How long had they been in lockdown? And was this the second or third time? Sarah had lost count.
She grabbed her coat and clicked her tongue to get the attention of Cooper, their 2-year-old golden mutt. He was already waiting for her at the door, having detected with his animal intelligence the pattern that Sarah set about daily to go out for a walk.
As she and Cooper went down the staircase, Sarah looked out for the neighbours’ cats, which liked to lounge about on the stairs, their coats gleaming. Cooper was the only canine in the building. He displayed playfulness and curiosity towards the cats, often to his peril: they stood their ground with effortless grace.
Sarah stepped outside into the chilly October air, turning towards the path to the park.
It had been a busy morning and she needed a breather.
Since the onset of the epidemic, Sarah’s company, TESSA & Co., had been in business-saving mode. TESSA’s main revenue pillars, training and consulting, had been decimated. The only activity faring better than before March 2020 was TESSA’s executive coaching practice. Sarah knew from her weekly calls with the small but senior group of TESSA coaches that the coaching conversations continued online. The coaches noted that clients were particularly interested in the following question: "How can I keep my people engaged and contributing?"
TESSA’s CEO, Vincent, and the leadership team were worried about the training part of the business. Historically, TESSA had always proposed online webinars to launch new themes. Company training sessions, however, were usually face to face, and based on a variety of experiences: group work, coaching sessions, meetups with experts, role play and peer-to-peer work. This dynamic approach was TESSA’s trademark: clients loved it and the leadership team beamed with pride whenever feedback came through.
Now, eight months into the pandemic, all training was at a halt, mainly because no one on the clients’ side was available to participate: among those who were not furloughed, all hands had to be on deck to manage daily business.
But the most pressing point, the one that kept Vincent the CEO up at night, was that their training material had become obsolete in a way that even their most pessimistic business continuation plans could not have foreseen. None of their popular topics suited the post-pandemic world. This reality emerged slowly for Sarah and her peers, like smoke rising over a fire, and no one knew what to do except watch it evolve.
Sarah walked briskly in the park. Around her, lunchtime runners were taking advantage of the midday break to get in a few miles, bravely choosing to nourish their bodies with effort rather than calories.
About an hour earlier, she had got off a Zoom call with Mike, TESSA’s content director. From the moment she joined TESSA as marketing director, Sarah had managed the relationship with Mike carefully: he was responsible for the training content and thus was at the core of their product. Sarah’s job was to market this product to clients. They worked closely together on client approach and communication.
Recently, however, she increasingly felt Mike’s hand in decisions concerning the content of TESSA’s social media channels, which were her responsibility. More hurtfully, she sensed from him a lack of trust, already perceptible in their first meeting. Sarah knew she could handle creative discord, but what if it got out of control? Under lockdown, these differences could easily be exacerbated.
Another sensitive point was that she saw Mike’s approach as more of the same – communicating to clients that TESSA had a solution – whereas Sarah thought they needed to listen first.
Finally, Mike was an enthusiastic supporter of free content, arguing that it would cast TESSA in a good light with their clients. Sarah, whose instinct was to create and protect value, was suspicious of that strategy.
As she took the last lap in the park, her thoughts drifted to the deep change that was taking place at work and around her.
Virtually every conversation started with questions about everyone’s health and family. What would have seemed like small talk a few years ago was now genuine concern that could lead to revelations of personal pain. Whenever Sarah asked how someone was doing, she braced mentally for the possibility of hearing bad news.
Those who were affected by loved ones' deaths were like falling stars, shining bright as they navigated the impossible consequences of loss in all of its shadowy forms and dimensions. Sarah’s heart went out to them.
Deep in her thoughts, she nearly missed the exit from the park, stopping just short of it and almost falling over Cooper, who came running to her as he picked up the cue that it was time to return home.