Declutter Your Company’s Emotional Closet

We've all experienced the metaphorical (and sometimes literal) closet where we put things that we don't know what to do with. We open the door hesitantly, toss in the unwanted item, hope for the best, and quickly shut the door to contain the mess.

There's a day of reckoning that comes when we need to open that closet door wide and make the time to sort it all out. This pandemic is opening that door — and all of the things we've been stuffing inside are tumbling out.

It all comes down to facing the question of: What gets to stay and what needs to go?

That overstuffed closet happens in businesses, too. The workplace has all kinds of issues that were never really solved, only shoved aside to "deal with it later."

When the shockwave of this pandemic rippled through, it shook us up. As we are months into what may be a year or longer transition period, the dust is starting to settle. What we are seeing is that we are actually very unsettled.

Old grievances are popping up and haunting Human Resources teams and senior leadership like it’s Halloween.

Employees who thought they were getting a raise, employees struggling to keep up because they aren't speaking up, and communication clogs due to fear of retribution or retaliation are only the tip of the iceberg of issues that are now coming to the surface.

As you are taking inventory of what is showing up and putting it through the lens of what gets to stay and what needs to go, here are some questions for you to reflect on:

  1. Seeing all the evidence around you, what does it say about the current company culture?

  2. What is the company culture you want to cultivate?

  3. What’s the gap between your current and your future company culture?

  4. What behaviors are getting in the way of achieving your desired future state of culture?

The answer to question #4 is gold, my friends. These are the things that need to go.

Too often, HR and Leadership teams will take action to remove the squeaky wheel, rather than really listen to find the golden opportunity to really create impactful, organizational-wide positive change.

The human experience is full of living paradoxes.

Yes, that employee could truly be a toxic employee that needs to go, and they are shining a spotlight on an organizational weakness that is holding the team back. If you want to go further down this rabbit hole, consider how the systemic issue contributes to that employee becoming more toxic.

There are tons of leadership behaviors that contribute to that jam-packed closet full of emotional pain.

Mostly, leaders are unconscious about the impact of these behaviors; or of the behaviors altogether. It’s not through malintent, but rather lack of progress in emotional intelligence.

What most people don't realize is that there is a tremendous amount of trauma that people bring with them into the workplace. Experiences such as bad former bosses or clients, personal illnesses, and tragic childhoods all have a lasting impact that is triggered by other people's reactions. Our actions affect each other in ways that we don't even realize. Sound familiar? This has been one of the biggest lessons of this pandemic — how we are all connected and how much we truly impact each other.

Picture it: March 18, 2020. Where were you? How highly functional were you?

Many of us were curled up in a ball in some sort of trauma response to the massive shockwave that rolled through, with the shutdowns brought on by coronavirus. I've heard stories of 7-figure earners and the unemployed alike, talk about how they were in bed for at least a week straight, unable to function normally. Some went into hyperdrive mode in which there is inevitably a crash coming later on down the road.

Did you have an honest conversation with your boss about how you were doing? Probably not. Your boss was also probably curled up in a ball, or maybe they were the ones running all over town with their hair on fire trying to squeeze every last ounce out that they could.

Did you later share your experiences? Again, probably not.

Why does any of this matter?

When you can draw a straight line of human connection with someone else, you can accomplish great things together.

For some businesses right now, they need great accomplishments in order to survive the economic downturn. A lot of businesses are having to take a sober second look at their business and how it fits into this new world that is unfolding.

Part of letting go of old stuff that gets in the way of where you want to be is looking at what gaps are left and what needs to be filled in.

Perhaps you've cleaned out your literal closet and have discovered many single winter gloves that can't be worn together to make a good match. You faintly remembered being annoyed at your glove situation last winter. You've decided to toss those ratty old single gloves that you've been holding on to for decades and discover you don't have a pair of good gloves to wear next winter. What do you do? Look for a great new pair of gloves, of course.

Many businesses are finding they have to pivot and change the core elements of their business in order to survive. Others are finding themselves launched into the deep end quicker than they expected, as this new world demands their product offering.

Either way, in order to have the best experience possible, businesses need to make sure that everyone on the team knows where they are heading and what challenges need to be overcome. Everyone is committed to doing their part and contributing to the success of the whole, in the sense of team in the best possible way — the stuff of rainbows and unicorns and urban legends.

Companies that have this Unicorn culture can pivot quickly because they know they've got each other's backs. They understand how to step in where it is needed, how to identify gaps in systems or processes, how to receive "feedback" without letting their emotions get in the way. They are unified in a common goal, mission, desire, and drive. They each bring a unique "ingredient" to the recipe, which makes a stellar dish, which at the end of the day, they celebrate and enjoy together.

I've been fortunate enough to be part of such a Unicorn company. Sure, it wasn't perfect, but it sure was great. I've formed life-long bonds with the core group I worked with that still exist today.

There is so much waste that happens when people fall into the pattern of not being direct with each other or being very direct but not about the real issue at hand. Think about how much time gets wasted by avoiding having the direct conversation, or what I call Crunchy Conversations, or the impact of one gone wrong. Avoidance, frustration, anger, bitterness, resistance, procrastination, and time spent covering your a$$ and/or spinning your wheels. This is the crap in the closet that needs to go.

As a collective, we have the opportunity to make a conscious effort to clean up these old wounds once and for all.

Let’s leave these old toxic behaviors behind on the other side of the Pandemic Portal. Let’s rise to the Unicorn status of our own design.

In service to your greatness,

~ Aubrey

Check out my other recent posts:

Innovating Leadership in the New Post Pandemic Business World

5 Leadership Lessons from living through a pandemic

The One Skill Every Modern Leader Needs in 2020


Aubrey Armes is a woman on a mission: To change how business is done.

Passionate about doing business differently, Aubrey brings her 20 years of Leadership, Human Resources, and Professional Coaching experience to the modern business leader.

She's giving leadership teams the right tools and teaching them "how to" elicit high performance, from their teams and themselves. Aubrey takes the disengaged and mediocre and transforms them in to energized, high-performing, collaborative teams. Her approach helps leaders and teams achieve radical results through compassionate accountability and create company cultures where everyone can thrive.



#humanresources #grief #emotionalsafety #wholepersonapproach #relationships #leadershiptips #pandemicportal #emotionalintelligence #crunchyconversations #unicorn

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