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Elizabeth Harr: “The new normal”

We are forever changed. People keep talking about “the new normal” and while some of that means masks everywhere and limited social outings, two norms we’d ideally like to reverse at some point, there are some new behaviors that have been forced upon us by the pandemic that we don’t ever have to reverse. Dinner […]

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We are forever changed. People keep talking about “the new normal” and while some of that means masks everywhere and limited social outings, two norms we’d ideally like to reverse at some point, there are some new behaviors that have been forced upon us by the pandemic that we don’t ever have to reverse. Dinner every single night with our family. Slower pace of life. Siblings spending more time together. Time to meditate in the morning instead of a two-hour commute. We’re all forever changed, and there are some good changes to savor.


The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.

As a part of our series about how busy women leaders are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Elizabeth Harr.

Elizabeth Harris is an accomplished entrepreneur and a partner at Hinge, the leading research-based branding and marketing firm for professional services. She writes and speaks frequently on critical marketing and brand-related issues. Prior to joining Hinge, Elizabeth co-founded a Microsoft solutions provider recognized for its expertise in Microsoft customer relationship management.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

When people learn about my background, my current and long-time position as a partner at Hinge either makes perfect sense, or no sense at all! Hinge is a marketing and branding agency — but I don’t have a traditional marketing background. My graduate degree is in economics. I worked in the Japanese government for four years (both in Japan and in Washington, D.C.) thinking my whole life would be devoted to cross-cultural relations (which has nothing to do with economics). I later pivoted and co-founded a tech/consulting firm (which has nothing to do with either one!).

My start-up experience helped me discover my real passion — growing companies. In actuality, that’s what Hinge does. Yes, we’re marketing and branding, but we teach our clients how to apply marketing and branding in a way that directly relates to growth. And of course, part of my role as a partner at Hinge is to grow the firm — so I get to do what I love for my own company and our clients!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?

I don’t know that this is the most interesting story, but it’s one that stands out to me as I think about the challenges of work life balance that women in leadership can face. My third son was three months old, and I had gone back to work, but was working fully from home. One afternoon I was on a call with a client and I thought “Perfect. My baby is sleeping, this call should only go for an hour, I’VE GOT THIS.” I was in command — the conversation was smooth and the client was agreeing with my recommendations. But then — as the call was nearing its end and I was just about to be in the clear, all mayhem broke loose. I just happened to glance out the window, only to see our trusted mail carrier pinned up against our neighbor’s house by one of my dogs! (In addition to three children I also had two dogs at the time!). I had to simultaneously figure out how to get my dog back in the house and avoid getting sued by the postal service (he was actually a very sweet dog, just didn’t like mail carriers!) all while closing the call with my client in a way that didn’t let on to my dog’s shenanigans. And not wake the baby. Thinking quickly, I asked the client a question that I knew would require at least three minutes for them to answer. The moment they started speaking, I put my cell phone on mute, ran across the street, grabbed my dog, bribed the mailman, ran back into the house, breathed a sigh of relief, turned off mute and closed the call. No one was the wiser.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Actually, I’m going to be dipping my toes into the self-publishing world with my first book! It’s a children’s book that aims to inspire kids to engage in community service. My vision is to write a series, where each book tells a fictional story of how a child or group of kids perform a specific type of community service. My whole reason for doing this is that, as a mom of three boys and an avid collector of children’s books, I have yet to find one that specifically deals with ways to support a community in an engaging story format. Kids are so smart and have wonderful ideas and huge hearts, so I’m excited to launch this first book!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

One person I’m extremely grateful towards is my current partner in crime (as I often refer to him), Lee Frederiksen. We have a long professional history together that predates my joining Hinge. I first worked with Lee in a mentor/mentee capacity, where he coached and advised me as I ran my start-up. Lee’s coaching style instilled in me an enduring confidence that helped me succeed in a field that, at the time, was largely dominated by men with decades more experience than I had. His advisory was also invaluable in helping me navigate my company through the 2007–2008 financial crisis. And it was Lee who I first turned to when seeking advice on a transition plan for the next chapter in my professional career. That next chapter has been playing out over the last 10 years with my role on the leadership team at Hinge and turning the business into the most recognized name in professional services marketing.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman business leader during this pandemic?

I know I’m in good company when I say the primary challenge I am facing when it comes to family-related matters is balance. As a business leader, I am responsible for helping to shepherd my company and our team of amazing people through this pandemic. There are no eight-hour days. It’s constant. I have to do the same thing at home. One of my biggest anxieties around this whole pandemic is the mental toll it’s taking on our kids, whose lives were literally ripped out from under them.

Over the span of my career, I’ve experienced a multitude of surprises and pivots that have helped me manage through this pandemic — although I’ll be honest and admit that I’ve not experienced anything like this before. But our children don’t have those experiences. So we as parents play a huge role in helping our kids stay both physically and mentally healthy. Sometimes that means shifting a work task until after they’re in bed so I can play a game or take a walk with my kids. Sometimes it means swallowing my worst fears, putting on a brave face, and telling my kids they’ll get through this, knowing I don’t have all the answers. Sometimes it means figuring out how to educate them about the pandemic without inciting more fear or anxiety. All this while running from meeting to meeting. And maintaining an acute level of awareness so that I know when it’s time to focus on the family.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

Part of the solution is creating a safe place for transparency and honesty about work load, the type of day you’re having, or for venting with someone who can relate. Also, if you don’t have to be on camera or on your laptop for an upcoming call with a colleague or your team, take the call while on a walk. Lift weights. Do lunges across the floor. Just move. And, ask your team how they’re doing. One of my colleagues started an evening online gathering for the parents in our company where we can just let loose and vent. Sometimes communal commiseration can lift the spirits.

The other solution lies in showing vulnerability. This is not the time for tough and disingenuous facades or false narratives around the future. This is a time for open, honest, transparent leadership. It’s this type of leadership that inspires people and gives them hope around the future.

Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?

Pre-plan as if your life depended on it and rally the troops. Everyone has a role to play during these times. If you have a spouse or partner, do advance planning on who’s getting groceries on which day, who can help the kids log into their distance learning classes and when, who’s off limits and when (just a few examples!). When everyone in the house knows the general plan of action for the week, everybody can manage expectations and parents don’t feel so defeated by failing yet again to do one more task at home while in back to back meetings.

One strategy we’re employing for the upcoming school year (which for us will be 100% online) is to tap into grandparents and other family members who live far away but who aren’t working full time and are spending days at home. They’ve each been assigned a time and day of the week to host an online session (yes, I know, it doesn’t get the kids off their laptops) where they’ll do something really creative and really fun. It’s a win-win because we stay connected to family, entertain the kids and give them a break from the monotony of online school, and build new leadership and planning skills in the family!

I have also found that I need to protect time on my work calendar depending on the coordination that I’ve done with my husband. Communicating with your colleagues that a simple “DNB” for “Do Not Book” means that you’re making lunch or taking a bike ride or walking the dog will also set you up for success at work. Again, it’s about managing expectations and letting people know boundaries.

Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place, or simply staying inside, for long periods with your family?

  1. Give yourself a break. Are you feeding your kids dinner at 9pm again? So what. They don’t have to get up early the next day anyway. Now is not the time to beat yourself up around more-than-normal screen or TV time. I’m not advocating for excessive electronics — I’m just saying that we’re in a pandemic. We’re in the great unknown. Home life is not going to be perfectly orchestrated and you have got to give yourself a break. If you’re happy and relaxed, your family will be, too.
  2. In-home date nights. Our kids love it when my husband and I “let” them eat dinner in the basement and watch a movie while mom and dad eat dinner upstairs and watch their own movie. Just make sure you tell the kids what time it’s ok to come back upstairs 🙂
  3. Set boundaries. There is a world of difference between the times my kids know I’m on camera and shouldn’t be bothered except for an emergency (and I have to remind them that mediating a sibling battle is NOT an emergency) versus when I just begin my day of meetings without doing some sort of planning with my family. Boundaries, whatever they are, help set up everyone for success.

Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

I’ll answer this by first acknowledging that covid-19 has wreaked utter havoc on people, their families, their work, their world. It’s certainly not all roses and sunshine. But there are some genuine bright spots amidst all of this darkness:

  1. The air is cleaner. I suppose the science is debatable about whether the air is actually cleaner by a measurable amount, so I mean this more as a metaphor for what this pandemic has taught us. We have seen clearer streams and canals. We do see less congested roadways. But also, humans are a little bit nicer. A little bit more patient. A little bit more empathetic. We greet each day with more appreciation and gratitude. The air is cleaner. Let’s hang onto that.
  2. We’re pursuing our passions. People are utilizing their new-found slower pace and perhaps greater appreciation for life to follow their passions. Yes, we’re full of anxiety and spend our days wondering “what next”. But, one of the very positive outcomes has been that people are taking time to think about what they really love, and then they’re going for it. Pursuing your passion doesn’t mean you have to quit your day job. But people are learning about new topics, diving deeper into old topics, extracting things from their lives that don’t make them happy. How wonderful is that?
  3. Businesses are upleveling their innovation and social responsibility. This pandemic has been a major marketplace disruptor in that companies have been forced to improve — either through innovation or being better citizens, or both.

Companies all over the world have had to innovate on new models of production, delivery, and revenue generation. Just think about the pace at which companies have had to increase their digital footprints, or how restaurants and retail stores have had to turn to curbside service. Innovation has helped them stay alive.

And, some businesses and organizations have really shown their philanthropic stripes by donating money, food, and protective equipment to communities in need. It shouldn’t require a pandemic to see the good come out in the corporate world, but companies have been motivated to make a difference, and we shouldn’t dismiss the good that has materialized.

4. We’re creating fantastic memories. Sure, a few months after this is over (whatever that means), memories of being a little more impatient than usual or losing too much sleep due to anxiety over the unknown or dealing with teen temper tantrums because they can’t see their friends may still be fresh in our minds. But years after it’s over, families will tell stories of the giant lego they put together, teaching grandparents how to zoom, eating dinner in a tent even if the tent was inside the house, helping neighbors in need, greeting birthdays and other milestone dates in quarantine…we are creating memories that are bonding families like never before.

5. We are forever changed. People keep talking about “the new normal” and while some of that means masks everywhere and limited social outings, two norms we’d ideally like to reverse at some point, there are some new behaviors that have been forced upon us by the pandemic that we don’t ever have to reverse. Dinner every single night with our family. Slower pace of life. Siblings spending more time together. Time to meditate in the morning instead of a two-hour commute. We’re all forever changed, and there are some good changes to savor.

From your experience, what are a few ideas that one can use to effectively offer support to their family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

I think this largely depends on the age of the person you’re trying to support. For all ages though, I firmly believe that it’s important to avoid negating whatever anxiety is being aired. Telling someone “there’s no reason to worry about that” is neither listening nor supporting. Instead, listen. Just listen. Let them get it off their chest. With our seven-year old, we find that listening, followed by acknowledging that it must be frightening, and then telling him that while we don’t have all the answers, we know that WE will be safe calms him down. With our teen sons, we can have more candid discussions, but again, ending it with focusing on what we as a family can control and are doing to be safe is calming. I won’t say it relieves the anxiety entirely, but it’s much better than dismissing their concerns by pretending there is no need for the level of anxiety that is very real in today’s environment.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Two things to remember in life:

Take care of your thoughts when you’re alone, and take care of your words when you’re with people.

— Unknown

I firmly believe that you are what you think. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “You are what you think, all day long.” Our thoughts can have a profound effect on our behavior, choices we make, how we work and play, our self-confidence and overall well-being. I make deliberate efforts to start and end my day in gratitude. It can be as simple as, when you get out of bed each morning, say “thank” as one foot hits the floor, and “you” as the other follows suit. Greet the day with a “thank you”. I’ve done this for years and taught my own children this simple but incredibly effective practice. Only we can control our thoughts — so if you’re having a bad day, take inventory of your thoughts. Don’t blame others — it’s all on you.

And speaking of others, your words are the outward manifestation of your internal thinking. Paying attention to one helps the other.

Living each day in as positive a mindset as you can conjure up is not about ignoring our daily realities. Rather, it’s about facing those realities with a show of strength and fortitude.

How can our readers follow you online?

LinkedIn

Websites

Email

Twitter

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!


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