I’ve always hated running, but I love running events. The race I most cherished was a women’s half marathon famous for its finisher’s prize: a Tiffany necklace presented on a silver platter by a firefighter in a tuxedo. Cheezy? Of course. That’s the point. After years of applying for the race lottery, I was finally selected and got my bib.
Honestly, I saw most races as something to endure for the opportunity to hang out with my sporty girlfriends. I finished every race I signed up for, but more by grit than athleticism. For this particular race, I ran every training mile on the schedule. My training paid off as I felt happier and stronger accepting that little blue box than after any race before.
But now we’re in the midst of these grueling and isolating days of the pandemic. Many compare this to a marathon. Last year also brought political unrest and mass protests over social injustice. In California, we endured oppressive heat, terrifying fires, apocalyptic orange skies, and unbreathable air, so you know the obstacles we all faced.
Based on my race preparedness, I knew it would take stamina and perseverance to handle each day of lockdown. This time, I had no idea whether I was adequately trained.
Months later, I’m just starting to figure this out. Let me tell you how.
What COVID teaches us about managing our people
I recently attended a virtual conference where two concepts struck me.
Number one: Some life difficulties are transformational and ultimately uplifting, while others are just horrible things we must endure. We can’t know which of these will be true until we get to the other side; the added uncertainty causes stress.
Number two: When you’re unsure, go back to your core values. They are most critical in challenging times because they never change, they center you and put a stake in the ground, and they are always true.
In February 2020, as the pandemic was emerging, I found myself overwhelmed by this situation that was nowhere on my radar when I started my new job in HR the month (January) before. At the same time, like everyone else, our family was coping with the worry and struggle of caring for both elderly parents and kids navigating distance learning while adjusting to a new way of working and wrestling with confusion and fear.
Eventually, as the factors that made 2020 a year for the record books ramped up, I found myself obsessively watching the news and feeling the weight of every bit of it.
Yet, there is a common thread. We’re seeking human connection in the midst of chaos – a sense of shared experiences. These experiences trigger feelings of safety, community, and purpose. Taking action of any sort feels more powerful than being paralyzed by the fear of the unknown. And when we can’t figure out where to start, we can turn to that stake we put in the ground—our beliefs and values. We want to be connected to a mission in our personal lives and at work, and our values guide us there.
The importance of company values
More and more, employees demand the company they work for reflect their personal values and beliefs. This is especially true now, when the need for purpose and humanity has never been more pervasive and profound.
As a company, our values – our fundamentals – were developed over a thorough and thoughtful process and are prominent in our discussions. At ZAG, these values are more meaningful when challenged by difficult times. Values of integrity, accountability, teamwork, being client-centered, and being exceptional in all that we do have played a role in how we operate. They set expectations for how we treat others and ourselves, even under extreme stress.
We needed masks and hand sanitizer when none could be found at the stores, and our finance team had a contact who helped us. Others shared their personal supplies and drove them to the office. Teams pulled together. Acts that might seem small in other times – like dropping off extra tubs of disinfectant wipes – were heroic when our clients were counting on us to be there, and our teammates counted on us to be safe.
There were questions about the business as worsening economic conditions dominated the news. But transparency from leadership – showing they valued integrity – acknowledged and assuaged our worries and moved us forward.
Shared values ensure that the people around me are going to react in a way that I can predict and expect. And that brings with it a bit of ease. At a time when a simple trip to the grocery store is different, anything that feels expected translates into great comfort.
Values and the impact on well-being
Don’t get me wrong – the stress is still there, and it will be for a while. This is a marathon, after all. Getting to the finish line takes solitary dedication to a goal, and every step toward that goal can be both exhilarating and painful. But rooting myself in values was critical to my well-being. And taking care of my well-being is essential to focusing on the future, a step at a time.
At the beginning of this ordeal, all I knew for sure was that one way or another, I would come out of this year changed. It’s looking more and more like there will be something positive to take from the events of 2020 after all. Most uplifting and even a bit surprising is my new-found confidence that I can depend on my values to carry me through in ways I hadn’t fully appreciated before. Not a silver lining—more, an epiphany.
My training days before the half-marathon made me stronger and faster while the race day itself gave me a goal to shoot for. We are pushing through our training days, leaning on the plan we set in advance – our mission and values. Knowing that it will be worth it at the end – to finish strong and look back at hard-fought accomplishments won in the toughest of times- is worth more than a Tiffany necklace. But as soon as our restaurants are bustling again, I’ll still take that brunch with friends.