We have all felt it. The uncertainty that has come along with COVID. A byproduct, a symptom of a global hysteria. This has hit us all at our very core, be it our personal core, familial core, or business core. Each area has been affected to some degree. On our personal level, we have been ordered to shelter-in-place. Some have listened to the agonizing stories on the news. Some have feared leaving the house, touching the grocery cart, being within six feet of another human being. Some have felt the emotional struggles for not being able to enjoy some of the freedoms we’re used to. We long for physical human connection, once again. On a familial level, some have had loved ones contract COVID and survive. Some have had loved ones contract COVID and pass away. We have wondered if we took the right measures after being in public to stay clean and protect our children. Some wear masks, while others walk around with a naked face breathing in fresh air. Our personal and familial core has not been rocked like this since 9/11 and for the younger generations, this is the first time.
On a business level, the uncertainty showed up as the economy closed, people lost jobs, business shut their doors temporarily or permanently. The unemployment rate rose to levels never witnessed before, near 25%! That includes 28 million unemployment claims filed in under six weeks! For the businesses that still have doors to open, this is the most crucial of times to recalibrate and reprioritize. Right now, there are three types of businesses:
- Businesses that are doing everything the same way they did 90 days ago, ultimately closing their doors.
- Companies that begin to create changes, but want to do everything themselves, without expert support or accountability. OR
- Companies that are utilizing coaching and consulting resources to grow their culture and leadership through adversity and begin to thrive in a rebounding economy.
There is one string that combines our personal core, familial core, and business core. It is the same string that will prove the businesses in the third group successful. This string is culture! This is not just a theory of mine; I’ve proven it with a business owner client I’ve worked with for more than a year and through this pandemic. Norm Robertson, Franchisee, Express Employment Professionals Northern Indiana has underwent this process with the steadfast faith that building a stronger culture, even during the unknown, will pay dividends for his organization in the long run. I interviewed Norm to get an in-depth look at how the growth of culture has positively impacted his organization. The following is the transcript of that interview:
Scott: Describe your organization prior to our work together, including aspects of culture and leadership.
Norm: Prior to working together with you, we had a good culture. We had a lot of things on the right track. But, me personally, I wasn’t in a good position to bring that all together as well as I did once we started working together. We had a lot of the right pieces in the right place. It was a matter of taking that jigsaw puzzle and started to put those pieces in the right position to work better for the team.
Scott: As we started and began to focus on your own personal and professional challenges, did that have an immediate impact on your Express office? How has it impacted leadership and culture?
Norm: When we started to focus on my own personal challenges, that had an immediate, professional impact on my organization. One of the reasons, I was listening to my monkey brain*, so everything was a distraction. We had a lot of different goals and objectives, while we were dealing with a particularly tough year. Business was a little different, it was off. By you helping me gain focus, I was able to help bring focus back into the organization. At that point, we started seeing significant growth and we started to see that happen fast.
*The monkey brain refers to the part of your brain that becomes easily distracted.
Scott: How has our work together impacted the leadership and culture throughout the organization?
Norm: When we started working together, one of the things I noticed was the learning. I started to become a student again, both personally and my business. I started to read more books, watch more YouTube videos, implementing the things we discussed and these principles started to transfer to the team. As I started to read more books, I started to pass new knowledge and those books along. Then I noticed my leadership team was starting to read more books and passing books amongst each other. Our time together started to foster this atmosphere of Engaged Learning throughout the entire Executive Team.
Scott: I remember a conversation we had about a realization one of the members of your Executive Leadership Team had after some of these leadership principles we discussed transferred to them. Can you explain what happened?
Norm: It was surprising to me and the team. I was having a 1-on-1 coaching session with one of the leaders of my Executive Team on the principles I’ve worked with you on, where she realized she was actually a part of the issue, not her team. Her team was actually doing what she asked them to do and she was unknowingly empowering them to continue making certain mistakes. So, when she realized she was the obstacle, she then changed her behavior and started to see the team come back together in a way that was more productive and less disruptive.
Scott: How has an environment of Engaged Learning positively impacted the organization?
Norm: Once we started to realize we had an environment of Engaged Learning, we saw various other aspects of growth come to fruition. For example, I started to become certified in different things like Emotional Intelligence and AMP (Attachment + Motivation = Performance). I utilized those tools with our organization and I found we had some weak spots. We addressed those weak spots and even though we had very little turnover, I felt we were open to turnover with a couple individuals. So with a culture of Engaged Learning, I was able to assist those individuals in creating a different vision for what they could be within our organization. The continuation of low turnover combined with a culture of Engaged Learning helped us, particularly with the COVID-19 pandemic. We were prepared, and in a place where we could quickly mobilize, stick together as a cohesive unit, and continue with business, in spite of the obstacles that lie ahead of us.
Scott: What has been the biggest growth point in your organization?
Norm: It’s definitely the environment of Engaged Learning. I’ve never read as many books as I have over the course of the past year. In that, we realized that if we stay involved in a learning process, we further develop our own philosophies and style through the books we’ve read. As a result of this process, we are lean, we’re productive, we’re positive, and we’re making a positive impact on the community. That is due to continuously being in a learning phase and not going back to the status quo where we were before.
Scott: The industry standard for turnover amongst staffing agents is 25%. Do you feel our work together has assisted your organization in keeping your turnover to a level much less than that?
Norm: We have always taken a lot of pride in having a turnover rate much less than the industry standard. Even though we have achieved many different awards such as Franchisee of the Year and have been viewed as an excellent office, we know there is always room for improvement and continue to build on what we already have. By working with you, we’ve been able to assemble some of those building blocks we already had in progress and make those more effective, more efficient for us. That’s where the value of working with you has been incredible. Taking things we already have, already know, be able to pull those together and have a high-performing team at a world-class level. And I believe we are achieving that.
Scott: Please explain the process that we have worked through during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Norm: One of the things that you were very quick to move me toward was culture. I feel like we had a good culture, but with COVID, it seemed to have destroyed everything. But you immediately moved me to building an effective culture with a sense of belonging and a safe environment for employees to be a part of. Quite honestly, the timing was absolutely perfect and I attribute that as to why I was able to hold the team together; at a point when we were all working from home, doing something we’ve never done before and doing it in complete isolation. The culture piece is something we continue to pull out of COVID. As a matter of fact, it has put us in a position where we are entertaining the opportunity to opening an additional office, growing our territory. So when most companies are retracting, we are actually taking advantage of an opportunity and growing. The culture we have built, the leadership that we have invested in and utilizing that to open a new franchise territory.
Scott: During the COVID-19 pandemic, did your organizational culture become weaker, stay the same or grow stronger?
Norm: I believe as we went through COVID, the culture of an organization was going to go in one of two directions. It either destroyed what the company had built, or it brought them closer together. In our case, it brought us closer together. We all had a shared experience. By using some of the tools you gave me related to culture building, we were able to put those in place and become a stronger, more cohesive team coming out on the other side of it. We would not be in a position to open up another franchise if we did not put some of those cultural principles into practice during those eight or nine weeks.
Scott: What organizational metrics improved, as a result of strengthening organizational culture?
Norm: I get asked often, what metrics do we use to justify or to show success in using your coaching. The truth is, I don’t know a metric that would actually show that. I say that because what metrics do you put on learning? How do you quantify a metric related to building culture in a team? Well, you can look at that from the standpoint of turnover or the standpoint of increased revenues. However, the challenge is going through the pandemic and other things our organization was doing, I can say it undoubtedly helped the organization because of the focus that I had. Now to try to put a number on that is pretty difficult to do. The other thing is, you could have the same coaching with a different individual and have a completely different outcome. So when I’m looking at the coaching that you brought to the table and the metrics that I look at to see success, that’s more of the internal metrics that me, as a business owner, is looking at and every time we meet, I’m looking to justify why we’re meeting. As long as the answer is ‘it’s making me money’ or ‘it’s moving my team forward’ and I can continue to answer that personally and professionally, it makes sense to continue forward. I have not doubted these sessions together. During COVID-19, a lot of things got cut. One of the things that did not get cut was your coaching.
Scott: What is the outlook for your company in this new way of being as we reopen our economy?
Norm: As we open the economy, everything is a possibility now. Nobody escaped the pandemic. Every business was touched by it in some way, shape or form. Every person was touched by it in some way, shape or form. Some more than others. Due to that fact, that opens all kinds of possibilities as we’re rebuilding an economy. Some businesses will not be with us anymore and other businesses will pop up due to COVID-19 itself. So, having that focus and that mindset where each week we are meeting, it gives me an opportunity to reevaluate what we are learning and how I can apply that to the new world. Coming out of the other side of the pandemic, it is a new world. Just go to any restaurant or a grocery store and you’ll see it’s a new world. We can’t go into the new world with the same approach we had two months ago, it’s not the same. I believe firmly, there has to be some kind of mechanism in an organization to help them get outside of themselves, to look at things differently, and see the possibilities to come, not the scarcity.
Throughout this interview, it is plain to see the astronomical benefit that Leadership and Culture Coaching has on an organization. And post-COVID is no exception. It’s actually the MOST crucial time to build culture. I have heard many people make the futile attempt to tell me “right now that is a hard sell.” That’s crazy-think. Right now is the primetime (as you have read in this interview) to build culture. We’ve been forced to experience a rebirth, globally. Since we’re in rebuild mode, why not give your organizational culture and leadership a rebirth as well. Go to my website (www.mindmusclestrength.com) and enter your information to have a conversation with me to see how Executive Leadership and Culture Company can be THE resource to grow your culture and leadership through adversity and begin to thrive in a rebounding economy.