24 Mar Economic Engagement: Dealing with a crisis
by Bill Fotsch
March 17, 2020
Crisis response is on the minds of everyone as a result of the coronavirus. Certainly, that is the case with my many coaching clients. I feel it even more urgently as I speak with my co-owner of One Week Bath, a home-remodeling company in the Los Angeles area. Questions abound, like:
• Should we close the office?
• Should we stop all remodeling projects?
• How should we respond to employees with childcare challenges?
• What hygiene protocols should we institute?
• What do we tell employees who think they may be infected?
• How do we avoid losing employees?
Our first reaction was to come up with our own best shot at answers, with the first priority being the wellbeing of our employees and our customers. Fortunately we had a significant amount of cash on our balance sheet, which meant we were months away from our business going under, even in the worst case.
In the midst of our conversation, I joked about how useful it was that we instituted virtual meeting to allow our 12 project managers to attend our weekly meeting without coming on site. Matt said, “As long as we have project managers, we are clearly going to use Zoom and have our remote meetings, so we can collectively learn from one another.”
His comment got me thinking. “Matt,” I said, “we have spent the last several years getting all of our employees involved in the business as trusted partners, driving and participating in the profitable growth of the company. In the midst of this crisis, we should be addressing our challenges with the collective insight and wisdom of every member of our team.”
It was like an obvious light got turned on. We stopped telling our team members what to do and turned to asking them what to do. It reminded me of the Vistage article on agile I coauthored a year ago. We reinforced that our collective first priority was the health and wellbeing of our customers and our team. Questions that we could not address as leaders became easy for team members to address.
• Should we close the office? No reason to do so, albeit all employees who could work from home began doing so.
• Should we stop all remodeling projects? Our PMs said there was no reason to stop jobs from a customer standpoint, and most had few individuals around who might be infected. If any job should become high risk, they would make the call.
• How should we respond to employees with childcare challenges? Several employees began sharing childcare. One employee did not know how to deal with their childcare needs, but thought they could work from home.
• What hygiene protocols should we institute? Everyone agreed to wash hands very regularly and wipe down surfaces.
• What do we tell employees who think they may be infected? Anyone who thought they might be exposed should stay home, get tested, and notify their supervisor.
• How do we avoid losing employees? We would continue to gather every week to go over the forecasted numbers, right down to net profit. We would share our cash in the bank and explain there would be no problem making payroll for the foreseeable future.
Are we facing an unprecedented, scary future? Absolutely. Are we completely certain that we will survive? No. But the odds of survival are substantially enhanced by dealing with the challenge as a team. The expression “No one of us is as smart as all of us” is becoming more and more meaningful. And frankly, we know competitors will likely not survive, expanding the market for us.
The coronavirus is today’s crisis. There will be another. And one after that. Health, financial, who knows. But we will learn from how we respond to this crisis. And I don’t mean just Matt and me. All of our trusted partners will learn and be better in the future. Fortunately, our trusted partners include everyone in the One Week Bath team.