By Harrell Kerkhoff, Maintenance Sales News Editor
For everyday life, and business in general, the COVID-19 pandemic created what is known as a “Black Swan Event” — something rare and extreme, an outlier outside the realm of regular expectations, and a carrier of extreme impact.
The global event, which some thought would last just a few months — or half a year at the very most — continues in North America. And although signs of recovery continue, there remains many life and business lessons to be learned from this true Black Swan Event, according to Dirk Beveridge, founder of UnleashWD (www.unleashwd.com).
Beveridge presented his information during the recent ISSA Show North America. His educational session was titled, “The Three Pillars of Leading During Uncertainty.”
Beveridge listed other Black Swan Events that have taken place within the past 40 years, testing individuals and businesses alike. They included the fall of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, and the U.S. financial crisis of 2008-2009.
“Each of those Black Swan Events created its own form of crisis and opportunity. They were rare, extreme and people never saw them coming. Such events are beyond the realm of expectations, and in the end, carry extreme impact,” Beveridge said. “COVID-19 is certainly a Black Swan Event. Much of the world seems to have been turned upside down. The pandemic has touched almost all societies, countries, communities, businesses, customers and employees.
“This (situation) is new to all of us (as business leaders), but it’s where we currently find ourselves. My message to today’s leaders is, ‘Keep leading.’ The world needs leaders now more than ever. As the pandemic continues, fatigue is setting in for many people. As leaders, therefore, it’s important to double down. I don’t know if there is anything more important right now than leadership.”
One way to do that, he said, is to use the word “CRISIS” as an acronym that stands for: Calm Resolve Inspires Service Introspection and Strategic Action. According to Beveridge, throughout history, great leaders have led in times of great crisis by using the words in that acronym. Today, he noted, the same is true for first responders battling the pandemic. That includes nurses and doctors working in various health care facilities.
“Each of those individuals didn’t necessarily sign up to be in that moment of crisis, but that is where they found themselves,” Beveridge said. “The same can be said for business leaders. They did not ask to be in a position of leadership — such as a branch manager, sales manager, CEO or owner of a company — during a major pandemic, yet here they all are, being called to lead through this Black Swan Event.”
IN TIMES OF UNCERTAINTY
Through his work with business people called to lead during today’s challenging times, Beveridge has come up with “three pillars” of leadership that can help during today’s uncertainty. He shared how leaders can apply each of the three pillars to inspire focus, commitment, growth and find better results.
“These are three pillars that you and I can lean into, hold onto and be guided by, as we lead during this moment of unprecedented uncertainty,” Beveridge said. “I would not prioritize the importance of one of these three pillars over the other two.”NO. 1 — LEAN INTO
YOUR CORE VALUES
The first pillar Beveridge discussed focused on “Core Values.” To make his point on the importance of established core values within a business, Beveridge revisited the 1982 Chicago Tylenol Murders, which was a series of poisoning deaths that resulted from product tampering in the Chicago metropolitan area.
Beveridge noted that the late James Burke, CEO of Johnson & Johnson at the time, the maker of Tylenol, was later hailed for successfully guiding the company through the crisis. He did that by focusing on the company’s core values, which stated: “We believe our first responsibility is to the patients, doctors, nurses, mothers, fathers and to all who use our products and services.”
The company’s values led Johnson & Johnson to implement a quick and volunteer recall of millions of bottles of Tylenol capsules on American store shelves. Although it initially cost the company millions of dollars, due to decisive action, Johnson & Johnson later regained its pre-event market share of the product. It also led to key reforms in the packaging of over-the-counter medications and other items.
Beveridge added that leaders can benefit when they focus on the core values already established within a company, especially when tough decisions need to be made. NO. 2 — LEAN INTO SHIFTING
The second of the three pillars that Beveridge spoke about was the importance of “Shifting Toward Tomorrow.”
“Now is the time, as leaders, to not only manage for today, but lift your eyes toward that horizon, shift your thinking toward tomorrow and innovate,” Beveridge said. “It may not seem like it now, but like all other Black Swan Events, the pandemic will pass. Think about the financial crisis of 2008-2009. It was followed by 10 years of unprecedented U.S. economic growth.”
As leaders prepare for brighter days ahead, Beveridge shared what he said are five “grounded beliefs” to building for the future. They are:
■ There is no model for this (pandemic). Therefore, it’s important to figure it out together — “If there was ever a time for those teams or groups within your organization to come together, and break down silos, it is now,” he said. “There is no one department, one leader or one person who has all of the right solutions for your company regarding this pandemic. You must figure it out together.”
■ We are all currently looked at as leaders, and it’s now time to lead — “If you are a leader within an organization, you must understand that you are being watched every moment of every day (during these trying times), even if you are working virtually. The same is true with the email you send — everything you do is being placed ‘under a microscope,’” Beveridge said.
He added the same is true for many positions within a business, such as the receptionist, the driver, the warehouse person, the salesperson, etc.
“People are either going to be inspired and learn through your actions, or they are going to be uninspired. Every individual on your team must accept the mantle of leadership.”
■ There is a need to be more strategic than ever before — Now is the time to think about strategy for when the pandemic ends, according to Beveridge.
“The pandemic has changed the way many areas of business will be conducted in the future,” he said. “You must get your arms around the new ‘rules of the game.’ That includes exponential changes with new technology. As leaders, it’s time to become more strategic than ever before.”
■ Seek out, and create, new opportunities — “In crisis, there is opportunity. What opportunities will this pandemic create for your company? Where will the new profit opportunities be for your business?” Beveridge asked. “It’s important to seek those opportunities. Look at areas where other companies are exiting or retreating. That may provide your company with new opportunities.”
For example, he explained that gains can be made in acquiring top employee talent, due to increased layoffs from other companies. There may also be possible gains within areas of supply chain and other parts of business.
■ Now is the time for action over perfection — “If you are waiting to have the perfect plan in place, that fully covers ‘A to Z,’ you may end up waiting too long. The danger is, you could get passed by in the marketplace by your competition,” he said.
At the same time, he reiterated that in-depth strategic thinking, while planning for the future, should continue within an organization.
“The great depth of thought that is necessary for a company to succeed can prove difficult, and is often avoided. It’s common to avoid strategic thinking because it can be hard. The midst of a crisis, however, is not the time to avoid hard topics,” Beveridge said. “It’s important to ask, ‘How do we, as a company, align ourselves with the solutions to tough COVID-related issues?’
“As a leader, it’s important to possess the mindset that focuses on embracing the ‘hard’ that is in front of your company. Remember, hard issues can lead your company to new opportunities. Go after them.”
He added that when tackling hard issues, it’s important to make sure everybody working on those issues, within a company, is on the same page. To make his point, Beveridge quoted Albert Einstein, who said, “The rigor with which a problem is defined is the most important factor in finding a suitable solution.”
“As leaders, make sure you properly define the problems that need to be addressed; and remember, ultimately, a decision (on any hard issue) must truly be made in order for a company to move forward,” Beveridge said. “There is also the realization that somebody must own that decision.”NO. 3 — LEAN INTO,
It’s been a tough 12 months — for everybody. That certainly includes each company’s workforce, which leads to Beveridge’s third pillar: “Lean Into, And Embrace, Your People.”
“As leaders, we feel the weight (of the pandemic). And as leaders, we all need to recognize those on our teams who we are responsible for, and who also feel that weight,” Beveridge said.
He quoted American entrepreneur Mark Cuban, who said, when speaking on the importance of taking care of employees, “How we treat our workers during this pandemic could define our brand, and company, for decades.”
Many employees have had to work from home during COVID-19, Beveridge added, creating additional pressures and stress. They may also be worried about their future with a company, anxious about their economic livlihood and concerned with their personal and family health.
Beveridge noted a study conducted by Dr. Jeanne Hurlbert, of Hurlbert Consulting, on the effects that Hurricane Katrina — another Black Swan Event for many people living along the Gulf Coast — had on residents of the New Orleans area.
The study found that there were seven indicators of depressed mood, resulting from the hurricane, that did not qualify as clinical depression. They were: 1). Feeling an inability to “get going”; 2). Sadness; 3). Trouble sleeping; 4). The feeling that everything “was an effort”; 5). The inability to “shake the blues”; 6). Loneliness; and, 7). Trouble focusing on a task.
According to Beveridge, Dr. Hurlbert also observed that 18 months after the hurricane, depressed mood for many of those in the study was still an issue. However, she found that the more help a person received while working through the aftereffects of Hurricane Katrina, the lower his/her instances of depression.
“Think about your employees who have had to work from home, while also trying to help other family members work or go to school from home. Many people have struggled with this new way of working, and new way of life,” Beveridge said. “As leaders, you must find ways to help and inspire your people, while also providing insight and connectedness. As leaders, you must lean into, and embrace, your people. It’s also important to have empathy, and understanding, with what your customers are going through.
“Again, remember the acronym CRISIS: Calm Resolve Inspires Service Introspection and Strategic Action.”