The overarching reach of the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a seemingly endless list of business owners fending off the uncertainty by themselves. Even as the first wave (and hopefully, the worst) has passed, businesses still have to adapt to the new reality and overcome the challenges of a post-corona world.
A few entrepreneurs have joined forces to create MILI – a non-profit organization whose aim is to provide guidance and assist local Israeli businesses. MILI gathers a number of successful entrepreneurs and experienced mentors who volunteer their time and expertise to help out in a variety of fields: business consulting and strategy, legal consult, accounting, cash flow management, marketing, collaborations, and business networking.
We decided to take a closer look at the people who make MILI what it is, get their take on the current business climate, and pass on a few practical tips. And who better to have as our first guest than a guy whose job is to communicate change and make a manager and a leader better – Nir Megnazi.
Nir is a certified leadership coach at Intel Corporation where he helps managers become fit for leadership. He is also a keynote speaker, coach, and computer engineer whose passion for manager development is both inspiring and humbling.
So Nir – how did you get involved with MILI?
I know Ronen [M51’s CEO and one of the founders of MILI] and I go way back with Noa Eshed [CEO of Bold Digital Architects and one of the founders of MILI] so when the call came to help, I didn’t hesitate. We Israelis are like that: when things go bad, we come together.
It’s part of the values I was brought up on. If there’s one thing that connects all of us, it’s the human experience. We all hurt, laugh, cry, and whatnot. If I can contribute even a little bit, I’m fulfilling my purpose by making the planet a better place.
As someone who does a lot of in-person coaching, how difficult was it to shift to Zoom and the likes? What has changed?
My eyes hurt. (laughing)
On a serious note, I’m lucky to have been trained well so I can connect beyond the words. But the majority of managers and employees who are on route to becoming managers were completely overwhelmed.
When we went virtual, the one thing that suffered the most was the human connection. It’s not just about shifting to the online way of communicating – it’s about being holed up at home. Our first reaction to the pandemic was to protect our family. It moved our focus away from work toward home, and now we have to get it back.
The main question is: how do we create a sense of togetherness when we’re not together?
The answer is – the human experience. If you talk about work all the time, there will be a disconnect. Invest the time to understand how the other person is doing, how their family is doing, how they are mentally coping with everything that is going on. That’s how you create a basis for a solid connection. The fact that all of that is supposed to happen outside of the usual setting doesn’t matter. Sure, being in the office and face-to-face is better because the connection just happens but you just have to invest more effort and be much more intentional to “offset” the online part.
How have businesses suffered because of that shift in focus?
It took time to figure things out. Some managers immediately understood that they needed to start creating more intimate connections. Some first took care of their family and then took care of the team. Some suffered too but in the end, most realized it’s not just about the job. They made the extra effort.
And it’s possible – happy hour on Zoom, why not? Turn on the video while you talk. It’s simple and available, yet many people don’t do it and instead, retreat to the confines of their home.
Why do you think that is?
When people go to work, they sometimes invest hours to put on a mask (pun not intended).
They make an effort to wear this protective mask that puts behind everything that is their life: problems, worries, insecurities, culture, whatever. They wear this mask because they think that’s what others want to see. They start to believe the mask is necessary to succeed at work.
But it’s not the real them. This is something most people cannot cognitively accept or deal with, including some managers and leaders.
How a typical workday looks for Nir these days.
Let’s say you’re talking to a small business owner who’s been affected by COVID-19. What’s the advice you give to him/her?
What defines small groups is the close connection between people and their dependency on each other. Hence, the first step is to recreate that sense of closeness and dependence by being more intentional about it. Pay attention to the small things. A 10-minute coffee break can be just as powerful as a happy hour, especially since someone might not have an hour to spare. Schedule a lunch once every two weeks and get the families involved too. It’s there anyway and you humanize people even more that way.
The key is to create a connection with the person, not with their role.
Can you share some advice on how to improve managing via video conferencing?
One thing that the coronavirus robbed us of is reading body language. When you see someone, you can get a pretty good sense of how they feel. It takes you a second or two to form an opinion.
Now, we have to compensate for it. Once again, the idea is to be deliberate and you can achieve this by asking the right questions.
For instance, here’s one question NOT to ask:
“How are you?”
What’s your default answer? “I’m fine.” Right? Because we don’t want to project our troubles and weaknesses on other people.
But if you ask:
“How’s working from home with the family in the background?”,
you can get more meaningful feedback upon which you can build a connection. Ask if they are taking care of themselves, if they are taking enough breaks or if they are getting out enough. Maybe that person is working too hard or finds it stressful – be calculated with your approach if you want to find out what’s going on with them.
Don’t forget to stop and listen, ask specific questions, be empathetic.
If you’re suddenly unsure what to ask, you can always google ideas for questions to ask in a conversation. You can paste a sticker on your monitor with questions or a simple reminder to “ask specific questions not just how are you”. They can’t see that you’re reading or having “cheat sheets”.
The bottom line: pandemic created an opportunity to communicate in a more focused way so seize on it. Check on your people, see how they’re doing – it’ll make a world of difference.
If you know local Israeli businesses that need help or entrepreneurs that would like to be mentors, please get in touch via the MILI website.