Thank you for your patronage, and your patience

“Attention, Kmart shoppers,”

was ubiquitous from my childhood.  The loud-speaker announcement is familiar to any American grown-up of a certain vintage – simultaneously heralding another opportunity for customers and the impressive dominance of the chain which was the nation’s 2nd largest retailer during the 1980s.

 

From more than 2,500 stores across 50 states in its heyday, to just 34 stores operating today – which remained open despite pandemic shutdown as “essential businesses” due to pharmacies and grocery offerings inside – the once powerful department store is on its knees.  Covid19 didn’t cripple it.  Kmart has been struggling for years to adapt to shoppers’ changing expectations, industry developments and technological advancements.

 

And in just one week from now, here in Ireland, many retailers will be allowed to re-open their long-closed doors.  David Fitzsimons, the Group Chief Executive of industry group Retail Excellence, is looking forward to the impact with mixed emotions.

 

“It’s heartwarming that on the 8th of June, we’ll see the largest jolt in the economy as 18,000 small stores will re-open across the country. But obviously, the largest stories and the shopping centres will look on with envy,” David points out explaining that Ireland’s Phase 2 reopening only provides for: “small retail outlets to reopen with a small number of staff on the basis that the retailer can control the number of individuals that staff and customers interact with at any one time.”

 

This distinction is frustrating to Retail Excellence. “The phasing is contrary to public health service advice,” David maintains.  “If, for instance, Zara can open its smaller high street store in Dublin, but not its larger store in Cork and you see it open in Dublin, you might jump in your car and drive all the way from Cork to Dublin. The smaller stores will have massive queues. If they’re bigger, they can social distance easier. Let all the big stores open all their stores at the same time.”

 

Regardless of which shops open or when, as with the adaptations we are already experiencing with chemists and grocery stores, retailers must make a range of adjustments and find effective ways to communicate them.

 

1) Communicate gratitude

“We need to have clear messages welcoming people back,” David says as he outlines the number one message on behalf of retailers.  The Harvard Medical School publication, Heartbeat, reminds us that gratitude helps us to connect to something beyond ourselves, improves our health and strengthens relationships, so clearly expressing gratitude tops today’s list for any employer or employee, regardless of whether you’re in retail or not.

 

As a shopper, being grateful for the reopening of some shops to provide some in-person retail therapy also means being respectful and kind toward fellow-shoppers.  This past week, a startling video went viral of shoppers berating a woman in a New York store for not wearing a face mask. We can continue to wear masks, of course, and David also reminds us to browse quickly once inside the newly opened shops to reduce the time people spend waiting outside.

 

2) Educate and encourage your teams

Next up for retailers, according to David, is the need to make sure employees understand and contribute to the modified experiences. “We need to reassure colleagues the same way we reassure customers. From parking lots to canteens to the spaces behind the counter, there will be new ways of working,” David describes.

 

While we may already be reluctantly but understandably adjusted to social distancing and queuing, get ready for formerly tactile experiences like trying on jewellery, sunglasses, clothing and makeup to all be different in the new abnormal.

 

“If Gina comes out of a dressing room and doesn’t buy three of the four outfits she tried on, we’ll set them on a rail and steam clean them and put them back on the floor for tomorrow,” outlines David.  Jewellery and sunglasses can be placed on trays, sprayed and sterilized. Makeup demonstrations will be over for the moment. Thank you for your patronage.  And your patience.

 

3) Lean into your people and culture

Ronn Cort, President and COO of Sekisui Kydex, says, “For every crisis, there’s an opportunity.”  Before Covid, the performance plastics company made products like interlayer films for glass and double-face tape. Now they make parts for ventilators.

“We reached out to our own network, our people. They might disappoint you, but they also might surprise and delight you,” Ronn recommends.  “Sometimes people have a hard time changing quickly, but especially during times of crisis and reinvention, don’t go it alone. Explore how you can become more collaborative using technology.”

Great ideas can come from any place in an organisation. As Ronn reminds us, “Managers are not the only leaders. Leaders come from anywhere. What is knitting you together during this time?  Help your employees grow and become problem solvers and remember that good questions are often better than good answers.”

Undoubtedly, this a challenging time with fundamental changes in store. The challenge and lesson for stores and the rest of us is to learn from Sekisui’s success and Kmart’s cautionary tale - to embrace the new and find ways to put the fun in fundamental change.

 

Write to Gina in care of SundayBusiness@independent.ie

With corporate clients in five continents, Gina London is a premier communications strategy, structure and delivery expert. She is also a media analyst, author, speaker and former CNN anchor. @TheGinaLondon

 


How to Focus on Your Post-Pandemic Growth

One of the top movies this past week on Netflix is Becoming, the documentary following Michelle Obama’s book tour.  Her unabashed quote describing her roots and origin sets the scene for today’s column: “I’m from the South Side of Chicago, that tells you as much about me as you need to know.”

Where did you start?

Unlike the former US First Lady’s reference, I am not asking where you were born or from what side of the tracks you grew up.  Instead, I’m asking you to think back to that not so long time ago before Covid19 shutdown began.  Where were you then? What kind of work did you do? Who were you?

I ask because now that we are rounding the first week of Ireland’s Phase 1 of the Roadmap to Reopening, it’s a good time to reflect. Who you are…becoming?

Dr Mark Rowe, a medical doctor, author and vitality expert, has spoken across the globe on the importance of adopting a holistic approach to wellness. We met a few years ago when we both spoke at the same conference and last week it was wonderful to reconnect as we spoke together once again through Whatsapp.

  1. Take stock and take control

Mark says it is high time to take control of ourselves.

“Whenever we get a vaccine,” he explained to me, “whether it be one year or three years or whatever, we will have gone through a grand disruption and hopefully we will have grown. I call it ‘post-pandemic growth.’ It might mean you will have developed a new sense of meaning, a new sense of purpose or become more resilient.”

  1. Commit to turning your corner

While we might be able to go to a few more shops now and see three friends in-person in a socially-distanced, out-of-doors meet-up, we’re largely still confined with our families. So, what if you are someone who has had it up to your facemask with words like “resilience” and “compassion”?  I ask, because I freely confess that although I write this column and preach the gospel of positivity, there are moments I struggle with this feeling and I take comfort I’m not alone in this.

For instance, the same day last week when I spoke with Mark, I also held a remote coaching session with one of my executive clients. The multi-national tech company he works for had just announced it was “letting” employees continue to work from home for the rest of the year.  (The news report I had already read about the announcement made it sound like a privilege – and to still have secure job and paycheck through all this certainly is.) But for my client, who can’t go back to his office for months and whose wife is also a remote worker and who shares his home with their four-year-old son, it felt like an extension of a prison sentence. He was struggling too.

I shared this with the good doctor who sympathized. “Many of us are not working from home,” Mark pointed out. “We’re ‘parenting from work.’”

“This is difficult,” Mark said. “We are not hardwired for compassion and resilience. We are hardwired for fear and anxiety and survival and there’s no doubt that people have lost a huge amount. They are feeling isolated from co-workers, or have lost jobs, love ones, financial security and human connections.  The stress is having a detrimental impact on their thinking. The brain only takes two pc of the body’s size but 25pc of the body’s energy. So, when you’re living in stress, the brain is depleting your energy, draining your willpower and your impulse control.  Therefore, you have more desires to soothe. You might eat or drink more and even engage in risky behaviour or negative thoughts.”

But instead of wallowing in the ‘what have I lost or what am I losing’ place, Mark reminds us to continue walking into acceptance. To actively turn the corner and move forward.

“Emotion needs motion. The typical response to stress is to suppress it, resist it or deny it. But it needs to flow through you. Take positive little steps to change your mind and body,” Mark advises.

  1. Remember how ‘contagious’ emotion is

Amidst the barrage of concern about catching Covid19, Doctor Mark reminds us that positive (and negative) emotions are contagious too.

“From the time we are small children, we pick up on the messages we get from other human beings.  We don’t just see them and observe them, we act upon their behaviours or words and we pass that on to others who also act out. It’s quite contagious.”

She was the “Southside of Chicago” girl who studies at Harvard, practiced at a top law firm and married the 44th president of the United States.  Becoming teaches us we can develop ourselves from wherever we start. Reinforcing that, Doctor Mark offers this positive prescription as we continue navigating this unfolding disruption: “Accept what you can’t change, be grateful for the present moment and stay hopeful for the future.”

There’s nothing like a little wisdom that comes from life’s experiences.

 

Write to Gina in care of SundayBusiness@independent.ie

With corporate clients in five continents, Gina London is a premier communications strategy, structure and delivery expert. She is also a media analyst, author, speaker and former CNN anchor. @TheGinaLondon


Team Building for Our Virtual World

If I had a dollar (or Euro) for each email I’ve received promoting an exciting new way to engage and inspire virtual teams during this whole CovidShutdownRemoteWorkingFromHomeExperience we’re enduring together, I would more than make up for the sales pipeline of in-person engagements I’ve
lost since this whole rigmarole began.

I must confess, of course, that I, too, have reached out to my own marketing lists in much the same vein. Even my updated website has been extoling for the past
several weeks that “Companies need to develop their remote teams.” But what works and why should businesses spend at this fragile time? For answers, I turned to David Bassett, Managing Director of Orangeworks, a
Dublin-based organisation specialising in team engagement. “We bring company culture alive by gamifying the content but not taking away the seriousness of the message,” David told me through Zoom on Wednesday.

Orangeworks began back in 2003 and today they’ve worked with nearly every major blue-chip company. “PwC, LinkedIn, Google and Deloitte,” David began and
then trailed off from reciting his list. “We work with companies that recognize they need to invest in their teams. It’s probably easier to name the companies
we’re not working with.”

From Hong Kong, to Slovenia, to London, last year, Orangeworks ran over 500 team-building events. In fact, back in 2017, when I had been in Ireland only for short time, David reminded me even we had worked alongside each other at a national business tourism conference at Dublin’s RDS. I served as Master of Ceremonies, and Orangeworks representative Ed Freitas stepped up to the stage to lead one heck of an icebreaker. Propelled by accompanying resounding drums, he got the audience off their seats and into a full performance of the “haka.” Yes, as in that ceremonial dance made famous by New Zealand’s rugby team, the All-
Blacks. It was an exhilarating and hilarious team-building exercise. And, like most team-building experiences in the pre-Covid world for Orangeworks, me and likely
for you too, they were conducted: in-person.

1) Get your team on their feet

But now that they’ve moved all their products online, I asked David to divulge a couple of Orangeworks’ more creative approaches to virtual team-building. “Everyone is doing quizzes these days, but we see great results in getting people up and moving,” David said. “Take ‘Curio Show’. During this game, you tell every virtual team member to get up and go around their house and bring back the most unusual thing they can find. You might get push-back from some more traditional people saying, ‘Wait, you didn’t give me advanced notification about this’ but it’s fun and energetic and you’ll change the conversation for the rest of whatever meeting you’re having.

“Gamification,” David went on to explain, “is the pressure release valve. You provide the right games and you’ll get improved work outcomes from your teams afterward. We’ve been doing this for 13 years. We have the data to support the results. Even a short burst of energy completely changes team conversations from how they were previously.”

2) Make your teams movie stars

“One of our funniest games,” David said, “is ‘Blockbusters’. We kick-off by dividing teams into teams and they go into virtual breakout rooms to make their story board of what working from home really looks like. The real versus the perceived. Everyone then goes off and takes a series of shots or videos and they send them to us. Orangeworks edits each team’s submissions and later teams come back for a live scoring and award ceremony. Again, you have fun, but there are serious messages that come out of this.”

Messages like how much more accepting we are becoming of each other. Of how our top executives can have little kids who scream and wreak havoc during a
video conference like the rest of us. Messages that employees are people too.

3) Structure an ‘unstructured’ meeting

Finally, David suggests companies try running more unstructured meetings. “The only structured thing is the time and you’re not allowed to talk about work,” he outlined. “There must also be a moderator, but these open meetings are where a lot of team-building nuggets can come from. People will really begin to communicate, and creative juices start to flow.”

The most successful teams are the ones that communicate the most freely and have the most fun.

4) Invest in your teams now

Since our budgets – unlike most of our waistlines – are shrinking, should we wait until company finances - get better? Not at all, David urges.“When we look back at the last crisis in Ireland, in 2008 during the recession, it wasn’t easy to sell team engagements. But we found that the people who did invest in their teams, came out stronger. They had developed more efficient teams who knew how to communicate and that translated into a better bottom line for their shareholders.”

It’s time to make sure your teams are aligned and motivated. Don’t reduce your spending during this turbulent time. “Everything works when your team works,” David told me. “We want teams working together to be better.”
Write to Gina in care of SundayBusiness@independent.ie

With corporate clients in five continents, Gina London is a premier communications strategy, structure, and delivery expert. She is also a media analyst, author, speaker & former CNN anchor. @TheGinaLondon


How to Help Small Businesses Raise Their Voice During Shut-down

On the morning of the 18th of March, less than one week after Irish children nationwide were sent home with all their school books, office doors were closed and words like “self-isolation” and “social distancing” were still far from commonplace, Joanne Griffin wrote a message to two contacts on LinkedIn. 

“I barely knew either of them,” she told me via a Whatsapp call this past Wednesday.  But the former LinkedIn executive turned founder and CEO of Adapt IQ, dedicated to helping organisations prepare teams for the future of work, was thinking of the uncertain future in which we all suddenly found ourselves. 

“I pinged Colin Harris, Managing Director of VIP Recruitment and Louise O’Conor, a partner at Beta Digital. I knew they were both creative, connected and believed in creating social impact.”

Joanne asked if they were interested in designing a way to pull people together from their new separated worlds. To create a community. Her idea ignited a fast-moving spark in the others.  “I wrote my message at 10:23 a.m. Eight minutes later they both got back to me and said, ‘We’re in.’ By 1:44 p.m., we were on a Zoom call,” she said.

“We are all running businesses on the side, but we are also committed to the strength of the collective brain to solve common challenges.”

By April 1 (no fooling), the trio had added Mindi Caselden as a fourth partner and launched IrelandTogether.ie, a brand-new non-profit committed to providing free online support for Irish businesses struggling with the effects of the ongoing Covid-19 restrictions. 

“We are a small enough nation to make this stuff work. It’s the solidarity of the Irish people. Our platform already has over 300 members made up of senior leaders of SME’s across Ireland and the diaspora,” Joanne told me. 

“We have a thriving community on Slack and our ethos is reciprocity. Advisors give their time for free. For instance, today we had a number of accountants come forward. They are providing financial support to companies who are trying to access the Covid-19 supports whether for their employees or for their cash flow. In return they need help for social marketing. It’s a ‘pay it forward’ community.” 

In addition to providing a supportive network of members and advisors, IrelandTogether has also been conducting sentiment surveys for participants. With three weeks’ of surveys returned so far, the results are somewhat surprising. 

1) Confidence is declining

Rather than people settling into a remote-working groove or positive pivot, many members are feeling like they are losing their footholds.  “We are seeing a decline in people saying that they have the right networks around them to support them,” Joanne revealed. “All the advisors who signed up, at first thought they were the right people to provide support. But now they’re saying, ‘oh no, we’re running out of sales pipeline and what should we say to attract more customers?’” 

In fact, only 11 pc of those surveyed described themselves as being “very confident” about the future. Over the past week alone, the survey has reported a significant increase in concerns over cashflow. “We’re also inundated with webinar ‘shoulds’ and ‘woulds’ and that just adds to anxiety.” 

“We’re now preparing to roll out an ‘Ireland Talks’ video series to examine the real-life stories of our members and networks who are making tough choices and learning from experience,” Joanne said. 

2) Willingness for collaboration is expanding

The feelings of isolation and precariousness are catapulting people’s desire to collaborate. It’s not better to go it alone, it’s better to join forces. Tackling problems together is also a goal for IrelandTogether. 

“We’ve established working groups within the membership to help tackle and offer solutions to identified problems,” explained Joanne. 

“Even though we’re physically distant, there’s a real willingness for competitors to help people get out of hustle mode and start to collaborate and pivot if that is what they need to do.”

I agree. You don’t have to know it all on your own. But you do need to not be afraid to reach out and ask others for help. 

3) Sense of urgency is increasing

For the first week of restrictions, Joanne said to me, she observed that people seemed very patient. “Now, people are feeling a big sense of urgency, anxiety and ‘me me me’. We are only three weeks old and already have hundreds of members and advisors. But we’re still not moving fast enough.” 

Along with the increasing need for speed is an increasing wave of enthusiasm from the community. 

“It’s overwhelming,” Joanne marvelled.  “The initial caliber of the people we expected were middle managers, but we have top companies, top leaders.  We are getting reach-outs from Groupon, Google, Virgin TV and RTE.”

At this moment the world’s population, according to the United Nations, consists of 7.8 billion people. Each person has a story. Of the distinct set of concerns, questions and events they’re experiencing during this time of remote working, self-isolation and continuing uncertainty. 

The more we can come together (virtually, of course) connect and collaborate, the more we will feel the power of community. Of being together. Apart. 


Preserving Business Communications Modes and Manner Post Covid19

“I ask them to bring their drink of choice to our meeting,” one of my coaching
clients told me this past week, describing how she conducts her virtual one to one
meetings in our new world of remote working. “This allows me to show up with
my own glass of wine,” she confided, chuckling.

The introduction of a more personal beverage selection into the business
meetings (conducted after five o’clock, I am assured), has seemed to prompt a
more intimate atmosphere in which her team members feel freer to divulge more
of their personal lives.

“One team member shared the home-schooling challenges he and his partner are
struggling with with their young children,” my client explained. “Another woman
has revealed the painful ordeal of the break-up she is enduring with her husband
while they are self-isolating under the same roof.”
“It’s going to be strange then, isn’t it,” she mused aloud to me, “when we
eventually go back to our offices and no longer communicate like this?”
“Wait a minute,” I cautioned. Let’s examine that notion for a moment. Your team
members are entrusting you with sensitive vulnerabilities. Receiving and
maintaining such a high level of trust demonstrates a higher level of leadership.
Do you really want to try to put this genie back into the bottle or would you
rather find some way to preserve this special atmosphere you are creating?
Which brings me to today’s point. After six weeks of remote working, I, and other
business forecasters, are projecting numerous things will not revert to the way
they were. Many remote workers will not return to their offices or desks, fewer
executives will travel internationally for meetings that can be more efficiently

conducted virtually and more of those humble audio-only sales calls will be
stepped up to video conferencing.
Yes, the modes of business interactions and communications are dramatically
changing. But, as illustrated by my client’s conversations with her team members,
we are also witnessing a dramatic change in the manner of our communications
as well. Quarantine is prompting a communications leader-shift. The more we can
acknowledge it, the more likely we will be able to codify it.

1) We’re collectively getting real

From CEO to frontline worker, the complications of our “self-isolationships” are
requiring us to move out from behind our personal protection comfort zones.
Toddlers or teens are hollering at us from beyond – and sometimes directly in
front of – our screens. Difficulties with partners or roommates have prompted
some of us to initiate social distancing guidelines inside our own homes. Unlike
pre-Covid restrictions, we feel comfortable talking about these difficulties with
pretty much everyone. The world is in this together and we’re all talking about it.
We’re getting real, really fast.

2) We’re collectively experiencing a wide-range of emotions

Now that we’re working, cooking, drinking, binge-watching, exercising, eating,
crying, praying, dancing, cursing and laughing with the same people every meal,
every day, the aggravations, anxieties and even warm feelings of contentment
from a reflective stroll under the brightened-from-less-pollution blue skies of
nature, are smacking into us wantonly. Waves in a storm-wracked sea.
The noise from our tumult of emotions is softened, however, by our awakened
awareness that others – our colleagues, our bosses - are experiencing them too.

3) We’re entrusting ourselves

For those reasons, then, we feel more comfortable in discussing our situations
with people before whom we might have once been more guarded.

Last week, for instance, during my very-first prospecting call (video-call, of course)
with the head of learning and development for a large financial institution, I
smiled as she unleashed a torrent of exasperation over her pre-teen who simply
refused to do any more homework and had retreated into video games instead.
“I can relate,” I commiserated.
We are in a global trust-fall. As leaders, we cannot catch someone today only to
pull away from them tomorrow.

4) We should create new protocols

As CEOs and management teams are preparing new rules around social
distancing, and intensive cleaning in preparation of re-entry, so too, should
protocols and guiding principles be established to ensure our heightened and
enlightened communications combined with the more encouraging and nurturing
leadership approaches that are being established continue to be honoured and
protected.
Some organisations have installed special frameworks to provide support for
remote workers during this time. “Rant-buddies” or “Thinking-partners” or
“Support-mentors” have been assigned to employees. These alliances can be on-
going. Employees have been mobilised to innovate team-building, sales and
services ideas. Any such special incentive programmes should continue.
What we are learning about ourselves and others during this time, will benefit
and enrich companies and their employees for years to come.
Committing to a continuation of transparent and trusting communications and to
enhancing the teams and infrastructure you are establishing now, will go a long
way toward ensuring the emotional and mental well-being of your workforce
continues as well.

Another proven way is to encourage your workforce to tote their favourite adult
beverage with them to your next business meeting. Or perhaps not.

Write to Gina in care of SundayBusiness@independent.ie. With corporate clients
in five continents, Gina London is a premier communications strategy, structure
and delivery expert. She is also a media analyst, author, speaker and former CNN
anchor. @TheGinaLondon


Leading with Purpose in the Time of Covid19

From Amazon to Alibaba, businesses around the world are providing Covid19 pandemic support.

For instance, Facebook is committing $20 million toward coronavirus relief.  Microsoft has donated millions upon millions in products, services and solutions to frontline workers and hospitals and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation independently announced it would commit another $100 million. Google and Apple teamed up to create a ‘contact tracing’ app to notify people when they interact with someone who’s infected. IBM’s Weather Company app is providing local updates on the progress of the virus.  Dyson and Rolls Royce are making ventilators in the UK. Over in the US, they’re being made by Ford and General Motors.

And, of course, nearly all the world’s top biotech and pharma companies are collaborating on the discovery of a coronavirus treatment or vaccine.

“The big question,” Fortune magazine President and CEO Alan Murray wrote in his online newsletter this past week, “is this just a temporary response to the crisis, or part of a fundamental rethinking of the company’s role in society? Is it a brief grab for feel-good PR, or a reflection of larger corporate purpose?”

I was so intrigued by Alan’s newsletter musing that I emailed him directly to ask if he would expand his thoughts for this column. He graciously agreed and the head of the global media company spoke via Zoom video conferencing from his home in Connecticut where he is self-isolating.

ME:  What is happening with big businesses today?

ALAN: “It’s a really interesting question. You’re seeing cross currents.

On the one hand, you’re seeing some examples, and we’re keeping track of them,  of companies who are expanding sick pay and doing furloughs instead of laying off employees and companies keeping their employees on, even if they have no work for them to do. Over in the health care area, you are seeing companies diving into treatments and cures that are not necessarily profitable for them. Companies working with competitors.  You are seeing companies really stepping up.  On the other hand, some companies are struggling. Marriott furloughed tens of thousands of employees and Macy’s closed all 500 of its stores and furloughed over a hundred thousand workers. They aren’t making money and can’t afford to keep them on. The cross currents are hard to interpret.”

ME:  So, to the question you posed in your newsletter, are businesses doing this now for PR or Purpose?

ALAN: “I believe there has been for a decade now - a dramatic change of taking care of employees and taking care of customers and paying more attention to communities and inclusivity.  I’ve seen this build since the last recession and there are some fundamental reasons that won’t go away – like the way businesses operate and the way they care about investing in their employees not to only serve their shareholders. There is an increased value of talent in a company and now, especially for an economy that runs on intellectual property, there is a needed shift to investing in human capital.

Colin Mayer does a good job outlining this with his book Prosperity – Better Business Makes the Greater Good.”

A professor at Oxford University’s Said Business School, Mayer’s premise in his 2019 book is that a company exists to create something and provide solutions through a defined purpose. That purpose, in turn, should guide all the decisions of the executives, owners and board members.  He then argues, citing a number of examples, that companies which are run this way tend to become more profitable and longer-lived than others – while simultaneously basking in the goodwill of customers, employees, executives and the world in general.

“People have become more important to business and they need to give them a purpose beyond practice,”

“People have become more important to business and they need to give them a purpose beyond practice,” Alan summarized. “This prompts a change into how leadership is getting across. It used to be that you would have a strategy developed and ordered from the top and cascaded to the rest of the company.  You can’t do that anymore. The person at the top must embody a style that attracts talent and provides inspiration. Companies need to motivate and excite their workforce. The focus on social issues is part of that.

ME: Is there another reason why businesses are performing with more purpose?

ALAN:  “The third piece is this is in response to a breakdown of our political systems.  I saw a real increase in this in 2016. Brexit happened over in the UK and even though we have Trump now, we also saw Bernie Sanders, a self-described socialist taking momentum in an arena that had never happened before.

The general chaos of western governments prompted business leaders to realise that they have to step up for their own survival.  There’s a big change prompted by young people who don’t believe in capitalism.”

Me: Will these more purpose-guided business efforts impact the way governments are run?

ALAN: “No. Business leaders are by definition problem solvers because businesses need to produce results to survive.  Political leaders do not.  Businesses reaction is, ‘we have to.’”

As I say, “A crisis doesn’t forge you, a crisis reveals you.”

 

Write to Gina in care of SundayBusiness@independent.ie.  With corporate clients in five continents, Gina London is a premier communications strategy, structure and delivery expert. She is also a media analyst, author, speaker and former CNN anchor. @TheGinaLondon


Easter-inspired Reflections during Covid Restrictions

When I was a kid, my family never missed an Easter service.  Actually, since I was raised by a very pious mother, we never missed any Sunday really, but Easter was particularly important. I can still hear the hymns, smell the fragrance of white lilies which filled the church sanctuary. I remember the sermons with powerful messages of peace, victory and hope.

 

Today, on this Easter Sunday during our fourth full week of Covid19 restrictions, no matter whether you are as devout as my mom or not, this is a day in which we can certainly purposefully pause.

 

While medical, safety and other essential workers toil long hours and endanger their lives to save the lives of others, I’d like to share some thoughts about the aspects of self-isolation we can at least appreciate, if not quite celebrate.

 

1. An Appreciation of Reflection

As we are all shifting into a completely different way of working and living, I know I have mentioned this before in previous columns, but I sincerely want to emphasise how that especially during this time, journaling will provide clarity now and lasting impact later.  It’s a great way to organise what can be an overwhelming onslaught of wide-ranging emotions and the very act of writing will distance yourself from their impact as you catalogue them on paper or a device.

Later, once we get through this (and we will get through this), and your sharp memories fade into patina, your journal will allow you to review. Perhaps you can apply a lesson from a journal entry to a team you will be working with or leading.  Perhaps you will be asked to give a keynote address at a someday-again-please-Jesus corporate conference. The more vividly your journal entries are written, the more colourfully you can bring your stories back to life to best impact your audience.

In addition to writing - and reading now too - don’t forget to keep connecting to people.  Reflecting doesn’t have to be a singular event it can also involve sharing and listening to the reflections of others as well.

2. An Appreciation of Renewal

The Easter story of resurrection, of course, arrives at the same time of nature’s spring rebirth.  Even in self-isolation, we can appreciate the renewed blooming of daffodils, budding of magnolias and other flowering trees, melodic bird song and droning hum of bees.

Similarly, as American entrepreneur Mark Cuban described this past Wednesday, our careers or small business enterprises may be on the precipice of a renewal.  The owner of the Dallas Mavericks professional basketball team and Shark Tank TV show judge was speaking live on a video chat sponsored by one of my clients, Salesforce.

“This is a reset of unprecedented magnitude,” Mark explained. “It’s a challenge and it’s also an opportunity. Ask your employees or colleagues what they’re thinking about right now. The next great business idea might be sitting on the other side of that Zoom screen. Think about brand enhancement during these times. You can also come together with your competitors and share information.  Imagine if all the PPE companies had come together before this crisis hit, we wouldn’t have the black market we do now.”

New innovations and even business cooperatives may come from this experience.

3. An Appreciation of Respect

From differing opinions on restrictions and policies to virtual chats about rumours and conspiracy theories, conversations can become heated more quickly during this time of continued confinement and concern. This applies to those of us seeking to reorder our business or personal finances.  For instance, tensions may start to flare when the newly un-employed or under-employed are struggling to understand a governmental application or reaching out to a bank.  When I called my own bank a couple of weeks ago, it took a full week for me to get a call back.  But respect can and should be maintained.

“Always put yourselves in the shoes of the people you’re dealing with,” Mark advised.  “Many bankers are confused too but over time the banks will understand this. At some point they will be there for you. Assigning blame accomplishes nothing.”

We all want to know that someone is nice. Nice will pay off in the long run. The customers or clients you may have lost now, will come back in due time. More so if you reach out and pay your respects.  The power of human connection is more important than ever.

4.  An Appreciation of Resilience

How are you using this time right now toward a spirit of growth, development, partnership and stamina? Are you using your business as a platform for change?

Strengthening your determination, positivity and focus will help you put your head down and get you back to working, virtually networking or strategizing.  Even when you feel like you are falling, know that you can get back up.

As J.K. Rowling said, “Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”

So, on this Easter Sunday, amidst the many difficult and quite heartbreaking moments all around us, there is still hope. Pause. What do you appreciate?

Write to Gina in care of SundayBusiness@independent.ie.  With corporate clients in five continents, Gina London is a premier communications strategy, structure and delivery expert. She is also a media analyst, author, speaker and former CNN anchor. @TheGinaLondon


Looking through the Covid19 crystal ball

“I was looking on Amazon the other day, trying to order a crystal ball, but like webcams and laptops, they have run out,”

“I was looking on Amazon the other day, trying to order a crystal ball, but like webcams and laptops, they have run out,” Etienne Coulon joked as I asked his opinions on the Covid19 future of business during our Whatsapp call this past week from his home in France where he’s self-isolating with this family.

Etienne is the co-founder and CEO of AnotherTrail and AnotherCEO, companies that use software, emerging technologies and visibility platforms to ramp and expand businesses and business ecosystems across EMEA.  I met him at a conference back in that not-so-distant past world of in-person events. He and his co-founding business partner, Chris Reid, were presenting on future trends and I was facilitating.

I found them both engaging and thought-provoking. And funny.

And while, of course, it’s not the time to make light of this unprecedented time of uncertainty, it only takes about a minute scrolling social media through the thousands of humourous (and some not so humourous) memes being circulated to be reminded that humour is a very required coping mechanism in a time such as this.

For that reason, I laughed at his crystal ball joke and others too.  Even without his clairvoyance tool, Etienne raised some provocative thoughts as he peered out some six months to a year from when we hopefully after we emerge from our safe-homes and cocoons once again.

I share his forecasts and split them on either side of what he describes as “Phase One” and “Phase Two.”

PHASE 1

While global recession and other macro-economic post-Covid consequences are undoubtedly on the phase one horizon, I am narrowing our focus to the some of the outcomes Etienne predicts will affect the way we communicate and connect as employees, business travellers and consumers.

“This is a reset period and it will last one to two months,” Etienne projects. “Depending on when we are released, there will be immediate questions about the summer [Gina’s note: this presumes we will have the summer). What are we going to do? Will kids go back to school?  Will some people still want to take vacations?”

Those who can afford it, may want to get as – safely – far away from the fevered cabins in which they were ensconced, but that still may not mean international travel due to ongoing border bans. Others, who lost their jobs during restrictions, are small business owners or self-employed (like myself), will not be able to go on holiday as it will remain critical to try to work on rebuilding lost capital.

1) An extended surge in remote working

Etienne also predicts that although most of us social-contact-deprived humans will want to go back to work for a few weeks, there will be a “dramatic surge” in extending remote working policies.

“Take a country like France or Ireland where many are working for American companies, things will be different. We will change our focus, our priority and way of working. Core activities will need to be restarted, but people will want to be careful and have the option to stay home.”

2) A continuation of travel restrictions

These new restrictions will not be imposed by governments, but by companies, Etienne contends.

“You won’t be able to do things the old way anymore. The concept of flying for a quick meeting or face-to-face will reduce.  I’m sure that HR departments will start to create compliance rules that will limit travel.”

3) A continuation of cashless transactions

One of Ireland’s largest law firms, William Fry, just this past week published an online paper discussing the Covid19 accelerated trend toward digital payments and currencies.

They cite several examples including an early version of the US government’s $2 trillion Corona virus bailout package that considered using “digital dollars” to get funds to individuals and small businesses faster during the cash-flow crisis.

Etienne agrees. “In regions like in South Europe, perhaps, people will still use cash.  But many will never use cash again,” he flatly states.

 PHASE TWO

So, what should business leaders be doing to prepare right now? The one-word answer, according to Etienne, may prove extremely difficult for currently cash-strapped companies, “invest.”

“What people should do as we enter phase one, is to expedite the things that were missing like your production orders while infusing resources toward anticipating anticipate phase two.  For instance, I am losing money right now, but I need to invest in phase two.”

Etienne describes phase two as one in which businesses will need to elasticise their reach and forge alliances to ensure their future and expand market-reach.

The strategy he applies and urges his clients to apply is the “ART Model.”

1) Agility

“In one hour, with the right technology, I can find new partners for a company and establish a new ecosystem in one day,” Etienne explains. “Building new synergies that work together, like cogs, will enable companies to collaborate and reinvent themselves.”

2) Resilience

To survive and expand to meet Phase Two, you can’t just weather the storm, you and your team must adopt a positive attitude and pivot to meet the challenge with necessary changes or improvements.

3) Transformation

And finally, Etienne underscores how technology – which is supporting us through the video conferences and virtual meetings we are depending upon during this global shutdown – will continue to be the enabler for how companies reinvent or simplify. “It’s all about cost-reduction and optimization.”

Write to Gina in care of SundayBusiness@independent.ie.  With corporate clients in five continents, Gina London is a premier communications strategy, structure and delivery expert. She is also a media analyst, author, speaker and former CNN anchor. @TheGinaLondon


Video Conferencing and Remote Working

It was almost five o’clock last Friday evening. The employees were gathering to
take part in a team happy hour. My coaching client, a manager of a unit for a
multi-national company, had painstakingly organised it. He arranged for
everyone’s beverage of choice to be on hand. He asked a colleague to act as DJ
by collecting everyone’s favourite tune to be played during the party. At the
appointed time, my client raised his glass and gave a toast. In turn, everyone else
raised their own glasses, bottles or cans and the party began. Virtually, of course.
This party was designed to celebrate another week of remote working. The face
of each smiling participant created a colourful mosaic of images on a single
screen.
As he told me during our coaching call, “We’re experiencing something no one
has experienced before. The situation is changing rapidly.”
It’s changing and it’s lingering. As we resign ourselves to settling into this new
physically isolated remote world, some lessons are beginning to emerge.

1) We can become more efficient

John Riordan, Shopify’s director of support for its global remote teams, has been
overseeing remote workers for years. He has watched employees evolve from
remote rookies – where many of us may be at this point - into experienced
veterans.
“It can save so much time to be fully remote,” John told me. “For instance, I set
meetings purposefully. If I’m in office environment, it’s rare to arrange a meeting
with somebody for 10 minutes. Imagine the time cost of booking a room, going to
the room, chit-chatting in the room. All that ‘buffer time’ takes too much
valuable real time. All the people I know who work remote, live by the minute
segment instead of the five-minute segment. Remote working is much more
effective.”

Considering that many of us are working from home while our children and
partners are also in the house with us, finding ways to do more in less time is
extremely important.

A desire to be efficient should not clash with a desire to be empathetic. As my
happy hour manager-client reinforced to me, “Many of us may have worked from
home remotely for a day or two but now we are asking teams to consider this as
indefinite. Our message must be to use video conferences as a way to promote
human connections and empathy.”
I spoke with Felicity McCarthy, the founder of Spark Digital Marketing, for more
perspective on the matter.
She has been providing virtual training for many years and points out that video
conferencing has been around for more than two decades. “But until now, it has
been an irregular and mixed feature. Audio conference calls were still more the
norm and when companies used video it would often be to combine the people
actually in the meeting room with two or three others dialing in. Now everyone is
in the virtual room.”

2. Be seen in the virtual room

That’s why I say, “If you’re going to be in the virtual room, be in the virtual room.”
It’s no longer okay to turn your video off just because you’re not the presenter.
Felicity and I agree that companies should oblige team members to keep their
cameras on.
By way of example, I offer up the first virtual class our brave economics master’s
student we host at our home attended this past week. (She is from India but has
opted to self-isolate with us here in Dublin.) The lecturer turned her camera on,
but did not require the same of her students. This prompted jokes from the class,
many noting that since the lesson was in the morning, they hadn’t bothered to
get out of bed, let alone get dressed. For the record, our awesome student was
dressed and seated at our dining room table!
The point is: turn up and turn on. Being on camera compels you to suit-up and
keep engaged with the others in the meeting.

3. Encourage people to be human

Another feature of video conferencing while remote working is that it brings your
work colleagues into your personal space. While you might have set up a
dedicated office space in your home, that’s no guarantee that your pet or your
children (who are all at home and likely incessantly demanding something if
they’re anything like my daughter) will stay outside the door.
We all likely still chuckle remembering the “BBC dad” who was interrupted during
a live TV video remote interview when his two children barged in and created a
viral work from home moment.

Especially during this time, try to relax. Politely introduce your teams to infringing
kids or even dogs.

We can’t control how long we will be working from home. But we can control
how we react to the situation. Video conferencing is being used for work and also
for connecting us with neighbours we haven’t seen face-to-face in two weeks and
family and friends we haven’t seen in two years.
As Felicity summed up, “The human element to this is adding colour and depth.
We’re all in the bizarre and huge human social experiment together.”

Write to Gina in care of SundayBusiness@independent.ie. With corporate clients
in five continents, Gina London is a premier communications strategy, structure
and delivery expert. She is also a media analyst, author, speaker and former CNN
anchor. @TheGinaLondon


Covid19 Control and Compassion

“This is a stop and think moment.” John Riordan, Director of Support for Shopify International, told me this past week during a video conference call.

If ever there was an understatement during this time of pandemic and confinement, this is it, isn’t it?  Many of us are overloading on thinking.  We’re constantly glued to our phones or TVs to the tumultuous torrent: news reports, Facebook posts, Tweets, forwarded messages from somebody’s “expert” brother’s cousin - even memes.

The innumerable sources of information and misinformation are combining into an unrecognizable ooze flooding our brain and our emotions. We are in danger of short-circuiting.

And that’s precisely why this really is a “stop and think moment.” It is up to us to stop. Slow down, breathe deeply (with proper safety precautions in place, of course) and take back control of what we let our minds think about.

To illustrate my point, I advise my clients to picture a Venn diagram. (Remember those from your early mathematics classes?  In one circle there’s a set of apples. In the other, there’s a set of oranges. Where the two circles overlap is the intersection or subset.) Got that pictured? Okay.

Imagine one circle is labelled “Things That Matter.”  In this circle would be words like coronavirus shutdown, mental and physical health, job security, finances, etc.  Now imagine another circle labelled “Things I Can Control.” The area where these two circles intersect is the only place where you should put your focus.

  1. Focus on what you can control

For instance, while the coronavirus shutdown absolutely matters, you cannot control what will happen with it five months from now. Instead, you can focus trying to control how you respond to the daily challenges.  If you’ve already lost your job (which a dear friend of mine did on Tuesday this past week), you cannot control where your next paycheck is coming from, but you can control reaching out to unemployment offices and your lenders to apprise them of your situation and to seek assistance including waivers or partial payment plans.

If you haven’t lost your job, perhaps you’re self-employed like I am and worried about your financial future. That matters, so what can you control? Can you modify your service or product offering to better suit the current climate? I’ve been developing an on-line training platform off-and-on for several months, but guess what? I am fast-tracking that project tout suite!  Stay tuned.

Or finally, maybe you’re one of the many office employees who have now been forced to WFH (work from home).  But what is home? Many tech employees in Ireland are foreign nationals. Perhaps they have an apartment here, but their extended families are in France, Spain or elsewhere.  It’s one thing to work remotely, but it’s another thing entirely to live remotely from loved ones during this uncertain time.

  1. Show extra compassion

For that reason and others, I advised my corporate manager clients to show extra compassion to their remote teams in a variety of ways. Team collaboration tools like Workplace, Slack and Teams are extremely important, but so too is the personal touch. One client of mine spent all day Monday making individual calls to each member of his team to confidentially ask questions, show concern and offer support.  Another organized virtual breakfast coffees every morning with his team via Zoom conferencing to bolster team spirit and morale. Urging them to get showered and ready for the morning coffees, he declared, “Dress for continued success.”

Our brave new stepped-up world of remote working brings me back to John who happens to lead Shopify’s world of remote teams.

John stressed that while this may seem like a temporary thing for now, the question is what are we going to learn from this? “We’re going to need to exercise a different management muscle,” he said, answering his own question.

  1. Upskill your communications

“Up until now your standard method of communication has largely been the real-life. Utilizing subtle body language and a range of nuanced language and tones,” John explained. “But in remote workplaces, where video conferences are often recorded for documentation, communications must be more deliberate and structured. You need to know how to take your physical presence and translate that to video calls and writing, to effectively confirm the outcome of the discussion and reaffirm understandings of what was discussed.”

I agree. Companies, like individuals, can use this time to take create more structure while deliberately demonstrating compassion for each other and considering ways to develop and adapt services, products and skills.

It is time to stop and think. 

NEXT WEEK ON THE COMMUNICATOR

I’ll share the second half of my provocative interview with Shopify’s John Riordan as he contends our new world of increased remote working is going to change the way we work forever.  What matters and what can we control?

AND FINALLY, HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY

A word for all the mums out there - many of whom, like me, have been cooped up with their wonderful children for a week with at least another on the way - God help us all.

 

Write to Gina in care of SundayBusiness@independent.ie.  With corporate clients in five continents, Gina London is a premier communications strategy, structure and delivery expert. She is also a media analyst, author, speaker and former CNN anchor. @TheGinaLondon