Wow, the times are changing — and fast. We are bombarded with information (complete information overload), we have to process what this means to ourselves, our families, our businesses and our customers (aka our extended families).
In the car last night, my 10-year-old was asking me questions about COVID-19. When can we go back to school? Can we leave the house? Will I get to play with my friends? What if we run out of food? When is this going to be over? Each of the answers was “I don’t know.” I turned around to look at her and saw the fear in her eyes. I had to pause, explain why I didn’t know, what I knew and what I didn’t know, and give her the comfort that we would figure it out together.
This is my 10-year-old, but we feel it as small business owners too. What does this mean for my business, for my livelihood, for my family? And our employees have questions about their jobs and their families.
Here are a couple of tips to help you make decisions, create some calm within the storm and keep the foundation of your business strong.
Reflect on your values
There is so much activity, so much commotion, so much noise, so many decisions. It is important to step back and reflect on what’s important to you and your business. Your values (what’s important to you) will guide you to the future. Breweries are amazing at this — you know why you started the brewery. Most of the breweries we work with have a vision of creating a gathering space, a place for people to come together, comfort, community, fun, support. What will differentiate you during this turbulent time is responding in accordance with your values.
Communicate … a lot
This does not mean communicating only when you have information or decisions. This is where managers and business owners tend to falter. If you only communicate when you have new information or decisions, you are not communicating enough. This communication needs to be consistent. If you have no updates, share what you have said previously and that you have no updates. Share why you have no updates. In your consistent communication, share your values and how you plan to act in accordance with your values.
Business owners often feel like they need to have all the answers. They are the decision makers after all, the one that others rely on. But it is important to get your employees involved. Talk to them. Share the landscape, the current situation and the goals — and get their ideas on how to proceed. You will be amazed at the creativity of your employees.
Here’s how the process can flow:
Step 1. Prior to asking employees for their thoughts and perspectives, determine your non-negotiables. What is not an option to you, what would you not agree with or implement? If you don’t identify these ahead of time, employees may feel you are just shooting down their ideas and aren’t really listening.
Step 2. Start the conversation with the landscape (what’s the situation), the goals (what the business needs to accomplish near term) and your values (affirming that decisions moving forward will be based on values).
Step 3. Explain what you want from them (ideas on how to proceed), your non-negotiables (what their boundaries are), and what you expect (that ideas should align with values).
Step 4. Open the floor to ideas. Be open to ideas. If your first instinct is that you don’t agree, stop. Ask additional questions, like ‘tell me more about that’ or ‘how would this align with our values’ or ‘how would this work’. The goal is to understand and encourage ideas.
As a business owner, you will have created an environment where your employees feel appreciated and valued. Trust will increase, employees will be engaged and working together. When these turbulent times are over, your employees will choose to stay.
Businesses that don’t have this same approach, that make decisions out of fear and are not aligned with their values, and that don’t engage their employees risk losing those same employees when the opportunity presents itself.
Kristen Ireland is co-owner of People Spark Consulting, a human resources strategy consulting firm that works with small businesses to achieve their business goals through their culture and people strategies.