Survival & Thrival: What We’ve Learned So Far

Kurt Wilkin

The past 12 weeks have been a helluva rollercoaster ride. Our businesses have had to transition to a completely virtual workforce, make tough decisions around layoffs and furloughs, pivot business models to survive, and manage the entire thing from a computer screen. Each week has felt like an eternity and navigating the details around government regulations and the PPP funding – all while strategizing on how best to use it and navigating a global health pandemic – was quite a challenge.

It has been the best of times and the worst of times for many reasons. Even if the pros and cons are not equally weighted, at least not in this moment, I think (and hope) we will be able to say that we are better for it when the dust settles. Take a moment to think through everything you’ve been through in the past few months. Really process it and ask yourself what you have learned from it all. What will you take away from all of this?

Some businesses are seizing the opportunity; making short-term or even permanent pivots to their business models. I love the creative approaches and the tenacity shown by so many entrepreneurs and their teams. As you know, I’m a big fan of going on offense.

While no one knows what the future will bring, I have been so inspired by the leaders in my circle. In the CEO Forums I started way back in March (damn – that seems like a lifetime ago!), we’ve helped each other survive, pivot, and navigate the ever-changing pandemic landscape, both professionally and personally.

I started writing about some of our experiences so I could help a broader audience. Then, I was persuaded to go even bigger and in late April, with the assistance and support of my team and my CEO friends, we took many of the lessons and discussions from the CEO Forums and began sharing them with the world via LinkedIn Live Q&A Sessions. Through those sessions, I’ve been able to have real, authentic discussions with a variety of leaders and entrepreneurs. We don’t pretend to have all the answers and I’ve certainly learned a ton along the way.

Each Q&A Session is available for viewing on my LinkedIn page. There have been five thus far, each around 30 minutes long. I’d love for you to check them out when you have time. But, since I don’t expect most of you to have two and a half hours of spare time these days, I’ve made it easy for you. Here is one key takeaway from each session that I think is particularly helpful as we continue our journey into the unknown.

Session #1 (April 29)

“This is a psychological pandemic as much as it is an economic or health crisis” – Craig Wiley

In my first session, Craig Wiley pointed out that although the health and economic impacts of COVID-19 are the most visible, it is important to remember the emotional toll it takes on all of us. “The psychology of this is going to be transformational. From consumer trends to how we use space, it’s a wide-open playing field right now.” Craig’s words in late April could not ring more true today. As we move towards reopening, remember the emotional and psychological toll this has taken on your employees, on you, and on your family. Consider the impact you can have if you lead with compassion rather than drive to “get back to normal.” This is especially important because, as Craig stated, “we will probably never get back to the way it was before.”

Session #2 (May 6)

“Spend your energy on things you can control” – Tom West

Early in the crisis, Tom spent a lot of time trying to be a “COVID expert” so that he could try to make sense of it all and lead his team with expertise and knowledge. Eventually he realized that he couldn’t be that expert – no one can. But he also realized that his time and energy could be better spent engaging with his team and clients to further their businesses. “If I had it to do over again, I would spend more time on things that make us a better company.” As we move forward, it will become even more important to focus on what you can control – it will not only help your business survive and thrive, but it will help with your stress levels as well!

Session #3 (May 13)

“When we get to the other side of this, people are going to vote with their feet.” – Rob Dwortz

Rob had some fantastic insights on the impending talent transfer that awaits us after the pandemic “dust” settles. Talented people across industries and around the country are being furloughed or laid off through no fault of their own, but it goes deeper than that. Talented people are constantly assessing their positions under normal circumstances, asking questions like “Am I in the best position to succeed?” Now, throw in a huge disruption like a global pandemic, and the stakes are much higher. Your leadership matters. How you handled the past few months (and how you will handle the months ahead) is vitally important to retaining the top talent on your team and attracting new talent in the months and years to come. “If it’s anything less than outstanding at the leadership level, folks are going to look around and say, ‘should I move on?’” Don’t let their answer be ‘yes!’

Session #4 (May 20)

“This crisis has clarified what’s most important” – Rand Stagen

Every single leader struggles with tough decisions in a variety of areas. Whether it’s strategy, client or customer service, or the makeup of their teams, many leaders would rather delay than make difficult but necessary decisions. In Rand’s work with the Stagen Leadership Academy, he has found that COVID-19 has given a “gift” to many leaders—they are now being forced into taking courageous action. “Because of the crisis, we’re having the honest, no-bullshit conversations that needed to happen three years ago, but we’ve been afraid to have.” In June and beyond, I encourage everyone to continue or consider pursuing courageous action. Now more than ever, it is vital to assess your business honestly and make the tough decisions that you’d normally put off until later! It could be the difference between success and failure.

Session #5 (May 27)

“Communication is important – but it’s how you talk that matters most” – Rod Kurtz

An expert entrepreneur and communicator himself, Rob has paid close attention to what’s working (and not working) as brands try to communicate during the crisis. “About 95% totally miss the mark. It’s this CEO jargon that doesn’t really say anything or connect with people.” The ones that do it right are simply “keeping it real.” They aren’t trying to pretend like they know it all or that everything is normal. Those that fail to communicate, or do so poorly, run the risk of becoming irrelevant. As consumers stay home, and even as they begin to venture back out, it will be increasingly important to be one of the 5% that does it right. Staying present, with real conversation, will help you stay relevant. “It will not only help you during this time; your customers will reward you tenfold after this is over.”

Onward to June!

I’ve said it many times: I don’t have all the answers and I certainly don’t pretend to! We don’t know what the summer will bring. We are certainly hoping for the best but continuing to prepare for the unknown. What I do know is that we’ve got good, compassionate leaders all around us who can and will make a difference.

Speaking of good and compassionate leaders, our next LinkedIn Live features keynote speaker, CEO coach and work-life-balance-whisperer, Jill Tupper. She encourages leaders to think of life as an adventure and insists that life is a marathon, not a sprint (sound familiar Survival and Thrival fans?). She speaks regularly about training from the inside out, and I’m excited for her to join me at 10:30 AM Central on Wednesday, June 3. You won’t want to miss the dynamic Jill Tupper!

Our goal at HireBetter is to help you navigate the unknown and assist in any way we can, especially when it comes to questions about your team and the health of your business. We’re offering free sessions to help Founders and CEOs leverage talent to play offense.  And we will continue to host CEO Forums and keep you updated.

Our journey into the unknown can be scary – for our teams, our customers, our families and yes, for us. But let’s take some of the lessons learned from the past twelve weeks into the next twelve weeks. As Jill says, “you’ve got this.” We’re going to make it. Let’s GO!

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