The 140kg Straw that Broke the Camel's Back
In April, 2017, I landed on the point of my left elbow. I had a 140kg (309lbs) tackler on my back. In that moment, I was pretty pleased with myself as I had just made a brilliant offload to set up an easy score for a teammate. Everyone else was a bit horrified because my humerus had not survived the passage of play.
I was rushed to the Emergency Room. They sent me home in a cuff and collar. The next day, I scheduled a surgery date. I spent a day and a half in hospital while they rebuilt my arm. Then, it was six-months of physical therapy. I still have to do daily band exercises to this day to keep the muscles around the surgery scars strong.
I had a brilliant coach at the time. Early on, he got me on the phone for a chat.
The most difficult part of this is not the pain or the surgery or the six months of rehab or the lifetime of rudimentary strength work. It is going to feel like you are losing one of your most important friend groups. It is going to take more work to maintain relationships with your teammates. At times, you will feel like an outsider. And that is going to hurt more than any broken bone.
I was fortunate enough to have extremely good teammates who went above and beyond to keep me included in most things. But there were inevitably moments where I could not contribute to our social dynamic or had to sit on the sideline and watch. No matter how well-intentioned everyone was, there were times when our relationships were strained and tempers flared.
My six-month rehab passed and I was desperate to return to playing and my friends. The moment a doctor gave me a thumbs up, I was immediately training as hard as I could to get back to my pre-injury ability. I over-trained and injured a ligament in my elbow. So, I rehabbed the elbow and the moment a doctor gave me a thumbs up, I was immediately training as hard as I could to get back to my pre-injury ability. I over-trained and developed a stress-fracture in the heel of my foot.
Lessons for the End of COVID
By latest estimates, the United States could be three months away from herd immunity. Organizations are clamoring to return to pre-COVID operations. Special consideration must be given to responsibly restoring people to full function.
COVID has impacted everyone – leaders, middle-management, and entry-level staff all included – much the way an injury impacts an athlete. People are experiencing isolation and social disconnect, interpersonal relationships have suffered, and skills have deteriorated which diminishes individual capacity.
Borrowing insights from the injured athlete analogy, we can learn tactics to address the human impacts of COVID. L M Thomas Group has five recommendations:
Have a Reset Button
Interpersonal relationships have suffered in quarantine and isolation despite best efforts to maintain them. Pre-COVID norms and expectations have been muddied in the last twelve months. These conditions are likely to catalyze interpersonal conflicts.
As an organization ramps up to full capacity, convey understanding that interpersonal relationships will be stressed. Create a mechanism by which conflicting parties can lower the temperature and have a mediated discussion. Set the expectation that this mechanism be used before tensions and tempers boil over. This mechanism will also allow you to reset expectations and norms; reducing the likelihood of future conflicts.
Understand Individuals Will Drop the Ball
Certain professional skills have deteriorated in the last year: that’s what happens to skills when they are not regularly practiced. As pressure increases on individuals, some will fail in executing unpracticed skills. This does not mean they are ill-willed. The best leaders will be empathetic towards this fact, look for process failures, and empower their employees to improve.
Things May Not Be the Same, That's OK
Abilities, passions, purpose, priorities, etc. – all the components that make up individual capacity – may have changed in the last year. Leaders should be prepared to see this and understand it is OK. After I broke my arm, it took me almost two years to come to terms with the fact I would not be able to return to my pre-injury playing capacity. But along the way, I discovered I could have an incredibly rewarding career as a coach. Some individuals may need new roles or adapted duties within their organization. Others may be best served by an opportunity with a new organization. Leaders who embrace this reality and empower their people to re-find their purpose and passion will more successfully restore operations.
Create a Graduated Return to Full Capacity Program
Skill deterioration does not mean that an individual will be 100% unable to execute a skill. Rather, it means that the likeliness of successful skill execution decreases more rapidly as pressure increases. Leaders have the ability to control the pressure exerted on skill execution with deadlines, workload, process complexity, etc. With an athlete returning from injury, coaches and physiotherapists implement a Graduated Return-to-Play Program so athletes can re-build skill competency in low pressure environments. Only after completing that program will the athlete make a return to full competition. Leaders are able to create a similar program by strategically manipulating the pressure variables in their control. The consequences of not gradually restoring pressure can be similar to the athletic analogy: over-exerting individuals may cause injury to themselves, the organization, and culture.
Create a Training Program
Skills deteriorate when not practiced under pressure. This has happened to just about everyone during COVID. However, in stating the problem we have identified the solution: practice. Everyone – from the entry-level, front-of-house clerk to the C-suite executive – will need practice in an appropriately pressurized environment to return to full capacity.
L M Thomas Group can help your organization create a time-effective, engaging professional skill training program in your workplace; using a new professional development methodology grounded in the principles of high-performance athletic training and pioneered by L M Thomas Group Project Consultant, Joseph Rasmus. To learn more about implementing a skill training program in your organization, book a free, thirty-minute consultation with Joey!