Shifting to Create Recognition Through COVID and Beyond

world with hands around it

Do you feel like just as soon as you, your family, or your organization figures out how to get through COVID, another shift happens – a spike or flattening of the curve, a change in “level” of severity, a new trend or technology is introduced – all of a sudden the game of work has changed yet again? To speak nothing of all the changes happening in your personal life and the people you live with.

It’s becoming very apparent now that we and our organizations have had a range of approaches from being reactive to proactive. To some extent, this was influenced by the industry you belong to as well as more “human factors” such as experience, risk-tolerance, preparedness going in, and how resourceful we were prior to COVID.

Reactive is Still an Action

Going into COVID, some were quick to respond: sending people home to work, jumping on ordering supplies, reaching out to clients. Reacting quickly bought some folks major points with their staff, suppliers and partners:

  • I’m confident we’re in good hands
  • I feel in the know
  • I believe we have what we need

Other organizations took their time to plan proactively, creating a redeployment plan, applying for grants before making formal layoffs, evaluating industry projections. 

And yet other clients had a blend of responding quickly and also strategically.

Being proactive to reactive, it’s all action. And we needed to take action. Do you remember that sense of pressure we all felt when this first happened? I remember. It was palpable.

So now, looking back, with our twenty-twenty vision, we may have views of “it could have been done differently” (in fact, I would be surprised if hindsight hasn’t brought such insights already). Here’s the thing though: it’s in the past. And we still have a long way to go. So let’s get a future-focused plan that serves everyone well, rights any wrongs, and builds on the rights.

Staying Future Focused

What we need to look at now is how we steer ourselves and the organization going forward. Do a gut check to see if there’s some repair work that needs to happen now to have a healthy tomorrow:

  • What have we done to build people’s confidence and what’s made them worried?
  • How have we built relationship equity or have we depleted the emotional bank account?
  • Have we built people up or have we left them to their own devices?

I know one organization that had widespread layoffs but they were so supportive, available, communicative, and appreciative, they have built trust rather than torn it down with those temporarily out of work. For another with massive layoffs, they haven’t spoken to their people since the difficult news was delivered; good luck getting people back, getting productivity back on track, and maintaining integrity in your brand. Same situation, two very different approaches; two very different outcomes. The latter will have a lot of repair work to do to get back on track in the future, and the former have people chomping at the bit to prove their loyalty and contribute again.

Your reaction to COVID is a noticeable action that staff, suppliers and customers are watching carefully.

So what do you do if you wish you could have a “do-over”. What if, knowing what you know now, you’d take a different approach? It’s okay. Here are some ideas.

1. Right the Wrongs

If you played the “numbers game” – how many people do we need to layoff, how many clients can we defer paying, how many perks can we suspend – you likely are already feeling the negative fallout to that. Suppliers unhappy, negative Glassdoor ratings, people not wanting to pick up extra shifts as they return to work (or come back at all if offered the chance.) You have to change the game (better yet abandon any game playing actions or thinking.) 

If the organization has been playing with people – customers, staff, suppliers – like they are chess pieces versus real people, they have a lot of alternatives even in our current economy. We have to accept that our best will not return if we don’t give them a reason to

To keep your best relationships intact, starting today, it’s time to rebuild the relationship.  How?  Lots of ways:

  • Say sorry 
  • Tell them what your new way is going forward
  • Fix whatever caused the “numbers game” thinking in the first place
  • Have difficult conversations about how decisions get made
  • Ask for another chance
  • Express specific appreciation now and keep it going
  • Thank them for their patience 
  • Remind them to err is human and it’s been a tricky time for everyone including you

2. Rebuild Rituals

Whether it’s returning people to work, sending folks back to their core role, reinstating contracts, reordering with suppliers, it’s key to get back to whatever rituals worked before COVID. If you used to have a daily huddle Monday, get back to it. If you would go out for Friday afternoon drinks, find a way to do it safely (even if it’s dividing up so numbers are small or doing it online.) If you normally celebrate birthdays, catch up with anyone who’s birthday was missed and restart it (here is the best way to do this virtually, quickly, professionally and cost-effectively.) If you used to throw baby showers, make it a combined virtual baby shower for all the folks off or going off with matching baby gifts. 

Right now, people need stability. Doing what has always worked, maybe in different ways, reinstating rituals, is key to folks feeling both a sense of normality as well as harmony with each other.

3. Return to Gratitude

Although it’s been the biggest health crisis of our age, we are fighting long-standing injustices, and you may be dealing with your own personal challenges during this time that no one at work may know about, I still encourage you to come back to a place of gratitude

Why? Aren’t we allowed to feel angry, ticked off, unhappy? 

Absolutely there is a right. And, that comes at a cost if it’s long-term.

Gratitude is something everyone can control. Gratitude changes your brain for the better so you can better weather whatever life throws at you, and it’s the same for the collective of the organization. One of the rituals you can come back to is recognition and appreciation. If it’s waned, now you need it more than ever.

Why aren’t things worse? I’m not minimizing things could have been different, or maybe even should have been, however, a better tomorrow is in front of you

  • What will be different? 
  • What is already working?
  • What is our best hope for moving forward?
  • Who can help make the best hopes for the future happen? 
  • Who are you so grateful for in your life and on your team? 

And by the way, for this last one, when you know who you’re most grateful for, don’t forget to tell them. It’s the first and easiest step toward gratitude. 



Sarah McVanel is often described as the “Organizational Therapist”, helping staff and leaders utilize easy and sustainable strategies to value and retain their best staff through recognition. Sarah has helped thousands – from Not-For-Profits to Multi-National corporations – leverage the exponential power of recognition to retain their top talent and sustain healthy bottom lines.


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