Expect the Unexpected

    By Kristin Golliher, Founder & CEO, WildRock Public Relations & Marketing®

    It’s funny, we used to tell our clients to “expect the unexpected.” We’d tell them to develop a crisis communications strategy and prepare holding statements just in case. Now, as a business owner, I’m putting these recommendations into practice myself as I navigate one of the craziest experiences of my career. There is no playbook, no timeline, no solid answers, just a lot of unknown.

    Like many of my fellow business owners, I have found myself not only trying to keep WildRock humming, but also homeschooling my two children, which I am incredibly unqualified to do. I mean, come on, have you ever attempted third-grade Common Core math? My dining room, once filled with friends and family dinners, has transitioned into a makeshift classroom and office. These are, without question, unprecedented times. While there will be deaths from the coronavirus pandemic, another casualty is small businesses. It is truly heartbreaking.

    In February, I read an article by Amy K. Hutchens in Entrepreneur about questions to consider before making a difficult decision. At the time the article didn’t mean much to me. I could relate to the premise of asking myself questions and pausing before making big decisions, however, it wasn’t until spring break was canceled and I had to close my office that I was like, “dang, where is that article again?”

    Hutchens recommends three considerations to ask yourself before making hard decisions.

    1. Where am I running to?
    2. Am I making this decision from a place of fear or faith?
    3. Who must I become to lead into this decision?

    Check out her article for yourself here. What I took from this was that I needed a plan, and fast. I needed to drastically loosen my grip on control, and I needed to look at myself in the mirror and ask, “how am I going to evolve through a global shut down?”

    So how did I determine where I was running to?

    Creating a coronavirus response and business continuity plan was the most important step. Ironically, we had thought about some of this with our crisis communications plan and some economic recession “what if” planning, but this situation required more detail and extreme thoughtfulness. In this plan, I identified our response which tied back to our “why.” At WildRock, we create a culture where people thrive, and with so much unknown, our first initiative was to ensure our people were taken care of, specifically preserving base salaries and health care benefits. Second, we implemented conservative financial shifts to build our reserves. Third, was to kick up business development. Finally, we continue to evaluate and modify. In some cases, we adjust daily. Despite the economic uncertainty, we’ve continued to maintain all our key initiatives.

    Gut check: fear or faith?

    When fear sets in, it is difficult to lead. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. Some leaders become paralyzed by the demanding decisions, while others armor up and are strictly business, sending empathy out the window.

    Fear can result in knee-jerk reactions and tunnel vision, causing the inability to see what the future may hold. For me, I had some big plans for 2020. Admittedly, there was a bit of grieving at the beginning of the pandemic. It’s easy to get lost in the fear; pulling out of that state and into an opportunity mindset isn’t always straightforward. Leading by faith allows me to make more rational decisions and release my tendency for control.

    As a result, I’ve decided to stick with full transparency and while these communications are sometimes a bit unfiltered, I’ve received positive feedback and appreciation from my team. My bi-weekly emails showcase what’s on my heart, what we’re doing as a company, and thanks to some stellar Brené Brown quotes, they are always inspirational. I continue to pause and reflect as big decisions come my way and try to keep reminding myself we’re not out of this storm yet!

    Who must I become?

    My Strengths Finder profile tells me I’m an “Achiever” so giving up when the going gets tough isn’t in my DNA. However, looking in the mirror, I realized to become a good leader during this time I needed a more compassionate approach. We are all experiencing this change very differently. I drastically needed to lean into this. 

    With my management team, I’ve moved from monthly to now bi-weekly meetings, so we can consistently evaluate government, state and local requirements, client shifts and, most importantly, team morale. While we were incredibly blessed to be able to go virtual overnight, thanks to heavy lifting from my IT partner last summer, we also pause regularly to check-in on our teammates.

    How is everyone doing? Really, how are you doing?

    I also pulled in my business coach to offer some one-on-one counseling and coaching. My team is not only dealing with professional changes in our new virtual environment, but many of us are experiencing changes with partners, spouses, friends and family as we try to support their navigation through health emergencies, layoffs and financial hardships, to name a few. Throw in homeschooling or watching a toddler while still trying to get tasks done, and it’s a recipe for extreme stress. Through personal check-ins and a team session on change management, we now have common language and tools to help us all cope.

    I’ve rounded this out with fun cultural initiatives that my team has run with such as Zoom yoga, coffee club, trivia and Friday happy hours, as well as surveys over Slack (our instant messenger platform). While I certainly miss my team, it’s great to “see” them in more casual settings and on a positive note, I have learned so much about them, from their favorite books to albums and even summer activities!

    Regardless of your role in an organization, know that these times are trying, and yes especially for your leaders! Looking for new ways to be resourceful and creative to keep businesses afloat is no easy task. What I thought was busy before is no comparison to today. Be sure to thank your leaders, they are likely doing the best they can given the circumstances, and for those of you leading, hang in there - this has been one wild ride!  

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