Learning & leading with compassion through COVID-19

Published December 9, 2020

Author: Kelly Williams

This article was originally published by BenefitsPRO.

Walking through the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) offices feels like stepping back in time. Running shoes lie idle under desks, candy bowls sit untouched and calendars read March for the ninth month in a row. This is a familiar scene for many offices across the U.S. today, as employees abandoned their desks and offices for what we all thought would be a few weeks.

While recent vaccine announcements promise welcome relief, we still face a long road: Cases are rising. Hospitals are filling. There is heightened anxiety, stress and uncertainty in the air. And the coronavirus is just one aspect of a year that has been quite difficult, to say the least. We as a country have contended with fires, hurricanes, racial injustice, civil unrest and a divisive elections cycle.

As 2020 comes to a close, decision makers everywhere face a big question: How do we navigate today while planning for 2021?

Leading through uncertainty

The answer is that there is no right way to lead through this crisis.

Each business is unique, and we've all been impacted in different ways this year. Some of us are restaurants. Some are airlines. Some are retailers. Some are hospitals. We’re each working with different business needs, cultures and resources. That means there is no one, right path through this. Our decisions will necessarily vary, and there will be missteps along the way—especially in today’s ever-changing landscape.

In general, I don't find value in striving for perfection “I’m not perfect; we’re not perfect,” is something my team regularly hears me say. The humility to acknowledge this in ourselves and the decency to acknowledge it in others are the secret to moving beyond judgement, into inquiry.

What all business leaders have in common are our shared goals: supporting our people and supporting our business. Given that we’re all facing the same monumental challenge right now, we have an opportunity as leaders and humans in general to support and learn from one another, adjust, adapt and repeat over and over again—together.

Lighting a path forward

As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “It is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness.” It’s a sentiment I have reflected on many times in the past months. There’s been an awful lot of darkness to contend with this year. How we choose to respond to that darkness determines how much light we have to share.

In the spirit of learning from one another as we work toward common goals and inspiring a brighter 2021, here are some lessons our team at BCBSA has found successful thus far:

  • Communicate. Frequent communication is important in the face of uncertainty. In its absence, we creative our own narratives that are often far from the truth. At BCBSA, we have maintained many touchpoints with our employees since March, from virtual Town Hall meetings and Learning Exchanges to executive messages and live Q&As. These outlets have allowed us to share where we're headed as an organization and to hear from our employees on where they need more support.
  • Be human. As we adjusted to a fully remote workforce in the earliest days of the pandemic, not only did our cadence have to change, but so too did our tone. Without the benefit of sitting down with one another, we knew leading through relationships would be more important than ever and so we leveraged shared stories, inserted photos and removed our titles from our messages. We included personal anecdotes and encouraged sharing. We're all human, but sometimes it's easy to lose that personal voice in corporate messaging. By slowing down and honoring our authenticity, we connected with our employees from afar.
  • Adjust and adapt. Socially, emotionally and financially, it has been a tough year. We all remember having to make quick decisions as the realities of the pandemic started to become clear in March. As the guidance and government response evolved, we quickly adapted our remote work strategy where needed and updated our employees along the way. Staying closely connected with our employees served as good reminder that in uncertain times, how important it was for us to provide as much certainty as possible about our path forward, and we adjusted our communications accordingly
  • Trust your people. To move a largely in-office population into their homes and maintain business continuity in the midst of a pandemic, trust is essential. Employees must trust in their organization to navigate this crisis, and organizations must trust employees to continue do great work. What I’ve experience in my life is that we are more alike than we are different, and that in our work we want to feel valued, appreciated and accomplished. That’s the belief our trust is based on, and our teams have proved us right many times over. I am incredibly grateful for the trust they continue to reciprocate in return.

How we got here is how we'll get there

For over 90 years, Blue Cross and Blue Shield (BCBS) companies have provided security and compassion to the communities we serve. We support, invest in and build programs and partnerships that positively impact the health and well-being of all Americans. This year was no different.

I’m proud and grateful to be a part of Team BCBSA and the larger BCBS community. Most of us have not experienced a year quite like 2020 before. As we move toward more months of change and uncertainty, it is important to remember that how we got here is how we'll get there: taking care of one another and our communities, in whatever ways we can.

Kelly Williams senior vice president and chief human resources officer for the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA), a national federation of 36 independent, community-based and locally operated Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies. The Blue System is the nation’s largest health insurer covering one-in-three of all Americans.