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Planning for the Unplannable

Presented by Drew Mattison, Partner at Tremendousness, Purdue Student Life Advisory Council and Executive in Residence - May 14, 2020

“We're going to talk about what we can do when we don't know what we're doing.”
You may think you can plan for everything, but it's just a matter of preparing yourself to the best of your ability for what's coming, then adapt and adjust with resiliency.

How well is your being? Steps to Leaps—Well-Being

  • The Basics
    Are you getting enough sleep? Are you setting a structured schedule for yourself that is meaningful, appropriate and healthy? What are you doing to eat properly, exercise and be outside? What are you doing to connect with friends and family on a regular basis?

    When we are so focused on doing the right thing for others and making sure we're building the right   programs and activities for, in this case, students, we sometimes forget about ourselves. What can you do for yourself?

  • Your Environment
    How have you set yourself up to be successful in this new normal? If it's the same environment in which you've been working, what adjustments can you make? Do you have enough light? Do you have enough space to work adequately? Think about the environment that the student is going to return to. What is new for them? What is different? How might that effect their overall well-being?
  • What fills your time?
    First, is it meaningful for you? How does that translate from your well-being into creating programs that will have meaningful impact and contribute to the well-being of students?

Can you lead from quarantine? Steps to Leaps—Leadership and Professional Development

  • What’s your starting point?
    Think about where you were two months ago, from a leadership and professional development standpoint. That's your starting point. What did you have in your bag of tricks? What did you have from which you can build upon at the moment. You still have all of those skills. You have all of that knowledge. Think how that can be retrofitted. How do you re-skill yourself around a new normal? What can you take from a professional development standpoint, and augment to be applicable in a virtual space?
  • Skills in 40 days
    Set a goal of either acquiring a whole new skill or improving a couple skills. How can you translate those to help others? What are the specifics that you want to take from those skills to build into a program or to help someone gain that particular skill?
  • Crash Course on Change Management
    This time is a crash course on change management. One of the skills you might want to think about is, "What can I learn about change management?" Because that's exactly what everyone is dealing with  right now. How do you change, adapt, recognize and implement new behaviors

Not just Minecraft. Steps to Leaps—Impact

  • What’s old is new again
    My son’s way of de-stressing, decompressing, and connecting with his friends is to play Minecraft. How can you make an impact that's “beyond Minecraft”? What's old is new again. What have you done in your past that's made an impact that's still applicable right now? Something that worked in the past, will probably work now in a different way with a different lens. How can you take a connection that was made or a particular program element that was successful and implement it in a virtual space? Or remote learning? Or relative to the new distance economy?

  • Look around the corner
    What impacts you now, both positively and negatively? Make a list to leverage what you have in new and interesting ways.

  • Start yesterday
    Don't wait around for people to tell you it's the right thing to do, or until you feel like you've got   this fully formed idea that you can start. Now is not the time for that. Now is the time to start putting things into place. Call some people. Float some ideas. Talk out loud.

    If you're a Post-It Note, quiet room kind of person, get to it. Start putting some stuff up on some walls. If you are a massive extrovert and love to bounce ideas off of people, call all your friends. Tell them to block out an hour, pour a beverage of choice, and start having a conversation. Some of the best ideas can potentially come from that and make an impact. The conversations, themselves, may influence someone else's ideas or give new insights. 

What’s Your WIFI Situation? Steps to Leaps—Networks

  • Assess your circus
    Think of it as a three-ring circus. Networks typically can be defined as three concentric circles. The most immediate or tightest circle is your closest friends and family. These are people you talk to daily, your closest network at work, the people you would normally be sitting beside, or work with day in and day out.

    The next ring out is what most people consider their working and/or social networks. Friends from  school, former colleagues, colleagues from different departments, people you don't necessarily see or  work with every day, or maybe you haven't seen or talked with in a couple of years, but still know well  enough to build a conversation.

    The third ring is everyone beyond the above spectrum. Everyone you may have met once or twice, people who you really want to get to know better, or who might have some interesting ideas or insights that you'd want to learn. Before, perhaps you didn’t have the need or time to reach out. Think about and put pen to paper regarding who are in those networks and start connecting.

  • Pack a lunch
    I say, "Pack a lunch" because networks take time. You may be reaching out to more people, but it will take time to build that network, revive relationships or make new ones. I've been in business development for more than 15 years, and it's all based on networks. There will be people that I'll talk to in January of one year, and I don't talk to them again until two years later, but because of that initial conversation, there's something for us to talk about going forward.
  • No make-up
    Now is the time to be authentic. It's okay to say, "I don't know what's going on, and I'm really scared. I'm looking for a conversation to help me figure out how to be brave about this. I need some ideas on how I can better support my students or my initiatives or my programs, and maybe I can help you, as well." That authenticity, telling your story with open arms, can go a long way.

Great Resiliency is Tiring … or “Get Right in There.” Steps to Leaps—Grit

  • The New Never Normal
    Now, more than ever, is the time for resiliency and grit. Everyone has some level of grit, they just may not know it, and sometimes it's hard to describe. Right now, grit is one of the most important personality traits to have, both in bringing it to bear in what we do, as well as helping others find their own.

    There will be no “new normal,” it's going to be a constant change to our everyday lives going forward. At some point, we'll be back to full-time on campus. But what will that look like? What will happen to the numbers of the student body? How will people's personalities have changed with respect to simple greeting of folks? It's going to take a lot of grit for some people to put themselves back into socially-confined spaces.
  • Take a moment; then Elsa
    For those of you who remember the movie Frozen, “Take a moment; then Elsa,” means "Let it Go." We have what we know. We have the lives that we were accustomed to. While, hopefully, we're not without food and water and the basics, we have to let go of everything we had in the past. Much may be the same going forward, but a lot will change. How do you help build a level of resiliency and grit with folks in this new space and for yourself?
  • Reinvention
    There's a vernacular that's been thrown around a lot lately from McKenzie and Accenture about re-skilling. They talk about people who were working in operations or in factories and “re-skilling” them so that they can work remotely, for example. What can you do, from a reinvention standpoint that supports students and programs?

Is there an example of a mental roadblock that you've seen get in the way of people who are planning when they don't know what the end goal may be?

Bias towards the past often gets in the way. I hear, "That's not how we do that." Okay. Why? Because that's all they know. Their bias is towards what has worked in the past. But if you just rely on those biases every time you apply something, that becomes a huge mental roadblock to moving anything forward.

That's why networks are so important. You need to have conversations with people who think differently, who are in entirely different spaces relative to what you might be thinking. You crack open the biases you have, whether you know it or not, that are holding you back.

Also, fear of the unknown. That's why I covered "start yesterday" with regard to impact. You have to dive in. It's getting into the pool for the first time in the summer. Of course, it's going to be cold. Just get in. You'll be okay. It'll feel uncomfortable, you'll freeze a little bit, you'll wish you hadn't done it for a second, and then it gets better, but you have to make that step.

What advice do you have for leading a team during the 'unplannable' time? How do you find productivity in work but also find a way to support team members as they manage everything that is being thrown at them, especially knowing that things being thrown at us impact everyone in a different way?

As the leader of any group, one of the most important things that you can do right now is to be authentic and factual in how you communicate, without making any false claims or premonitions. For example, say, "Well, I hope we get to this point", or "I'm really hoping that we do this by a certain date.” You don't want to be indirect with how you engage with your team. You want to be authentic and say, "We're working on a plan right now that we have some strong opinions about, and we feel as if we'll be ready to share this in a couple weeks."

Check in with your team on a regular basis. That's a unique skillset, depending on you and your team and knowing a little bit about each individual. Some people are fine. By that I mean, they don't need to be hand-held every day. Other people may have a ton of anxiety about what's going on, and you may need to check in on them. A check-in is an opportunity to hear them out a little bit, but also to reinforce, "Hey, we have some things to do. Walk me through what you've done so far and your ideas for what's next." Help them get back on track.

Have a space that you're moving towards. It may change, it may shift, but you always want to have a direction in which you can point the team. The direction is going to be fluid, but at any given moment, anyone on your team should have, at least, a sense of the two or three or four things that they're responsible for and are moving towards because that gives people a sense of structure, a need to get something accomplished. It helps get their mind off of this ambiguous space in which we currently live, and allows them to get their head wrapped around, "Okay. I'm doing these, this is where this is going to go."

Can you talk about the positives and negatives for making multiple plans versus one plan and sticking to it?”

It's more about a single goal with different ideas about how you're going to reach the goal. If you make one plan and stick to it and it works, it's great. If it doesn't, then you've got nothing to fall back on. It's all the eggs in one basket. The wise leader has a single goal and at least one or two key plans in place on how to get to that goal, and probably another three to four alternative ideas if they need to make adjustments.

Are there change philosophies that you ascribe to? Are there helpful books that you could recommend?

There's a simple exercise I like to go through, and it's called a "Who Do." Who are we talking about, and what do we want them to do? If you think about this from a program planning standpoint, who is the audience that I need to effect, and, once they've gone through the program, or they've gone through the process of creating the program, what are they doing at the end of that? That allows you to ask or write the questions that need to be answered in order for that individual to go from where they are today to this new state, this change.

One of the most obvious, that I can think of, is, how is it that we can further develop a learning community at Purdue when it's remote? How can you build that cohesiveness, that supporting structure when the entire intent behind the learning community is that it is a close-knit community? So, who is it? It's the learning community students. What do I want them to do? I want them to feel as if they're part of a community at the end of this. Now, the questions are; How do I do that in a remote space? How do I find the mechanisms for them to connect regularly? What are the tools that I could put in place to help them connect in a meaningful way?

Book suggestions for learning about change:


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