Awareness, Compassion, and Accountability

How Roy Group adapted a business built on personal relationships and face-to-face experiences to the virtual realities of the pandemic

Like many Canadians, Ian Chisholm used Zoom for the first time on March 17, 2020, just as the realities of the global pandemic were setting in and The New Normal was beginning. As a partner of Roy Group, the core of Chisholm’s leadership development firm was intensive, in-person experiences and connections. More than half a million dollars worth of events had suddenly dissolved for his team overnight, and Chisholm suddenly found himself needing the very tools he had so long resisted in order to survive. “I was an experience snob,” Chisholm admits. “I had passed on investing in video, webinars, and the digitization of Roy Group’s offerings for years. Still, I was strangely excited by the potential, and I knew it was an opportunity to change everything.”

So how does a company that thrives on in-person experiences continue to thrive in a world where in-person experiences are restricted?

1. Recognize your strengths. “The value that we create for our customers is the spark that we protect at all costs,” Chisholm says. “Our facilitation skills and our storytelling skills translated

very well to working with a screen full of people. Our clients tell us, ‘This is different than anything I’ve done online—no visuals, just this good old-fashioned storytelling.’ The team’s ability to notice what happens on the screen and to follow up has been impeccable.”

2. Don’t try to mimic an in-person event online. “Instead of a two-day event, work can be delivered in smaller chunks, since sitting in front of a Zoom call for two days straight isn’t very appealing. We’re finding that smaller pieces of learning delivered more often, with gaps in between where people can practice what they have learned, is actually more impactful than the way we used to work.”

3. Rediscover your own work. “A lot of our content around coaching, conflict and engagement is more relevant now than it was before. Leaders are looking for a way to engage their people and bring out the best in them so that they can lean into these times, together. We figured out how to make our work valuable to people in a new and different way. We also found new applications for the lessons from industries that have to work in complexity all the time. I realized that what we do for leaders is put them on a path to practice new skills, and give them confidence to practice new things. That in turn allows them to learn more from their own experience. Getting leaders on this path to mastery feels like a very special mission for us. I’m not sure we realized how special it was without COVID-19.”

In order to manage all the changes and challenges posed by the ongoing pandemic, the Roy Group team have taken a lesson from the yoga mat and are guided by three core ideas that any business can adapt to help with a pivot or transition: awareness, compassion, and accountability.

Awareness: “In these uncertain times, people need to keep being aware of what’s changing, what clients need, and of what technology is out there that would allow you to deliver the value that you create for them to their doorstep or to their computer. You have to stay aware. That takes some effort. It’s super tiring. Every client call, every design, every delivery is kind of a Rubik’s Cube of its own. It’s demanding, it’s really hard work. You have to be aware of that internal reality, too.”

Compassion: “Things are changing fast. There are technologies that we don’t yet know how to use, and things we should have done 10 years ago. When we become aware of that ‘list,’ our first instinct is to beat ourselves up and say things to ourselves that we wouldn’t dare say to anybody else. We just need to cut that out. That doesn’t help the situation. It’s not going to make us a better leader. After you become aware of what’s missing or what could be done, you then need to show compassion for ourselves and for other people. COVID-19 has hit people so hard and in such a unique way inside that we really need to be very compassionate and understand that everyone is doing the best they can, including ourselves.”

Accountability: “If we don’t beat ourselves up with awareness, and we have some compassion for ourselves and others, then we have all that energy left to be able to take accountability. Then we can do what we need to do, and learn what we need to learn, and innovate the way we need to innovate. If you stand still, you’re going to be wishing that you hadn’t. I’m really looking forward to the day when we can return to doing what we do best, but it won’t be a total return to the way we did things before. We’ve learned a lot from this that we need to craft into a totally different way of doing things.”

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