Moving Forward Post Pandemic

By Deborah Kohl, Managing Director, Master of Agribusiness Program, Kansas State University (August 31, 2021)


When we first storyboarded this piece in June, we hoped to pen an over-the shoulder reflection at the pandemic as we moved beyond the instability and uncertainty of the last 18 months. Although we aren’t sailing smoothly just yet, if we have learned anything at the Master of Agribusiness (MAB) program at K-State, it is that women leaders are game changers, and this has never been more evident than in the time of COVID.

Articles about inequities women in the workplace faced during the pandemic are widely circulating, and for good reason. As we again don our masks and stand in the gap for our teams at work, at home, and in the community, here are some of the pandemic life and work hacks the women of MAB will carry with them going forward and would like to share with you:


1). Set Boundaries Like Never Before.


Setting up a physical space dedicated to work, dressing for the office, and blocking time were all strategies mentioned by our students and alumni. As MAB alum Amy Stutzman shared: “During this time (COVID) everyone was working from home, and I think people felt they could have 100 percent access to you. I made sure my calendar was current and updated with my normal working hours. I did remove work chat notifications from my phone for a period of time to make sure I was able to unplug.”

Using exercise as a boundary was a tool that Xuyan Zhang leveraged in Bejing, China. “There is a public park close to our apartment. I walk about 6 kilometers every other day. It’s part of my life. Sometimes I felt worried about my son playing with his cell phone for a long time. I needed a space to breathe more fresh air and keep a good feeling and then talk or fight with my son.” Many of our students and alumni prioritized physical health during the pandemic, and hope to keep this priority forefront going forward.


2). Move from Survival Metrics to Success Metrics, Even If It is One Area at a Time.

During COVID, expectations shifted drastically, as we moved from sales goals, productivity metrics, and professional advancement and instead asked ourselves “How do we get through? How do we keep people safe? How do we keep revenue coming in?” As Stutzman shared: “I would say I was more focused on tackling basic tasks and meeting expectations as opposed to growing and learning. I feel this was the case for most women. Keeping our head above water and not necessarily worried about swimming the distance. Metaphorically speaking.”


As we move away from these survival metrics, and start focusing more on success metrics, we can leverage some of the skills we developed. When so many parts of our lives are seemingly swirling out of control, identifying even one area in which we can grow or succeed can make a positive impact.

MAB managing director, Deborah Kohl, shared: “I did some research on time management tools and reinstituted Pomodoro in my life at work and at home. This tool stepped-up my ability to lean in to projects and complete them. Taking control of my time created a snowball effect in other areas.” As we move forward beyond the pandemic, work may look different for our teams, and being tuned-in to where team members are still struggling to survive, then finding tools to intervene, skill up, and start working toward success, is critical to leading well.


3). Identify Your Skills Gaps and Make a Plan.


As our companies move from survival to success metrics in the upcoming months, there will likely be a need for growth and leadership. Although some companies and organizations moved away from formal evaluations last year, you can still engage with your leadership to set career goals and what comes next for you. Many of us took advantage of webinars and other offerings during the pandemic, as Zhang described: “During COVID there were diversified free international virtual ZOOM seminars. This opened a new window for me. I had the opportunity to learn some knowledge on communicating with children, language study, and also professional knowledge relating to my work.” Now is the time to take stock of your individual skills gaps and make a plan to address those gaps, whether it be through webinars and other informal training, or pursuing a degree or certificate.


Looking forward, life may look very different for you and your company. You may be weighing a career change, a move to a different community, or reorganizing responsibilities and focus. As you consider the future, tune in to the trade-offs of staying put or choosing a new direction. If your move requires a brush up your business or management skills, we know a great program that might be just the ticket.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Deborah Kohl serves as the managing of director of the Master of Agribusiness program at Kansas State University. In this role, Kohl counts it an honor to connect students with the resources they need to grow their skills, careers, and communities. Building agribusiness one leader at a time is her aim, and that of the program. Kohl earned her master’s degree from Kansas State University in 2003 and a graduate certificate in project management (a COVID gift to herself) from the University of Kansas in 2021.

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