The health crisis caused by COVID -19 has made me a better business leader. It has pushed me to do a better job of looking at all my businesses through the eyes of our biggest stakeholders: our customers, team, and community. The pandemic has forced us to invent better ways to recognize and service their needs despite wildly increasing demands for some products and wildly plummeting demand for others. And it has reinforced the importance of being empathetic; creating space for team members to share their feelings and to ask whatever was on their minds.
We consider our customers and team members equally important because without one you don’t have the other. Customers can only be happy and satisfied if team members are equally so. During this pandemic, when looking through the eyes of our customers and team members, what stood out to me was “fear.” Fear for their own health and the health of their families, fear of losing their jobs, fear of not having a supplier able to give them what they needed to keep going. So, we attacked this issue by doing a better job of communication and reassurance.
For our customers we both talked the talk and walked the walk by making an effort to supply their needs faster than ever. Our ambitious goal was to ship 100% of our products the same day we received the order. We put a sticker “shipped the same day” on every package. And we communicated this information to our team. For example, if 1,023 of 1656 packages (62%) went out on the day of order, team members knew exactly what we were doing. We published the information. Team members loved it because they knew exactly where things stood. And they appreciated it because our competitors were making excuses and laying off employees, while we were hiring.
We were forced to deal with the reality that we were facing not one virus but 500 different versions. The virus has a hodgepodge impact on our ability to reach customers because of the different ways that communities, states, and countries responded to COVID-19. Some areas shut down sporadically, restricted travel, and/or didn’t allow it at all. We had to develop “work arounds” for raw materials, transportation, key team members, vendors and the communities we lived in.
We know that bad news travels fast. So, for our owners and our banking partners we shared success stories quickly and our bad news even faster. We wanted to build trust that their investments were protected and efficiently managed.
What did I learn from the tragedy of the pandemic? COVID-19 has reinforced my belief in the importance of being genuine and communicating with people at every level. Business leadership is about connecting with people. COVID-19 is by far the toughest business environment any of us have ever had to live through. Still, while it shut some doors for us, it opened others. I know it made me a better leader and I bet it did the same for you.