment, releasing ideas that are imaginative, strategy-driven, and smart.

From here, prototyping offers a workup of designs for interested clients. Prototypes give clients the ability to visualize and vet ideas before they are formally produced. The ideation and prototype stages are a critical juncture for printers and clients to collaborate, so the best possible outcome is achieved.

3. Select

During the selection phase, proposed solutions are measured against the original design objective.

Some solutions initially seem practical, but when compared to the original benchmark, you see that they aren’t a good fit. Once a concept gets closer to completion, cost, time, and media formats will sharpen focus and help you choose the most effective design.

4. Implement

At this stage, partners collaborate to bring ideas to life and to generate final delivery.

In print production, finishing techniques are imperative for beautifying your design. This stage includes the application of print finishing processes like folding, die-cutting, binding, varnishing, embossing, or foil accents. Finish techniques are a beautiful way to support and enhance your message and are best considered during the ideation stage so they can be efficiently melded into final print runs.

The Best Possible Product

Different jobs require the use of different techniques, but the strategic design process is generally the same.

This focused approach ensures your design will serve both economic and creative goals. The ultimate aim is to present information in the best possible way for your readers while equipping designers to unleash tremendous creativity in the process.

The Experts Weigh In: Two Strategies for Recession-Proofing Your Business

As COVID-19 shakes businesses around the country, today is a great time to reflect on the victories of those who’ve survived previous financial struggles.

In particular, the 2008 recession offers valuable lessons from entrepreneurs who shifted to either a “prevention” or a “promotion” focus. Here are two real-life success stories, with takeaways for your team.

Prevention Focus: The Montgomery Group

Ernest Montgomery is an NYU grad who launched a creative agency that produces advertising campaigns and manages its talent (photographers, stylists, makeup artists) in-house.

In 2008, Montgomery enjoyed modest success, booking clients like American Airlines and Pepsi. He rented a beautiful office on 7th Avenue in Manhattan, expanded his staff to 15 artists, and grew revenue to around $800k/year. But when the recession hit, he was forced to make some difficult decisions.

Choosing a primarily defensive strategy, Montgomery cut every expense he could think of. He abandoned offices and made his entire staff remote. He axed his web design budget and learned to build sites himself. And most dramatically, he permanently relocated to the Dominican Republic.

Why?

“A campaign that costs $100k to produce in Miami can be made for $65k in the Dominican Republic,” said Montgomery. “A location that costs $10k in Miami costs $500 here — and there is so much less red tape — street permits, blocking off traffic, all that.”

To this day, when Montgomery meets with clients he hops a three-hour flight into New York City, spends the whole day in the U.S., and takes the last flight home. To survive financial hardship, he advises companies to ask their clients, employees, and associate three questions:

  • “What can we do to make things feel better?”
  • “How can we survive this as a group?”
  • “What are we going to do differently once this is over?”

With a leaner overhead, companies are more nimble, with greater flexibility to follow the market and its new demands. And that defensive maneuver can give you an offensive advantage.

Promotion Focus: The Baker Hasseldenz Studio

Scott Baker and Mary Ann Hesseldenz are known for making custom luxury furniture for wealthy clients.

Before the 2008 recession, their Arizona studio catered to clients who were building new homes and wanted matching $17,000 couches or $5000 cocktail tables. But when the housing market tanked, they had to recalibrate.

The couple says they survived the 2008 crash by paying attention to trends and making quick adjustments. While wealthy people weren’t building new homes, they noticed there was still a thriving remodeling market. Their studio quickly shifted focus from high-end furniture to millwork and cabinets.

During the recession, the couple kept overhead low by hiring independent contractors and keeping workshop space minimal. Due to their quick thinking, the couple later noted that their income during the recession actually went up! A decade later, they’re up to $1 million in gross revenue: $500,000 in millwork, $300,000 in furniture sales, and $180,000 in interior design fees.

A promotion focus will look different for everyone, but it requires offensive moves. This may include diversifying your client pool, forging strategic partnerships with other companies, pivoting to a different product focus, doubling inventory where you find strategic buyer’s markets, or rolling out a creative new ad campaign.

A Time to Showcase Your Brand

Whether you take a prevention or a promotion focus, it’s important not to hide!

Today is the best day to showcase your brand and maintain relevancy. Take advantage of this season to build new systems and amplify name recognition. The objective during a crisis is to go beyond survival and to come out stronger.

Pack Extra Meaning into Your Message with Strategic Color Combinations

Of all the elements of design, color is probably the most challenging to understand.

Color originates from a light source that is viewed directly or seen as reflected light. While colors can be displayed in spectrums, prisms, or contrasts, the power of colors is not only in their arrangement, but in the way we perceive them.

Want to add depth to your message? The colors you choose can add an extra layer of meaning.

Colors Prompt a Specific Response

According to Sally Augustin from Psychology Today, research shows that particular colors can prompt measurable responses.

Here are the impacts of five particular colors, and how you can use them to your advantage:

Green

Seeing the color green has been linked to more creative thinking—so greens are good options for pieces featuring innovation, creativity, artistic specialties, or proactive growth.

Red

People featured in front of red backgrounds are generally seen as more attractive when silhouetted against other colors, so reds are great for photo backdrops, booklet covers, headshots, and more.

Having a red surface in view also gives people a burst of strength, so reds are good choices for concepts related to fitness, acceleration, competition, and courage.

Violet

People tend to link greyish violet with sophistication, so these hues can be a good selection for places where you’re trying to make a stylish impression.

Try subtle violet/grey hues in designs for home apparel, personal products, product labels, and more.

Yellow

Yellow is associated with joy, happiness, optimism, and energy.

This color stimulates mental activity and generates muscle energy. Yellows are great for stimulating appetite, implying freshness, or for conveying warmth. Yellow also screams for attention, so you can use it to grab interest. Avoid overdoing it by adding yellow in contrast with another color.

Blue

Did you know that people are more likely to tell you that blue is their favorite color than any other shade?

Blue is a great choice for design, especially with so many shades to choose from! Nature-themed blues can call forth feelings of calmness or serenity, and are perfect for striking a tranquil tone. Turquoise or royal blues can project stability and reliability, which is strategic for brands that want to communicate productivity or security.

One caution about blue: it is not very appetizing. In the world of cuisine, humans are geared toward avoiding blue as it is often a sign of poison or spoilage. Some weight loss plans even recommend eating your food off a blue plate to squelch hunger!

Color Your Communication

Color is a powerful communication tool and can be used to signal action, sway emotions, and even influence physiological reactions.

The right use of colors can play an important role in conveying information, creating moods, and influencing the decisions people make. Be strategic and add extra meaning to your message with dynamic, powerful color combinations.

Prepare for Your Next Breakthrough by Prioritizing Self-Care

There are many seasons in life.

Some are exhilarating, others exhausting. Some bring immense growth, and others deplete you.

Just as there are seasons in nature, there is continual change in our daily lives. Many of us were caught off guard by the coronavirus, and our questions about the future can be more depleting than the uncertainty of this day.

But wisdom takes the long view, and that means prioritizing personal health so you can endure and thrive tomorrow.

From Crisis to Recovery

As you move from a season of chaos to a season of recovery, self-care is one of the most important things you can do. What might this look like? Here is a checklist to consider:

Set a Routine and Prioritize Consistency

Since so many things are out of whack, daily routines are more important than ever.

Create expectations for yourself and your family by involving them in daily cleaning, cooking, recreation, or school responsibilities. Make room for relaxing and fun activities, and build quiet space into your calendar. Posting a new weekly schedule for everyone can make life feel more fun, productive, and stable.

Spend Time Outside

Enjoy the outdoors every day, whether it’s a walk around your yard or sitting under an umbrella on your front steps.

The outdoors will refresh you. Even opening the windows can bring an invigorating breeze and a gush of energy.

Cultivate Joy

A lot of what we hear and see these days is scary and troubling, and there is power as we move in the opposite spirit.

Whether it’s a YouTube video or a hopeful song, find one thing each day that makes you smile, laugh, or feel good. To double the impact, share your positivity with others. A joy shared is multiplied!

Reach Out

Perhaps the last few months have left you so frazzled you haven’t made time for others.

Isolation is very dangerous, increasing your risk of mortality, prompting quicker cognitive decline, and inflating your pessimism about the future. People need people, and sometimes YOU need to be the one who makes the first move. Reach out to others through emails, video-conferencing, a driveway coffee date, or a long walk.

Control What You Can

While it is natural to worry about the future, anxiety can carry you away.

When uncertainty tempts you to fret, counteract that by concentrating on what IS in your control. Can you deep-clean your storage room, re-arrange furniture, or start a wood-working project? Bringing order to chaos is a wonderful antidote to stormy emotions.

Help Others

Research shows that helping others is a great way to help yourself.

When recovering from a season of stress, one of the best ways to recover is by lifting others up too. Can you donate money, supplies, or time to a non-profit? Deliver groceries or a “favorite” pampering item to someone who isn’t expecting it?

When you are stressed or afraid, one of the most powerful things you can do is to find someone who is worse off than you and serve them.

This Too Shall Pass

COVID-19 has prompted a season of isolation and stress like many have never known.

It is scary to think of living like this forever, but remind yourself that it WILL end, even if it takes a long time to rebalance. Just like seasons pass each year, this time of testing will pass as well.

There is no “right way” to take care of yourself, but it crucial that you do it!

Customer Service Stories to Make Your Heart Smile

“Well done is better than well said.” (Benjamin Franklin)

After months of social distancing, today, people are craving a personal touch more than ever. Companies that go the extra mile remind us of an important truth: people are valuable. Businesses that genuinely care about their customers will express it, and clients will reciprocate with a loyalty that lasts.

Looking for inspiration? Here are three heart-warming stories.

Lego Understands Children

Losing a toy can be devastating to a child.

Lego recognized this and personalized their response in an unforgettable way. When Luka Apps lost his favorite Lego figure (Ninjago’s “Jay ZX”) while shopping, he wrote an apology letter to Lego, begged for a replacement, and said his father had warned him about taking Legos outside.

Lego didn’t just replace Jay; they surprised Luka with something special. A customer service rep named Richard responded quickly, telling Luka he had talked to (Ninjago Spinjitzu Master) Sensei Wu:

“He told me to tell you, ‘Luka, your father seems like a very wise man. You must always protect your Ninjago minifigures like the dragons protect the Weapons of Spinjitzu.’ Sensei Wu also told me it was okay if I sent you a new Jay and told me it would be okay if I included something extra for you because anyone that saves their Christmas money to buy the Ultrasonic Raider must be a really big Ninjago fan.

“So, I hope you enjoy your Jay minifigure with all his weapons. You will actually have the only Jay minifigure that combines 3 different Jays into one! I am also going to send you a bad guy for him to fight! Just remember, what Sensei Wu said: keep your minifigures protected like the Weapons of Spinjitzu! And of course, always listen to your dad.”

Richard’s response was so creative it went viral. Lego surprised Luke and won the hearts of families worldwide.

B. Dalton: Placing Customers Above Competition

Is your company truly focused on customer satisfaction?

  1. Dalton (a bookseller later acquired by Barnes and Noble) was famous for its relentless customer care. One Christmas, a mother was shopping for a book her son requested. An employee scanned the computer and found the desired book was in stock but still packed.

After unsuccessfully searching the storeroom, the employee returned with an apology. Disappointed by her inability to help, the worker then called a competing retailer, reserved the book for the customer, and printed directions to the other store. Reader DD Moffitt was stunned by this consideration. While B. Dalton missed the sale that day, it gained DD’s loyalty for life.

Trader Joe’s: Turning a Problem into a Party

One evening, a mother and son were grabbing groceries at Trader Joe’s.

The boy (as boys are known to do) was bouncing off the walls. He ran loose from his mother, escaped to another aisle, and almost ran over an employee. The embarrassed mother moved quickly to apologize, but the employee said they were all used to it, and that shopping with children was kind of like “a dance party on the floor.”

With that, he started dodging and grooving and called several fellow employees to jam along.

They asked the shy child to join in the freezer section party, and soon the whole store was laughing. By making light of a tough situation, Trader Joe’s made this an unforgettable day.

It’s All About People

Business is about relationships, and customer service stories are wonderful because they illustrate kindness in action and spark new ideas.

Enjoy these illustrations and allow them to inspire you to take your own service to a higher level.

3 Strategies for Pursuing New Business Opportunities

In the weeks surrounding the onset of COVID-19, businesses worldwide have pivoted quickly.

Many have juggled shifting expectations by establishing remote work arrangements, securing supply chains, reducing employee workload, cutting costs, or applying for government support.

Now it’s time to move forward with a proactive business plan and to consider new opportunities. What will this look like for your business? Here are three strategies.

Strategy 1: Same Products, Different Channel

If the majority of your business takes place on-site, now a promotion focus through a different channel may be helpful.

In what ways can you offer the same (or similar) products and services through an online channel? Can you digitize any of your physical products? Can you offer webinars, online consultation, or build a technology-mediated delivery solution? From curbside pick-up to livestream shopping events, ramped up digital options are a low-hanging fruit every business should explore.

One florist facing delivery bans sold “virtual” bouquets for $70-$400 dollars. The recipient got a photo of their bouquet over email with the promise of a live delivery once businesses re-opened. When Chinese cosmetics company Lin Qingxuan was forced to close 40% of its stores, the company redeployed its beauty advisers as online influencers, and digital tools like WeChat engaged customers virtually. One large-scale livestream shopping event featuring 100 beauty advisers, helping Lin Quingxuan’s February sales climb 120% over 2019 sales.

Strategy 2: Same Infrastructure, Different Products

During a crisis, leaders must recognize opportunities and make the most of them.

The COVID-19 season is a crucial time to consider new opportunities. While the need for some products and services has fallen, demand for others is high and even growing. Can your business deploy existing infrastructure to produce different products or offer new services?

In the spring of 2020, companies such as LVMH (perfumes) and Skyroro (rockets) switched to producing hand sanitizer within a few days. Manufacturers like GM, Ford, and My Pillow modified idle production lines to manufacture medical devices and face masks.

If people today see increased value in e-learning, improved individual health, or meaningful networking, how can your business identify and fill these needs? Disruptors often come from the bottom of the market to upend traditional retailers, or they create new markets and appeal to customers who have previously gone without a product.

Strategy 3: Same Products, Different Infrastructure

Perhaps your challenge is an increased demand for a particular product or service.

In this season, some companies may need to quickly augment physical systems, communication networks, or staffing to increase production or delivery capacity. And building new infrastructure often requires collaboration with external partners.

Employee sharing is one example of companies shifting infrastructure to meet needs. In Germany, McDonald’s staff have been permitted to work at Aldi stores while on-site dining is shuttered, and groceries are swamped. On the physical side, an adapted retail model may mean offer smaller stores (or “nodes” within large spaces) rather than crowd-based facilities.

Monitoring needs and forecasting future behavior are critical to adapting your infrastructure and remaining nimble.

Creativity Fuels Innovation

During a crisis, many things are out of your control.

But that’s ok because you can still shape your response! Focus solely on what you can control. Look for creative ways to adapt, and you will come out stronger in the years to come.

Selling the Vision: The Passion Behind the Product

In 1948, Richard Stack started Dick’s Bait and Tackle with three hundred dollars borrowed from his grandmother.

As the store expanded into sports and retail, Richard and his son Ed learned many lessons. Ed says one impactful memory came during a moment that tested his father.

One day a little kid walked in the store and wandered over to the baseball section, then grabbed a glove and bolted toward the door. An employee nabbed him as he reached the parking lot and dragged him back inside. The employee was yelling at the child when Richard Stack intervened. He looked the little boy up and down and laid a hand lightly on his shoulder. From his ragged clothing, it was clear that this child came from a family with limited resources.

“Why’d you steal the glove?” Stack asked.

Tears streamed down the child’s face as he squeaked, “I just want to play baseball.”

Stack nodded. “You can’t steal,” he said. “No matter how bad you want something, you cannot steal it. I want you to promise me you’re not going to do this again.”

“Yes, sir,” the kid said.

“Ok,” said Stack.

Then he walked over to the baseball section of the store and had the boy pick out a ball and a bat to go with the glove.

“You go play baseball,” Stack said, “and stay out of trouble.”

Because Richard recognized the value of his own youth sports experiences, his business was always a major proponent of individual kids and youth sports initiatives. In the early 1960s, Richard went on to expand the Binghamton, NY Little League program from 60 kids to 240. And eventually, Dick’s Sporting Goods began donating over $20 million a year to school sports programs nationwide.

Casting Customers in the Starring Role

Every kid dreams.

Ed Stack says this is something Dick’s keeps in mind through all their business decisions today. When a parent comes in to buy his or her kid a baseball glove or soccer cleats, they are buying more than equipment; they’re buying a dream of joy or greatness for their child. And Dick’s expands that vision to entire communities, leading a “Sports Matters” giving campaign with this storyline: “Every Kid Deserves a Chance to Play.”

Selling a vision is very different than selling a product, and it’s much easier. A vision is about a customer who sees themselves as the main character of your narrative. Here customers see what they could achieve through the vision you create. This starts by highlighting the challenges or problems of their current situation: potential they could tap into, dreams they want to achieve, or opportunities they may be missing.

Inspiring brands always lead their messages with an idea. For Dick’s, a core idea is that sports make a huge difference in the life of a child. Whether your idea is a belief to change the world or to encourage social responsibilities, your core belief will draw like-minded people to your brand. And when this vision engages the customer, they begin to own it for themselves.

Selling the vision isn’t about functions or features; it’s about showcasing the possibilities. Instead of selling rain boots, sell a world without soggy feet. Instead of selling coffee subscription services, sell the aroma of blissfully fresh beans at the doorstep each month. Instead of selling bats and gloves, sell the dream of children who have a place to belong.

Paint a picture of the desired reality and offer a road map for achieving it.

Marketing Messages that Connect During a Crisis

We are in a totally different world right now.

Many of us are working from home and the future seems hazy. Perhaps you’re struggling to make decisions about staffing or future projects. But like a forest fire restarts growth, crisis moments can bring a new birth for your business. And that starts with how you communicate with customers.

Others-Focused Communication

In our unending-news-cycle world, much of what we hear seems like noise.

But now, more thn ever, it is crucial for you to connect with people in meaningful ways. Want to send business messages that are well received? Use an OTHERS-centered paradigm.

O = ONE

Write for one person.

When you craft a message, imagine yourself speaking to one specific client. Pick out a single buyer and pretend you’re writing only for them. This helps you ditch the sanitized corporate-speak and makes your reader the focus of your message (rather than you!).

People connect to messages that are specific, personal, and conversational.

T = TRANSPARENCY

Embrace transparency to become relatable.

People may admire you for your strengths, but they connect with you through your weaknesses. Vulnerability ushers in humility and makes you instantly relatable to your audience. Transparency means letting people know how your business is doing or what has changed for you during this taxing season. You don’t have to air all your dirty laundry, just take an open, communicative posture. Now is not the time to go silent!

H= HELPFUL

Speak to their needs, not your own.

What messages are most helpful to your customers at this time? While you could send a five-star handwashing tutorial, perhaps what is needed is advice to parents on talking to their kids, or how your company is adding flexibility to meet customer needs.

Don’t be afraid to push others to success. If your clients seem fearful or tentative, perhaps your encouragement will be the fuel they need to get back in the game or to push a stalled project to completion.

E = EMPATHETIC

Make their problem your problem.

Maya Angelou once said, “people will forget what you said, people forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

How does your messaging make people feel? Does it sound hard or templated? Or does it communicate true concern and a willingness to help? Your tone should sound something like this: “If it’s your problem, it’s my problem too, and we’ll work together to find a solution.”

R = RELEVANT

Timing matters.

The relevance of your messaging applies not only to its topic but its timing. Sending pre-scheduled content with no regard to how it will land during hardships is a sure way to demonstrate you’ve lost touch with your base. Reach out to customers and find out how they’re doing, then adapt your messages accordingly.

S = SINCERE

If you say or do something, mean it!

This may seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how often people talk just to hear their own voices. Using content just to fill space will strike people as stale and insincere. Instead, go out of your way to be helpful and kind without seeking a reward for doing so.

What Social Distance Can’t Overpower

Since you may not see customers directly for weeks to come, today is the time to make your website and print materials as “social distancing” friendly as possible.

By focusing on others with a relatable, helpful approach, you’ll connect with people one by one in ways that are sincere and inspiring. And nothing is more effective than that.

Five Strategies to Use Your “Quaran-TIME” Effectively

Mike Turner founded the Front Street Brokers real estate firm in 2005, with a desire to offer distinctive client experiences, to equip agents for the maximum efficiency and profitability, and to devote significant firm resources to a local, philanthropic focus.

After three years, Turner’s firm experienced a significant slowdown during the 2008 financial crisis. This was a time of immense strain, especially when scheduled closings dried up before his eyes:

“In that time period, we had 10 real estate transactions scheduled to close, and nine of them fell through for unforeseeable reasons,” Turner said. “All of a sudden, $100,000 worth of business income that we were dependent upon [was] gone.”

Turner faced difficult choices in this season, and many of us are facing similar decisions in today’s COVID-19 crisis. Today, Turner says that while change is inevitable, he knows we still have a choice. Will we allow unforeseen challenges to drag us downstream, or will we improvise to find a way across the river?

Five Strategies to Use Your “Quaran-TIME” Effectively

Anyone can become a victim when change comes fast and forcefully.

Sudden change is scary, and though we may not be able to swim upstream, we can still strategize and seek active growth. What are some ways your business can grow during this difficult period?

Use Social Media to Connect with Customers

Try a more animated touch through social media. If subscribers are opening your emails, they are expressing genuine interest. Take these customer relationships to the next level by including embedded videos or links to caring content you’ve posted on Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Answer Questions or Position Yourself as a Helper

As you reach out to subscribers, ask if they have any questions or respond to challenges you know they have. Take an interest in the content they post as well – comment on it, share it with your followers, or start real conversations. Connecting to clients now will form a personal bond that lasts longer than the COVID-19 crisis.

Stretch Your Team’s Skills

When activity wanes, morale often follows. Invigorate employees by offering on-going education tools, professional mentoring within your team, or problem-solving workshops that mobilize groups to tackle some of your most ambitious goals. If your company lacks online meeting capabilities, this is a great chance to preview options like Zoom or Google Hangouts.

Do Some Spring Cleaning

While the pace is reduced, give focused attention to your internal atmosphere. Whether you need to spruce up workspaces or sort through old files, redeem the time by getting organized. This may also be a great time to refresh decor, business cards, or your website, or to involve your team in designing new content for newsletters and videos.

Express Gratitude

In hard times, a warm word goes a long way, and this can shift your own perspective from negativity to hope. Take time to say thanks to customers with handwritten notes, personal videos, or future discount options. Whether you plan a summer reunion party or make appreciation phone calls, prioritizing gratitude will make you a better entrepreneur in the long run.

Change Course, but Don’t Quit!

They say that genius is just persistence in disguise.

In tough times it’s ok to be discouraged, but it’s not ok to quit. Be proactive in this season, and keep taking the steps you can to inch ahead. New paths are, by definition, uncleared. But persistence and positivity are your most valuable assets as you journey toward hope.

Leading with Empathy During Uncertain Times

COVID-19 is officially a pandemic, and millions of Americans are working at home.

 

Even if you aren’t sick, you feel the impact of this pandemic. As the coronavirus has spread across the globe, the CDC has made drastic recommendations on social distancing, self-quarantines, and statewide “stay at home” mandates.

 

Through this unprecedented season, what are some of the best ways to navigate your professional challenges?

 

“I Feel Your Pain”

 

Empathy is one of the best starting points.

 

Defined as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another,” empathy allows you to comprehend what another person is experiencing or to put yourself in their position.

 

Empathy is the ability to perceive a situation from another person’s frame of reference, and possibly to experience the emotions that go with that. Empathy is different from just “being kind” because empathy is a powerful tool that allows you to truly understand points of view that are vastly different than yours. A person leading with empathy is more aware of overworked employees, overtaxed customers, or solutions that another person may overlook.

 

The benefits of empathy are huge. A recent nursing study showed that nurse managers who were perceived as empathetic could boost vitality and thriving environments in their teams. Empathetic leaders can communicate better with employees and customers, build bridges of trust, and can facilitate optimal employee performance and compliance. And this brings exponential gain: organizations with engaged employees have higher productivity, profitability, customer satisfaction, and loyalty.

 

Empathy in leadership can manifest in many ways with regard to the coronavirus response. Here are just three:

 

1. Be Calm

 

During any crisis, people need their leaders to remain calm and to empathize with their thoughts or feelings.

 

While you may not share the emotions of your customers or employees, it’s ok to acknowledge feelings of anxiety or stress. When possible, share resources that promote facts, not fear (like information from the World Health Organization or the Center for Disease Control), in order to help people intellectually interpret the outbreak.

 

2. Be Flexible

 

With many people working from home (with kids in tow!), some employees may struggle.

 

Leaders should be considerate of missed deadlines, unforeseen health emergencies, and emotions bubbling near the surface. Remember, things are not “business as usual,” and special times require special considerations. Above all, flexible managers are consistently leading AND responding. Simply directing employees to available support resources can make a huge difference.

 

3. Be Available

 

Not everyone is empathetic by nature, so this is a great time to check your own heart.

 

Examine yourself daily and ask: Am I really listening? Am I taking in others’ points of view? Ask for feedback from people you trust or solicit comments through neutral channels. Or set up work-from-home chats where people can share tips, information, advice, or inspiration as everyone adjusts to a new normal.

 

Natural routines can also go a long way toward building confidence – consider morning huddles, or regular conference call “office hours” to offer an open door for people in their most vulnerable moments.

 

Be Positive and Proactive

 

Still not sure how to show grace?

 

Perhaps the best strategy is to change your perspective. Instead of prioritizing outcomes or objectives, use this time to focus on your own leadership. Ideally, you should be a coach, a therapist, a sounding board, and a support system to your employees. Allow people to chat candidly and comically, and make room for a few failures.

 

Create margin during this roller coaster, and everyone will benefit!