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When Life Throws You Unexpected Surprises Like a Pandemic

When Life Throws You Unexpected Surprises Like a Pandemic

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By Dr. Marie Gould Harper
Dean, School of Business, American Public University

Sometimes, life will throw us a curveball when we did not see the pitch coming. Approximately one year ago, I had the opportunity to shift in a new direction by taking on a new role as Dean of the School of Business at my educational institution.

Start a management degree at American Public University.

It was unexpected, but I was intrigued by it. A year has gone by, and I believe our team is in a good position.

But as soon as that thought popped into my head, the world was forced into lockdown due to the current COVID-19 pandemic. What have I learned as a result? Life is a series of curveballs, so we better be ready to go to bat. You may not have the time to practice to make that great play, but you have to position yourself to hit the ball out of the park.

The COVID-19 Pandemic Has Greatly Affected Us, But Our Past Experience Can Prepare Us for the Future

I don’t think that I could have ever planned for a time such as this global pandemic that is deeply affecting education, business, government, healthcare and even our daily lives. However, I am confident that I am prepared to take on any situation that presents itself.

When I look back over my life, I can truly say I have traveled through a master plan that has prepared me to deal with the types of obstacles that we face today. My first career was in human resources and my second career is higher education, areas that are at the forefront of today’s crucial events.

Advice to My Peers in Human Resources Who Are Coping with This Pandemic

I have some advice to my peers in human resources: You will be charged with assisting management teams in taking their organizations to the next level whether they are ready or not. It seems like it was yesterday when HR professionals were concerned about being heard and having a seat at the table.

Now is your time! Take your shot and be proactive in positioning yourselves to be heard.

Most leaders were not prepared for this pandemic. In addition, it is rare to find a leader who has experienced this type of crisis, let alone to respond quickly in the midst of the chaos that we have navigated through during the last couple of months.

Those leaders need assistance in revamping their organizations in order to be profitable again. A new way of thinking has to emerge. You will need to hold their hands as they let go of what they knew in order to embrace changes to save what appears to be a sinking ship.

Review all of your functions to determine how each matches up with some level of expertise to areas that need to be improved. For instance, how will you hire employees while some are still in lockdown? How will work-at-home policies play a role in your organization?

In addition, do you have a plan to transition some (or all) of your employees back into the workplace? How will you address the concerns of employees who are uncomfortable with your safety measures for returning back to the office space?

Is there a plan in place to assist leaders with managing remote employees? What process do you have in place to determine who will be allowed to work from home?

Advice to My Peers in Higher Education

I also have advice to my peers in higher education: We should have seen something like this crisis coming. Our industry was already under attack in terms of how relevant we were to the world of work.

Now is our opportunity to show how we can partner with businesses and assist with the transition to the new normal. What is your elevator speech as to why your institution should still remain in the game?

Unfortunately, some of us spent a couple of decades refuting the value of online education. Now we have to embrace it, at least in the short term.

The “three Rs” in education used to stand for “Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic.” Today, we have the opportunity to shift our way of thinking to “Refocus, Reinvent and Reposition.”

Can you do it? Are you willing to let go of some long-held beliefs and embrace the unknown? Is it time to come down from the ivory towers and sit with members of the community to determine next steps for our economy to get back on track?

Lessons from the Pandemic

Prior to this pandemic, remote work and online education were viewed as “second class” systems. But now, remote work is an opportunity to keep businesses afloat as leaders re-evaluate their course of action in order to navigate through the economic storm this pandemic has caused.

In your organization, take the time to listen to opposing views and surround yourself with a diverse team who has different perspectives. Everyone shouldn’t say, “Jump ship!”

Be mindful and alert. Listen to that voice that encourages you to go full steam ahead in spite of the obstacles that present themselves as you chart a new course. Stay on board the ship, and rebuild your organization based on the new normal.

About the Author

Dr. Marie Gould Harper is the Dean of the School of Business at American Public University. She holds an undergraduate degree in psychology from Wellesley College, a master’s degree in instructional systems from Pennsylvania State University and a doctorate in business from Capella University. She is a progressive coach, facilitator, writer, strategist, and human resources/organizational development professional with more than 30 years of leadership, project management, and administrative experience. Dr. Gould Harper has worked in both corporate and academic environments.

Dr. Gould Harper is an innovative thinker and influential leader, manifesting people skills, a systematic approach to problems, organizational vision, and the ability to inspire followers. She is committed to continuous improvement in organizational effectiveness and human capital development, customer service, and the development of future leaders.

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