ATD Blog

Value of the Known in a Time of Disarray

Monday, May 11, 2020

During the last two months, our world as we know it has turned upside down. The current normal is working remotely using various technologies, especially video conferencing (if your job allows it). But this remote work is sheltered-in-place with the rest of your family, including children and with many other restrictions, not the telework of the past.

As part of our new normal I am part of a friend-family group that meets weekly to connect and share and laugh—and yes, we have even sung. This gathering has nine adults and varies in ages from millennials to boomers living from Brooklyn in the North to Birmingham in the South. An extension of this connection is group texting during the week. As you would expect, one thing we do is share photos of what we are doing, our animals, and the meals we are cooking. This week as we moved into our second month of quarantine, I recently noticed a shift from sautéed vegetables to comfort food. Comfort food is defined as “food that provides consolation or a feeling of well-being; food that is known.” Generally, it is what people eat when they are a bit down. I started thinking about how we naturally seek the known and comfortable, the tried and the true, especially when our lives are in disarray.

This also triggered an association with something happening in the ATD Forum. As a group we had been conducting quick surveys to check on technologies and ideas for engaging with remote workers from the beginning of the pandemic. Members from various organizations ask questions, we put together a survey, and everyone shares what they are doing, how they are doing it, and some lessons learned.

However, something changed recently. Some members began meeting online using videoconferencing tools and sharing specific job aids, resources, and other tools and techniques they used to help their workforce cope and better engage while working remotely. This is not unusual but think about it from this perspective: Most of us in the talent profession have been inundated with emails and opportunities to learn how to work remotely. Every day, companies are sharing more content on how to engage and help others work more efficiently. They are offering free web sessions and content.

So why the need to initiate a new gathering with a specific community when the Internet provides a plethora of resources? To me it’s like gravitating to comfort food—it’s the known, the trusted, the vetted. We can go directly to the source of the task or mission because we are part of a “group of friendlies.” There is familiarity and a sense of reassurance with what is known and has been experienced in the past. A quick search on the Internet reveals that we tend to gravitate to comfort foods because they make us feel good, they trigger special occasions, and they promote a sense of belonging.

Now more than ever, having the ability to connect, collaborate, and share best practices with other senior TD leaders in a known community becomes a differentiator in driving business impact. It helps us feel less professionally isolated and promotes that sense of belonging to something bigger, especially as we experience similar challenges even as we represent different industries and varying locations. We are part of a group that cares and supports us even as we express our vulnerabilities and lack of answers for uncharted territory. This belonging and support helps us to be less overwhelmed with our current conundrum. As others shine a light on what we are going through, we feel glimmers of hope; we see options and possibilities. It promotes sparks in our brain and heart that says, “Yes, I can do something like that too!” It provides a little self-confidence needed to take a next step, especially to know we have the support and advice of this group. Being part of a “home base” learning community where everyone is a learner and a teacher serves as a catalyst to help others and share.

Being part of a supportive and comforting group whose trust has been validated over time is always a positive. But maybe it is just never appreciated until we are isolated and in a world of uncertainty.

Oh, and, yes, the story continues. This same group that started out helping each other has now made all their materials, content collateral, and job aids available to the rest of the ATD Forum consortium members through a private website. This makes it easy, like having a gathering of family-friends around a table set with comfortable soul food. And all members need to do is click or call to connect and learn new ways to take actions.

About the Author

MJ leads the ATD Forum content arena and serves as the learning subject matter expert for the ATD communities of practice. As the leader of a consortium known as a “skunk works” for connecting, collaborating, and sharing learning, she worked with members to evolve the consortium into a lab environment for advancing the learning practice within the context of work, thus evolving the Forum’s work-learn lab concept. MJ is a skilled and experienced design and performance coach for work teams, as well as a seasoned designer of work-learn experiences with a focus on strategy and program management. She previously held leadership positions at the Defense Acquisition University, including senior instructor, special assistant to the commandant, and director of professional development.

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Great article MJ. It hits the mark on what I think we all are feeling right now. Being the 2020 Forum Advisory Group Chair, I can share the Forum member embody the concept of connect and collaborate! This group has helped our profession by sharing how we all are approaching this new normal. Please consider investigating what the Forum offers and how it can help you both organizationally and professionally. We are there to help all talent professionals led by MJ and the Forum Advisory Group.
Thank you Jerry for your many contributions to help all members build performance capability.
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