Leading Businesses through Crisis
There’s no doubt that the world is experiencing a significant level of stress as it battles Covid-19. Not only are businesses and employees concerned about their financial situations moving forward, there is an added layer of fright about health and the soaring number of global deaths. In this episode, Greg Cleary offers a powerful strategy that shifts stress and helps clients feel more in control, as well as sharing the four essential factors to consider in protecting their businesses as well as your own.
The summary below has been created by a professional transcription vendor upon review of the recorded presentation. Please excuse any typos as well as portions noted to be inaudible.
Hello, and welcome to The Wealth Cast. Today I’m joined by leadership coach, Greg Cleary. Greg has tremendous amounts of experience, having coached more than 140 leadership teams around the country. And today he will share his thoughts about leading teams during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond. I’m sure that you’ll find this helpful.
Well, Greg, I’m really pleased to have you on the podcast today to talk about the current business environment, and what business leaders and leaders of nonprofits, etc., can do to help their companies through the current COVID crisis and you know, prepare for the future.
You know, Greg, you’ve over the last 30+ years helped more than 500 companies with 7000+ workshops. The body of knowledge that you have, and the experience that you have is unique, and I really appreciate you being on the show.
Thanks. I’m glad to be here, Chas.
So let’s talk about just for a few minutes, the current environment. When you go into your meetings with your clients, what sort of high level thinking are you asking, to help them through the process and prepare for the future.
As you can imagine, you know, right now, there’s a lot of stress in everyone’s lives trying to adapt to—whatever words you would like to use. And so what I’ve been doing, I had four quarterly sessions this week with clients. And what we’re doing is, we’re starting the session off with the leadership team. And I’m having to take out a blank sheet of paper in this non-charted territory: “So everyone just take a blank sheet of paper, draw a line down the middle, and I want you to make a list. And I want you to pour out on that sheet of paper on the top of the list, left hand side, write what you can control, what can you control. And on the right hand side, I want you to write down what you can’t control. And just by sometimes, just taking it all out of your head, all that stress and putting it down on paper and one of these two categories, it really is going to help you just, you know, your stress level will go down.”
After a couple quiet minutes, I start off with a discussion, I say, “Let’s just start on the things you can’t control.” And I like to kind of lead the witness a little bit Chas, you know, being in sessions, sometimes you plant the seed, we’ll say. “So you can’t control the virus, right?” And they said, “No, we can’t control the virus.” “And you can’t control the government’s actions, right? What the governor is gonna do in your state or shelter in place, or whatever we get though? And you can’t control the stock market? ‘No.’”
So I said, “There’s lots of things we can’t control; let’s just name a few of the other ones.” And so some things that come up are we can’t control clients or customers reactions or decisions, right? We can’t control, you know, other people’s fears, right? If they’re, hey, I can’t come to work, I take it, I can’t do that. So there’s a few things we can’t control.
But then when I flipped over to the other side of the page and said, “Let’s just talk about what you can control.” It’s funny, the energy just goes up immediately when people think they are in control. I think responsibility, you know, is that whole idea that we can respond with with ability—that the things you can control like attitude, right? You can control your attitude. You can control your expenses, to some degree or to a large degree. You can control your communication, right? To your family and your friends and your customers. You can control your work product, right? Even if you’re working from home, you can still control your work product, maybe kind of work later or offline or something.
But there’s a lot of things that we can control, in terms of this crisis that we’re going through right now. And then what I do is, after we build the list, and it’s funny, the “can control” is often three times the size of the “can’t control,” when we stop the exercise. And now all I do is I just step back and say, “So listen, you know, if we keep watching the news, if we keep trying to become experts on COVID, when this is over, do you want to be an expert on COVID? Do you want to be an expert on crisis management? ‘No.’ So then let’s not focus on all the things you can’t control, and let’s put the power back to where it belongs to what you can control.” And I said, “Then let’s spend the rest of today, and the rest of the week, and the rest of April”—I think April’s gonna feel like a quarter for many people. Ups and downs and back and outbreaks and so on.
I said, “So let’s talk about and focus on what we can control for the rest of the day.” And Chas, at the end of that session, I’m checking out you know, one of the things I always do right is feedback on the session—”any aha’s today?” And many, many leadership team members are saying “Greg, I love that ‘can versus can’t control.’” And even your kids, you’ve got kids at home—I got a teenager at home. And he gets focused on all the things he can’t control: I can’t go to hockey, I can’t play with the kids in the backyard next door, their trampoline. I just had to redirect them to say, “But then what can you control? You can control working out and exercise and nutrition and homework and staying connected.”
And so focusing on what you can control puts you back in power, right? I mean, I think, you know, all this—and you probably know this, can speak about it for an hour, Chas—are all this uncertainty is what’s causing the stock market and some of these things, that really changes the uncertainty. And by talking about what you can control, it kind of gives you back some of that certainty in your life.
Yep, absolutely. I think any business, all the clients that I talked to that are business owners or running departments or you know, this is affecting everyone at all levels. It’s not simply if you’re sitting sitting in the president’s seat at a company. It’s running departments, it’s running nonprofits, it’s running teams of any sort. Being able to focus on how you can manage the current situation, which is difficult for every business—every business is struggling with the new reality and the new environment that we face.
But it’s also thinking forward and positioning for the future. I think what you’re saying about focusing on what you can control will give you the power to prosper, and you prosper by helping those whom you can help in the moment, how we’re going to make our mark in this kind of environment, is how well you step up to the plate, and you help those that need to be helped. And for every business, and every organization and every team, that has a different definition. That could be your client, your customer, your team member, your colleague, somebody in your family, the nonprofit down the street that you heard has got some budget issues—whatever the case may be, I think stepping forward and making your mark now is a unique opportunity.
I agree. I think this idea of “wait and see” is a terrible strategy. Some people just going, “Hey, I’m just gonna hunker down and wait this thing out. And we till it gets back to the way it was.” I don’t think we’re ever going back to the way it was 100%. I think there is a new reality. I think the next flu season, we’re all going to be on heightened alert, you know, next February. I think, you know, there is going to be a new reality. And some of our clients, as you know, Chas, during this crisis, some of the benefits are, they’re learning to simplify their business. One of the things you know, businesses get complicated.
And when you all of a sudden say, “Hey, you got to work from home, and we got to get the leadership team separated so we don’t have a whole sick leadership team or whatever,” and they have to go from home, all of a sudden you realize that whole process that you had going down the hallway and checking in with every person every day and make sure everyone’s working, you’re like, “Well, they don’t have to be here, I’m just gonna look at their results,” right? And you start to think differently about what is going on. And some of these people who, you know, were doing an hour commute there on the East Coast, not doing that anymore! They’re thinking, “I don’t think I need to go back to a two hour commute every day, right? My boss doesn’t trust me.”
Yeah, there’s absolutely going to be some changing of perspectives on that routine, for sure. But I think that’s both from the perspective of the, you know—and this applies mostly to the service businesses, but—both in respect to the firms and in respect to the clients of those firms. I think people are getting, you know, if you look for silver linings, which I’m apt to do, I think to be in the investment business over the long term, you have to be optimistic. So you’re always looking for silver linings. One of the silver linings may just be that we adapt to the new normal—and the new normal is better, in lots of ways.
People may be able to get control of their lives in a more satisfying way than they had before. We may be able to serve clients better, by using technology more efficiently. And I think it’s the onus is on the organizations to figure all those parts out, right?
But it does create challenges, because in the sense that you mentioned, you used to walk down the hall and check in with everybody and take everybody’s temperature and make sure that there wasn’t something that you needed to help with, or some resource that you needed to provide—now you do that in a different way. I’m not saying it’s a better or worse way, but it requires adapting to a new process, and adapting to a new way of doing business. And the faster that we can adapt as entrepreneurs and business people and then leaders of other organizations, etc., the better off you’re going to be, and the better prepared you’re going to be for the next phase—whatever that phase looks like. All we know is it’s not going to be the same. Right?
Right. I think you know, again, the good things—I’m like you, I look for them, you know. One some of the challenges and some of the opportunities. And on the other side in this crisis, there are going to be people that will become millionaires, right? They’re going to come up with crisis planning and PPE equipment, and all kinds of great opportunities will come like disinfectant. How important is cleaning your buildings? How do we reopen these buildings after—there’s gonna be a whole set of new businesses come out of it.
But one of the benefits I think is the whole world is just, you know, forced to hit pause, and just breathe and slow down. And you’ve seen the pollution and some of the cities are going to start taking 80% of the cars off the road, take the jets out. And somebody—one of my leadership teams says, “Hey, the world just gets a chance to heal. We were all going too fast. And so we can just slow down a little bit. Breathe.” And I think we’ve been in such a rat race for so long, just slowing down and taking stock—that’s really important.
Yeah, I think I’m 100% on the same page with you. You know, you’re a coach to firms and the leaders of firms and nonprofits, etc. What recommendations do you have right now for readings, or any interesting books that you’ve read recently that you think might be particularly valuable in this time, as you rethink business?
For sure, I think you’ve got, you know, we’re all gonna go back to the basics, right? And the basics being, you know, from Jim Collins, you know, get the right people on the bus, right? You’ve got to redefine your strategy and rethink how you’re going to market and, like I said, you can simplify your business—are you gonna be able to do more with less people just executing, right? Taking care, getting the work out the door, and realizing that, you know, it became a grind—and we have to put some fun back into our businesses and not take ourselves so seriously.
And so there are, you know, many of my clients in those sessions, Chas—we’re talking about four things to protect as you go through this whole crisis. And I think it’s just good for all of our listeners, to just kind of stop. And sometimes we’re so down in the weeds, just to rise up, just to get above all that chaos and noise, and just, you know, go down this checklist, these four things and make sure that you’re doing a good job on each of these four things.
So the first thing you want to make sure you’re taking care of is your team. You’ve got a team that’s counting on you, whether it’s 12 people or 1,200 people—you want to take care of the team. And if you have a large team, it’s definitely the core, like the core of your team. I sometimes say you’ve got those people that are just indispensable, you know? If they walked in and tried to quit, you would let them have nothing to do with it, you’d save them. There’s some people that just really want to make sure you take care of. I often call them like “matches,” Like if you’re in the wilderness, you know, one of the first rules of survival: don’t lose the matches, don’t get the matches wet, right? Don’t do that. And so take care of your key people. Because in the end, Chas, as you know, right? People are kind of our last competitive edge, right? Everything has been, you know, the world is flat, and truly just taking care of our team is really important.
Some of our clients, some of my clients, some of your clients, right? They’ve done a great job of putting the message out there, right? “We care about you” to their customers and their clients and so on. But I’ll say to them, “Did you go around the office and tell everyone, ‘Hey, it’s gonna be okay, we’re gonna come out of this better, I really appreciate you, you’re valuable to us.’” And that we stop and we tell that team, you know, that’s fighting the fire, the people on the front lines, etc., are we telling our team that we really appreciate, you know, how flexible, how agile, how committed they are to the company—and we’re just taking some time so when this is over, that they’re even, you know, more engaged than ever before, and you all have a new appreciation for each other. So I’ll just have them kind of just stop and do a little check on that. What’s your thoughts on that, Chas?
Yep, that’s great. I think it’s really important. You know, harnessing the power of the organization, and the individual team members, everyone brings to the table different skills, etc. And that’s well known. The recipe for a successful firm is the combination of all those things, right?
And making sure that, you know, because most of us are operating remotely, making sure that you’re doing maybe a little bit extra, that you know, than you would have done before—or maybe even a lot extra, depending on the circumstances—to make sure that you’re checking in. Whether it’s a video every couple of days to the staff, or an individual call to each staff member if your team is small enough to do so. Or, you know, we have a check-in meeting every morning at 8:31 where we check in with the whole firm.
Those sorts of things I think are really important because, at least in my view, and I’d be interested in your thoughts about this: You don’t want to lose momentum here. Matter of fact, this is an opportunity to gain momentum, because it’s forcing us, it’s forcing organizations to improve. You either improve in this environment or you really suffer, right? And so my view is, this is when you as an organization have to lean forward and lean forward really hard. There’s no time to sit on your heels. You can’t afford to do it.
So that manifests itself really visibly with the staff, but also with your clients and customers of the firm—making sure that you’re communicating with them, making sure they know you’re available. I think, at least in our industry—and I’m sure this is true in many businesses right now—you know, normally when we go through an economic or a capital market issue, when there’s volatility, people are nervous, understandably. And so as an empathetic advisor, you’re trying to help them through that situation, help them with their problems. And in this case, you have another layer of anxiety on top, so you have the normal capital market anxiety, and now you have people worried about the health and the health of Aunt Minnie, and the people in their family. And so it’s made it even more important to stand up and be counted, in my view.
And I’m sure—and you can speak to this better than I can—but I’m sure other businesses are learning the same thing.
Absolutely. So you touched on a couple things there Chas: Overcommunicating with the team. I love how you have the I think the 31 Express, everything’s changing so quickly. And just to get everyone together—a huddle for 10 minutes, right? The beginning of each day, just to check in. “How’s everyone doing? You know, what do we need to get done today? Right? How are things going.” And while many people have hit pause, the companies who choose to hit play and continue to move forward are going to be further ahead than everyone else, when it comes to the startup or restarting the economy and so on. So I love that. And that’s a great tool, right? That daily huddle. I mean, just again, so much is changing day by day, and having that.
The important thing about the daily huddle is, it’s not that every day, something critical is covered in the huddle, it’s that the huddle exists to cover those things that are critical when they become critical. Sometimes there’s the expectation, every day there’s going to be some real pithy issue that we discuss or that someone brings to the table. That’s not what it is. To me, it’s a mechanism to reveal those things when they occur, so that you already have a process in place to deal with them that you don’t have to invent.
And it also keeps the team connected. You don’t get these big, “the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, and now we got to have a big, you know, a half day, full day,” whatever. It’s “No, we’re just kind of correcting,” right? It’s like when you drove your car last time, you’re kind of always correcting as you’re going down the road, just small little corrections. And that is better than overcorrecting. Right?
I think that’s right, small adjustments are much easier.
So we covered taking care of your team and taking care of your clients / customers. What are the other two things we should be focusing on?
Well, I’d love to talk about clients and customers a little bit more.
So the thing you want to make sure you’re doing in this environment, as we go through here, is really look at your customers, your clients. Everyone, you know, six months from now, when we’re on the other side of this, they’re gonna look back and say “How was I treated during that crisis?” And there’s going to be companies that really have gone the extra mile. Like, if you looked at what happened even last week, right? Costco was literally cleaning every single cart for people to go into the store—literally cleaning the cart and giving it to them, and Target was not cleaning the cart. And social media blew up and said “You know what, they have no wipes at the doors, not cleaning the carts.” Well, within a week, Target responded. Everyone’s gonna remember how they treated their customers, right?
I’m hearing of form letters going out, you know, with the banks and some of the bigger banks— lots of things going, everyone’s gonna remember that. Sometimes just picking up the phone and calling your customers, calling your clients. They don’t need another email, you know, saying, “Hey, I know how you must be feeling,” right? Got those from the airlines, the hotels—I don’t need anybody else telling me how I should be feeling or won’t be feeling.
But just picking up the phone and calling them if you can—if you have tens of thousands it’s a little bit harder. But I’m instructing some of my leadership teams just to pick up the phone, right? Even if they made five calls, you know, a day, just to say “How are you?” And not just how are you like “Fine,” and you know, the trivial answer, but no, no. “How are you? Like, how you doing? How’s the family? How’s grandma? How is she, still in the assisted living? Is she coming home? How are the kids?” Really stopping and just listening. You don’t have to have an answer, but you’re gonna remember the people who just called you and just said “How are you?” And never before, do I think those words, “How are you?” they actually mean something, like really listen?
Yes, I agree.
Because I think people are in different stages, right Chas? Some people are still in denial, some people are in, you know, they’re in fear, some people have moved on to action, right? Some people are just getting on to the new normal. But we’re not all gonna be in the same journey together.
No, no, that’s true.
So the third thing I think you want to make sure you’re protecting as you go through this challenge that we’re facing, is your vendors and your partners. I think every company has these vendors and partners, and some of them are more crucial than others, right? Your paper supplier might not be that important—they could go out of business. But there might be some of those people that really do great work for you, right? It could be the engineers on your podcast here, it could be your graphic artist, it could be the gal that does your bookkeeping, or the guy that does statements for you or something. But we all have these partners that are smaller businesses that are probably having a really hard time now, and you showing up and saying, “Hey, if you can, I’d like to pay for two months in advance, or I’m gonna pay my bill promptly.”
Just make sure you take care of those, some of those smaller vendors and partners that probably are being hit pretty hard right now, right? You know, the cleaners in your firm’s business, you know, are not showing up to do that cleaning. Should we pay them? We’re paying our housekeeper to stay home, just little things that we can do. It’s not a big thing. But just small things that we want to take care of those vendors and partners, so when they come out on the other side, you know, they’re gonna be strong.
For bigger businesses, this is a really good discussion, too, right? If one of your vendors went down, what would happen, right? If your web went down, your phones went down, your IT company that, you know, a smaller business stopped supporting you tomorrow, didn’t make it through this crisis. So just checking your vendors and partners would be important, just get on that list and say, “Who are they and how are they doing?” as well.
I mean, it’s common to hear, “Hey, we’re all in this together,” to the extent that each of us can do something that’s a little extra, and maybe sometimes a lot extra, in a case like that, the better off we’re all going to be. But it takes everyone, you know, doing that. And so like I said, I support the idea quite a bit. It’s particularly difficult for, I’ll call them micro businesses that you just sort of referenced, that are really at the mercy of organizations like ours, and organizations bigger than ours, to be able to keep functioning, and to try to keep things as normal as possible. So I agree with you 100%.
You take that same perspective with vendors and partners, you know. Six months from now, what is it that you want your vendors and partners to be saying about you? Like, “Hey, they stepped up, they did this, they didn’t go dark, I mean, they helped us out.” And then down the road, they have an opportunity to take on a new client or stay with you because of their capacity, and they’re so loyal to you, right, because you were with them through the good and the bad. That’s a great time, just like our core team and their customers just to get that same relationship solidified.
And the fourth thing, which you know, some of us might be focused on as the first thing—the fourth thing really is you want to make sure that your company and your brand comes out on the other end of this stronger. And this is a great time for you to, you know, look at your businesses, and if there’s services that you’re offering that just are not profitable, that really are not in your core—conserve cash. You know, there’s lots of great ideas out there. Everything from you know, you’re calling your landlord at home if you rent, but calling the office space, it’s your rent as well and say, hey, I’ve got nobody in the office. And there’s whole webinars by experts saying hey, ask for deferrals are offered, operating expense, or renegotiate your lease or do all kinds of things because it’s a new world, right, in terms of real estate and probably in the recession.
I was listening to Mike Michalowicz, the Profit First gentleman?
Who was just saying, “Hey, call your credit credit card company and have reissue credit cards for your employees that have credit cards, employee credit cards.” He said, “Make sure that there’s no auto pays or auto renewals on there.” And he said, “just by making one phone call to your credit card company, for example, Chas, if you’re a small business, you know, 10, 12 employees.” He said, “Instead of you chasing down the money, what will happen is next week and week after, when all those little things come in, ‘Hey, your Pandora is up,’ ‘Hey, I just tried to get your MoMA or your association or your country club or your water service or your coffee service,’ you will be able to evaluate the situation in real time, and that alone could save you know, some of these small businesses, a couple thousand dollars, because you’ll realize right away what’s important and what’s not important.”
Then there’s lots of great programs out there right for help with the SBA and the PPP program, and having a good relationship with someone that can help them navigate that, and understand it. On the other side of this, you just want to make sure that the company stays, and you come out stronger in place. And if you are going through a really tough—you’re one of those segments that’s hit really hard—that you are acting fast enough and making decisions fast enough to make sure that you just don’t run out of time with this, even if we start the country back up, some of these industries are going to take a lot longer to come back around.
I was in Puerto Rico in February, and that tourist industry in Puerto Rico was still probably only 50% back, you know, from the Hurricanes two years ago?
It just takes a long time, you know, for people to start getting back to their normal life.
So just making sure you’re protecting the company, and you’re doing, you know, making those hard decisions for your company, to make sure it comes out the other side.
Yeah, I think it’s really critical to be sort of ruthless in your evaluation of where you are at this time, and look at the facts because we want to, sometimes, when we’re going through a stressful period, ignore facts in the hope that they just go away, right? But in reality, they won’t. So the opportunity really lies in, “Let’s look at what the moving pieces are here. How can we make things better? What opportunities exist for us? What can we do that the competition can’t do?” All those things—and then taking the risk of actually implementing them, and starting to do those when the skies are cloudiest, you know? The skies are cloudy right now.
It’s my view that those organizations and individuals that are willing to push forward, even though they can’t quite see what’s around the corner—when the skies clear, and they’ll clear really fast, you know, all of a sudden they’ll become visible—and you’ll be much further ahead of the rest of the playing field. But that’s really hard to do. It takes a lot of energy, and I won’t claim to be perfect at it, I just know that it needs to be considered and done, and we need to push and make things better, first and foremost, for our clients—for our customers.
If you’re a transactional business, you know, what can you do to improve the lives of all the stakeholders right now? Not just your team, not just your suppliers, not just your clients / customers, but every opportunity that you can find to improve the life of a stakeholder in your business or your organization, if you’re a nonprofit, or whatever the case may be, you should be aware of those and try to take advantage of them.
And I think, if we all do that, we can turn the tragedy of what this COVID pandemic has been, which is just—it is a tragedy. If we can turn that tragedy into something that we learn from, then maybe some good comes out of it, if we can help additional people, or do a better job for our clients in the future.
But it’s a very difficult time, and I think it’s important to have this kind of conversation with your vendors, like you said, or your team, or even in certain cases with your customers and your clients.
So this is, I think Greg, really helpful from my perspective. Are there any other ideas that you wanted to share before we sign off for this visit?
No, other than you know, I love the, I think it’s a tribute to Winston Churchill, I love the quote, “When you’re going through hell, keep going.” So yes, put one foot in front of the other if you’re in one of those really hit hard industries, hardships, right? This too shall pass. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other like you’re climbing that mountain and pick up your head here, and in the near future, hopefully, and look around at the progress you’ve made and enjoy the vista, enjoy the view and realize, “Wow, that was hard, but look, I’m better, our company’s better, for it.”
I think that that’s well said and, again, I so much appreciate your interest in chatting with me today and I’m sure people will get—the listeners will get some significant benefit out of it. And I look forward to chatting with you again sometime in the near future.
Sounds great, Chas. Take care.
Thanks a lot.
Thanks again for joining me for today’s Wealth Cast. I hope that you found Greg’s insights and perspectives helpful. Please consider subscribing at Stitcher, Spotify or Apple Podcasts. Until the next time.
Greg Cleary is a Leadership Team Coach who specializes in helping companies scale up. With a reputation for results, he is one of the most in-demand, highly respected business coaches in the region. He was one of the first Certified EOS Implementers® and implemented EOS with well over 100 companies before taking his coaching in a different direction. He left the EOS community at the very top, as the #1 EOS implementer measured by number of sessions and revenue. Today, Greg leverages everything he learned as a #1 EOS implementer plus the experience that only comes from partnering with hundreds of leaders to help them remove obstacles and achieve unprecedented success.
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