Editor's note: Brian O'Neill, CMSWire Contributor and former chief client officer for FIS, wrote for CX and other teams in his former organization a series of articles. Each were titled, “The Path ... " with each edition being a new take. For example, he would discuss culture, leadership, ownership, purpose, etc. In his six-plus years in his CX role, he sent out 286 notes with the intention to empower, reinforce and frame his company's mission by sharing insights to help his team improve its game and increase its level of engagement in what it wanted to accomplish. He revives some of these notes and adds some current perspective in this Fall/Winter 2022/2023 CMSWire series.

It seems fitting to end this series on a topic that we addressed as our first edition of The Path for 2022 — grace. 

The positioning was simple: it’s a new year, we’ve been through a lot — perhaps we’d all be for the better by extending some grace to our colleagues and clients alike. And yet, the message below, just 10 months later, is as important today as it was in January.

Honestly, I’ve had this nagging feeling that Dave Matthews was correct when he said, “grace is gone?” 

In the backdrop of the pandemic, polarization and politics, it would be hard to argue that not only is grace gone, but we’ve entered into a world where empathy is no longer valued; it is vilified. 

Maybe the correct question was actually posed by the Talking Heads when they posited, “Well, how did I get here?”

Leadership in Time of Duress

As leaders we are facing a time unlike any other that is impacting people — our teams, and our clients — in a way that had never been contemplated, let alone modeled for in terms of quarterly results.

In The Path . . . to Perseverance, I shared the following:

As we look back on our careers, my suspicion is that this will be the time most determined by perseverance. Consider what we, us, all of us, our teams included are going through:

  • Global pandemic
  • The Great Resignation/Quiet Quitting
  • Economic uncertainty
  • Political polarization
  • Russian invasion of Ukraine

Undoubtedly, we will need to persevere, but my concern is the actual impact it is having at the individual, human level. And, how, as leaders we can address it.

Related Article: The Path to Excellence, Part 9: Who Truly Cares in Your Company?

Pandemic Effects: Rising NPS, Changing Employee Expectations

Reflecting back to the start of the global pandemic and its impact on our team and clients, a few interesting things stand-out:

During our global team meetings, all-hands Zoom calls, the single biggest question faced was, “when can we get back in the office?”

Interestingly, NPS scores started to rise as clients were absolutely thrilled that we were taking calls, resolving problems, and somehow executing implementations remotely; they were genuinely grateful and noted the same in their verbatim comments

And then it happened . . .

The desire to get back in the office shifted to, “umm, you aren’t going to want us to come back, right?”

The ability to resolve issues was no longer valued, and the patience-level of a typical client went to absolute zero; verbatim comments and pointed e-mails had a level of vitriol that would even make this New Jersey boy blush.

What Exactly Happened? 

Grace, or the idea of courteous goodwill, was in fact gone. This wasn’t just “us vs. them,” but a lot of times it was “us vs. us,” and it just fed upon itself. 

The psychological toll of a pandemic, the pressure of working from home, the collapse of the markets, the turnover of the workforce (The Great Resignation), and the extreme polarization of our society has been simply too much to bear.

You’ve seen it. 

Learning Opportunities

Videos of road rage, fights in the stands at ball-games, airplane passenger and crew scuffles, and Karen (I’m sorry to all of the Karens of the world) demanding to speak to the manager.

You’ve felt it.

Do the values of this place align with what I want to accomplish? What is the real purpose of this organization? Quiet quitting started getting loud, and anxiety levels are at the absolute highest levels — for kids and adults alike.

Make it stop. Please.

In most challenges faced there is a collective effort to help solve the problem. It could be an internal team, perhaps a leader making a decree, but when it comes to this much larger social dilemma it requires all of us to actively engage in demonstrating empathy.

You know, the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. My sense is that we may understand it, but are we really feeling it? 

The Power to Change the Trajectory

To break any cycle, or spiral, as the case may be, it demands the insanity to stop. While easier said than done, if we subscribe to the definition of insanity as doing the same thing expecting a different result, then we do have the power to change the experience, the trajectory, the outcome.

We can get grace by demonstrating grace.

Too simple? Too naïve? Or maybe, too painful? Imagine what would happen if you just tried it? 

You know, allowing that car to merge. Giving your peer the benefit of the doubt. Trusting your service provider to resolve the problem. Perhaps, for an absolute moment, looking at the situation from the other person’s perspective.

When it comes to your teams and your clients, we, as in all of us, need to remember that we are humans first and then everything else second. Let’s embrace the human, so grace and empathy can be seen and appreciated. 

Grace is not gone; we just need to dust it off and put it in motion. To and for everyone.

Enjoy the journey!