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  • Stephanie Hollingshead posted an article
    Leading through the 4 four seasons of the COVID Crisis see more

    Survive, Revive, Rise and Thrive.

    Leading through the 4 four seasons of the COVID Crisis 

    by Catherine Ducharme, Director, Smart, Savvy & Associates (


    What are you learning about your Leadership as you journey through the pandemic? 

    To say the COVID crisis has been a journey would be an understatement. It’s been more like a high-stakes, un-relenting endurance race that’s demanded agility, decisiveness, grit, stamina, heart, and humanness every step of the way. 

    Never have our leadership skills been tested to this level. This pandemic has separated the true leaders from the imposters. The passionate from the passive. The transparent from the opaque. And the trusting from the controlling. (I was reminded of the March Los Angeles Times story headline ‘Bosses are panic-buying spy software to keep tabs on remote workers’). 

    And, it’s far from over. There’s much more leading to be done. 

    As we map our path forward here at Smart Savvy, our Leadership team took time to understand and define the stages of this journey for ourselves. Frankly, the tension of pervasive uncertainty and the desire to move forward drove our need for some clear context and structure. So, we defined the Four Seasons of COVID Framework and are using it to guide how we think about where we are, how we lead, where we’re headed, and how we make progress. 

    The framework helps us recognize that each season has its own leadership needs and challenges and requires us to flex different strengths and skills — or lean into new ones — as we journey through.

    Each season requires us to shift our mindset, embrace the new realities, seek out new opportunities, challenge people differently and ask new questions. 

    And if we take the time, each season will give us the gift of self-reflection and learning about our leadership. It’s about taking stock of the strengths we’ve developed, the clarity we’ve gained, where we’ve fallen short, and what we can take forward.


    Season 1: Survive 

    March 2020 seems like a lifetime ago. This season marks our response to the global pandemic crisis. Social distancing, working from home, self-isolation and new standards is how we keep safe.  It’s characterized by massive societal impact along with workplace and economic disruption. 

    The hallmarks of strong leadership during a crisis are visibility, transparency, and frequent communications. This season has also required fast decisions, quick action and adaptability. More than giving people access to the tools and technology to be productive at home, leaders have recognized the important of building trusting relationships, connection and empathy, when leading people through change. 

    For many organizations, this season established the Daily Huddle as common practice. At Smart Savvy, our Huddles continue to serve to motivate, inspire, engage and inform. Conversations are authentic and caring, and as a result we’ve never felt more connected as a team.  

    Above all, this season has provided the opportunity for Leaders to control less and trust more. To let go of perfection and embrace vulnerability. To be less distant and more personal, human and compassionate. To learn what it takes to lead with optimism and role model good leadership. 

    Coaching Questions for Reflection

    • In this season, what’s been the biggest personal challenge for you as a leader?
    • What have you learned about yourself? 
    • What have you had to had to let go of? 
    • What have you learned about your team? 


    Season 2: Revive 

    In this season, we catch our breath. The panic has somewhat subsided, and we recognize the need to be solution focused. We accept that the world we knew has changed and yet we aren’t clear on what the new world looks like. As William Bridges discusses in his book,  Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes, we are in the neutral zone, and our role as Leaders is to navigate our teams and organizations through this time of uncertainty. This season is about pivoting and adapting, reframing and finding opportunities, making tough decisions and having hard conversations.  

    We’ve become Zoom experts and have embraced new and helpful tools that connect us. Virtual is no longer virtual; it’s the way we do business. We’re exploring how to deliver our services in new ways and paying attention to our brand, employees and customers, because this isn’t the time to be tone deaf. It is the time to be supportive and to learn, adapt and try new things.     

    At Smart Savvy, we’ve focused on investing in our brand and our relationships. To support Leaders, we are taking what we know about leadership, coaching and recruitment and are freely sharing that through content, channels, webinars, facilitated discussions and Zoom web events. 

    And, according to the feedback, it’s been welcomed and needed. 

    As Leaders through this season, the challenge is finding the balance between things that sometimes feel like they are “either or” states:

    • Compassion and holding people accountable for performance.
    • Optimism and realism.
    • Work life and home life in the same space.
    • Working hard and managing our energy so we can show up well.   


    Coaching questions for reflection

    • What’s been tough about leading people through change? 
    • What are you learning about your brand, employees and customers? 
    • What conversations are you avoiding? 
    • How are you managing your energy? 


    Season 3: Rise 

    In Rise, we emerge. We’re well down the road of adapting to the new world of work. 

    We’re excited, yet still cautious, about the steps we’re taking in opening our economy, workplaces, and communities. While we’re not sure exactly what’s next, we have the desire and need to forge ahead, explore new opportunities, test out our new business models and build momentum. This season has a bias to action, trying new things, and is about moving forward. 

    While we are still leading through uncertainty in the neutral zone, there’s more clarity and a sense of direction and purpose. We are more assured that we will get through this crisis. This is the season to delicately seek new business opportunities, encourage creative ideas, foster collaboration, reward action, and embrace failure as learning.

    Smart Savvy took part in the Way Forward Workshop delivered by Domain 7. It was the perfect opportunity for our team to dig deep and begin to answer: What now? What next? We came out of the workshop armed with ideas to help us and our clients move forward. 

    For Leaders, we’ve found our voice and purpose in our habits and intentions which are becoming essential tools to keep with us for the future. We are creating clarity, empowering our people, reconnecting with our clients and embracing our new way of working

    Coaching questions for reflection? 

    • What does your team/org need to be successful as you emerge?
    • What would progress look like for you and your business/org?
    • Where do you have clarity? What else do you need to understand more fully? 
    • What’s a decision you could make today to build your way forward?


    Season 4: Thrive 

    Unless you are in the plexiglass or PPE business, for most of us, this fourth season is yet to be written. It lives in the new normal where we embrace the opportunities the post-COVID world presents. For Leaders, our hope is that we apply all the learnings from the past seasons to set us up to lead ourselves well, coach and empower our teams, build new cultures, redefine our values and establish bold visions

    Our hope is that we emerge as stronger, inspiring, more visible, and compassionate Leaders.  It’s our calling, and never before have we had this opportunity.


    Catherine Ducharme ACC, CLC

    Catherine Ducharme, ACC, CLC,  is a career communicator who brings 25+ years communications and leadership experience, in a range of industries. She is a certified coach and facilitator and is currently Director of Smart Savvy Academy, which delivers leadership development and coaching programs to teams. Catherine speaks to numerous audience (now virtually) on topics related to leadership, communications, and coaching.  She is also Past Chair of the International Association of Business Communicators local chapter and Canada West Region. 


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  • Stephanie Hollingshead posted an article
    it’s not that simple…let us explain why and share some tips on how see more

    Remote On-Boarding in 2020

    Written by our guest blogger: the VanHack team

    After you’ve hired your first remote employee, it’s very important to have a great onboarding experience to truly make them a part of your team – and equally, for your existing team to feel like a great new colleague has joined the company. 

    You might wonder why it’s so important to go through this process. Isn’t it enough to simply send an all-hands email announcing the new hire? Possibly with a picture and a brief bio? 

    No, it’s really not that simple. The reason for that is quite simple as well. Us humans are social creatures, and we’ve evolved with an entire glossary of non-verbal communication that we instinctively use when we meet someone in person.

    And this doesn’t necessarily happen in one meeting either. We build on this over time, and after a few weeks, we feel comfortable around the other person. 

    A remote employee is naturally unable to go through this social process, and it can feel quite isolating. It can even affect their performance at work. 

    So, how can you set up a remote on-boarding process that makes everyone feel welcome? 

    VanHack’s been a remote company since 2015, and we created our process over time. We made some mistakes and we learnt a whole lot. Here is our guide – we’re sharing it to help you avoid the same mistakes! 

    Day 1- The First Introduction

    VanHack works on Slack. Our company channels are constantly humming with activity as people across the world join in. The #team-vanhack channel is a combination water-cooler, meeting room, cafeteria and general hang out.

    All new team members are first added to this channel, with a message from our head of HR that says something like

     “@channel please welcome our new $JobTitle @vanhack-name. @vanhack-name will work together with @vanhack-xyz getting VanHackeers doing ABC.”

    Our company culture ensures that everyone welcomes the new hire with a personal greeting. Often, conversations begin right here – people ask where the new person is from, share stories and so on. Since Slack is asynchronous many-to-many chat, it’s usually low pressure and easy enough for even the most introverted people to talk.

    Most companies do this via email, but it’s a lot harder to kick off spontaneous conversations on email thanks to the lag plus the one-to-one nature of it.

    If your company is larger than a few hundred employees, it’s usually best to introduce the new hire in dedicated team channels instead of in the all-company channel. 

    Week 1 – The Weekly All-Hands

    We have a weekly all-hands call where everyone joins in. This is one of the few rules we have at our company about working at the same time – we really do want EVERYONE to be on this call, and we want all webcams to be turned on. 

    Our CEO and Head of HR will jointly introduce the new team member towards the end of the call. This gives you some time to understand the rhythm of the call, how people interact, and so on. In addition, you’ve usually already been on Slack for a few days and will start putting names to faces. 

    This is the point at which you address the company. You’ve already sat through 40-odd minutes of the call, and therefore know that the vibe is low-key and quite informal. After a brief introduction, the rest of the company asks questions. Since we’re all remote, we’ve evolved a mix of chat + live questions that usually doesn’t need any moderation.

    For companies that are a mix of in-person and remote workers, we recommend that you have at least one team meeting where everyone is remote. Pick separate meeting rooms, sit at your desk, whatever it takes. That way, you avoid a situation where there’s a separate conversational undercurrent in the meeting room that the remote employees are unable to sense or take part in. 

    Again, depending on the size of your company, you may want to do this in smaller team calls, or on your general all-hands calls. 

    Week 2- Buddy Assigned, Resources Shared

    Towards the end of Week 1, we match you up with a work buddy. Your buddy is supposed to be your first port of call for any questions, or even if you just want to chat. 

    We make sure that people who volunteer to be buddies are somewhat gregarious and outgoing. The buddy program is run by HR, and we have a separate process to join and be trained as a buddy.

    Your buddy sets up calls on a mutually agreed schedule. In addition, the new hire is encouraged and expected to reach out via Slack whenever they like – and in the first few days, the buddy makes sure they contact the new hire a few times a day to make sure they don’t feel shy about getting in touch. 

    This is also when a bunch of resources are shared with the new team member. The idea is to provide information along with someone that can explain things to you so you don’t get lost trying to make sense of it all by yourself. 

    Week 3 – Calls with all Team Leads

    Calls are scheduled with all the team leads to help get a sense of how the company operates, and what the various divisions do. These hour-long calls are taken very seriously by the team leads – they are almost never rescheduled. 

    During this call, the team lead will explain how their team works, who the members are, and present any information they deem relevant. You are expected and encouraged to ask a lot of questions, and they usually do. 

    The teams that are most relevant to you will often include other people on the call to start building personal connections. 

    Week 4 – One Month Check In

    VanHack HR checks in with you towards the end of the first month. This call is structured to help ensure that you have met all the internal milestones that HR sets. If some have been missed, we try and quickly catch that and fix it.

    HR will also check in with your buddy to get a sense of how you’ve been feeling. You buddy can suggest various things, ranging from “Everything is A-OK!” to “We should make sure we’re providing even more support.” 

    The reason for checking in with your buddy is simple – when you’re new at your job, you may hesitate to say that things aren’t working out, or that you’re having issues. 

    However, if your buddy has been checking in with you as they are supposed to, they usually have a good sense of how you’re feeling about joining VanHack. And they only provide general guidance to HR; your conversations with your buddy are quite private (this is all part of the Buddy training). 


    At the end of the first 30-days, you should have a good sense of VanHack’s communication patterns. Throughout the month people will be messaging you on Slack, inviting you to calls, and generally getting to know you. The team channels will show you how we operate through the day as members log on and off depending on their time-zones. 

    It takes longer than a month to feel at home, of course, but we’ve found that the combination of a structured process with HR and an unstructured process of self-discovery along with a friendly guide (your buddy), provides optimum outcomes. 

    And it doesn’t stop here. The first month has the most extensive support for a new team member, but we ensure that you have support for at least six months. 

    Do you want to know more about remote hiring and onboarding?  Check out VanHack’s website or get in touch with the VanHack team! They have a lot more information on the subject, and they’re always happy to share.