Never too old to learn: Our lessons from 2020

Never too old to learn: Our lessons from 2020

Living through such a profound shared experience – indeed, not merely surviving 2020 but even adapting to new ways of completing tasks both complex and mundane – naturally craves some sort of introspection. What did we learn? Where do we go from here? We suppose it’s the perpetual student inside us all, the voice forcing us to evaluate the lessons we can extract from such a life-changing year.

While the tumultuous time we all lived through last year has certainly clouded the crystal ball to some degree, we’re nevertheless always looking to design the future, especially as an education-focused firm. So, it felt only natural to ask our partners for a little insight, guidance and advice that may help us all navigate what comes next as we take on 2021.

What have you learned about yourself and about Hollis + Miller?

Kirk Horner:

“Personally, the severely reduced face-to-face has been the most difficult for me to adjust to. It may be just a little ‘old school,’ but it’s very hard to build a trusting relationships based solely on technology. I truly miss seeing our beehive of an office filled with our peeps!”

John Southard

John Southard:

“I truly miss that human connection and the power that brings. Yet, I was shocked how quickly and easily our staff adapted to working remotely. We’ve heard over and over from clients how they really felt they were part of the process, which is critical to what we do.”

Michelle Chavey:

“How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time! And that’s how I’ve survived these nine months. Between work and grad school and being a mom (and partial teacher at times), I’ve been burned out and overwhelmed and thankful and one million other feelings all at the same time. And honestly, sometimes it’s just ‘one bite at a time’ to get through it all.”

John Brown:

“I’ve seen how resilient and dedicated we are as a firm to our clients, to our team members and to ourselves. This happens only with a culture of trust and respect.”

How do you feel the firm and the employees navigated this year?

Kirk Horner:

“We’re most proud of how our people have proactively responded to this challenge. The fear of the unknown was sky high when this event started to unfold, but our employees have rewarded us with absolutely incredible results.”

John Southard:

“I really appreciate the employees with young families, especially where both spouses also work. They had it tough, and I’m proud of them!”

Michelle Chavey:

“When we shifted to working from home, our team members didn’t skip a beat. They were flexible and worked with purpose and intensity, and I honestly couldn’t be prouder of everyone in the Hollis + Miller family.”

How has education adjusted this year, and how do you see it continuing to change into 2021?

Kirk Horner:

“There’s an old saying in education: ‘Never pass up a good crisis to implement positive change.’ A paradigm shift of this magnitude is not easy in any industry. In the case of education, the current situation leaves few options other than a shift to newer options, utilizing flexible scheduling, use of technology and customizing lesson planning in some cases for each learner.”

John Southard:

“We’ve had years of learning online, and that will continue for those who need this method. But for the average undergrad, they miss the college experience—being on campus, being in class, engaging with one another in face-to-face debate. This has shown just how important being able to sit in class with fellow students and to socialize really is.”

Michelle Chavey:

“Education has been slowly evolving to create educational experiences that are highly physically collaborative and connected. This came to an abrupt halt as educators worked to connect kids remotely. But as kids returned, there was a shift from the collaborative concepts to safe and distanced classrooms for kids of all ages. However, I’m confident collaborative learning will return (hopefully sooner rather than later!), ensuring that kids are building the critical skills of individual idea sharing and group idea formation that will carry them into their future careers … The tough part about the pandemic was the fact that there was no preparation for the change; the rug was pulled out from everyone. Because that readiness wasn’t there, you’re seeing so many people desperate for ‘a return to normal.’ The challenge will be to identify the nuggets of gold from the experience and foster those moving forward—being open to what HAS worked differently and embracing the bits and pieces that can take learning to a new level.”

Scott Barton

Scott Barton:

“Traditionally, education tech has been behind the scenes supporting learning. But it now carries a gravitas like never before. COVID has not changed this; it has simply expedited what was already happening. The future will see educators moving from using technology in triage mode into embracing more diverse technologies to provide more immersive, authentic and relevant learning experiences. We will also start to see the use of technology to close the achievement gap. This is a moment where higher ed can retake its traditional place as the lubricant for upward mobility.”

John Brown

John Brown:

“My clients have spent numerous hours working with their team, students and their communities to make hard decisions based on health and educational well-being of all. I see that continuing throughout 2021. The industry is adjusting to the conditions that are presented to them daily, by having open communication, looking at their internal protocols and adjusting on the fly as needed.”

A proud accomplishment of the firm in 2020?

Kirk Horner:

“In spite of all the challenges, we have actually pulled together and rallied in some ways to make sure we can deliver services and projects to our clients. The performance numbers are off the charts, and we have remained overall very productive and healthy!”

Michelle Chavey:

“We launched a multi-month effort to explore our company culture and identify areas for evolution and refinement. We sought input from five distinct engagement groups to ensure we were hearing from the voices of our firm as a whole, which resulted in a wealth of information. The report will be a critical tool in making shifts to our programs and practices as we return to a sense of normalcy. I’m incredibly proud of the commitment we made to explore such an important part of our company, and can’t wait to see how it acts as a continuous influence over the upcoming year.”

Scott Barton:

“Simply that people supported people.”

John Brown:

“We put our team’s health and well-being as our top priority, and created an environment that allows our team members to work when and where that they feel the most comfortable for the safety of their individual family and situation.”

In light of the firm’s 70th anniversary, how has that longevity helped you weather challenges?

Kirk Horner:

“Our firm is built for the long haul … With the eye on the long game, our planning and decisions have been made much easier as we have negotiated through a complete shift in everything we do—but stay focused on a greater future.”

John Southard:

“One lesson we have learned from the past was to keep the communications line open, and to also be open and honest in those communications.”

Michelle Chavey:

“Our people are the reason for our success. They generate innovative design ideas, build trusting relationships with our clients, give back to our community, and build the reputation and legacy of our firm. Our leaders celebrate the collective power of ‘we,’ and we work relentlessly to put our people first so that they can feel both challenged and supported.”

Scott Barton:

“The hard work the firm did to create a positive and supportive culture years ago is paying dividends now. It is the essence of the momentum that carries us through this pandemic and will carry us forward.”

One piece of advice for future leaders?

Kirk Horner:

“My advice is simple: Turn up your efforts to provide consistent and frequent communications to all your audiences. In stressful times, the lack of communication only leads to fears and rumors that always seem worse than reality.” 

John Southard:

“It is critical for a leader to understand when addressing an issue whether you should approach it as a business or as a family. This pandemic has required us to really look at what is important from a company/business standpoint and what is important from the human side, the family side.”

John Brown:

“Being proactive instead of reactive is critical. Our collective ‘WE’ set us up for success in this very trying time.”

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