The Upside of the Current Downside
Through the Unstoppable Cultures Fellowship I’ve had the privilege of connecting with a number of remarkable individuals. At the top of that list is fellow UCF coach, David Salyers. David comes from one of the greatest organizational cultures in the world, Chick-fil-A, and is truly a thought leader on all things brand and culture. It’s for that reason that I invited him to bring my community a special message about the unique opportunities available to leaders in our current challenging season. I hope his words lift and empower you, as they did for me.
• • •
These are challenging times for all of us and like you, I’ve had lots on my mind. I hope by sharing some of those thoughts with you today, I can be a source of encouragement and hope as you face the unique impact of the COVID-19 crisis on your life, family, and business.
The thing that has been most on my mind is this: I’ve been through a number of tough times like this in my life. And it’s interesting how often those tough times have become the seed of something great. Tough times force and inspire the entrepreneurs, the innovators, and the creators to rethink their business. You’ve got time to retool your business… are you taking advantage of that? As I’ve watched companies respond to COVID, the economic impact, and the time they’ve had in this season, what I’ve noticed is two primary reactions:
1. Some people want to essentially save themselves rich. So their reaction is, let’s cut back everywhere. Let’s put people on furlough. Let’s renegotiate our lease. Let’s cut back on expenses. It’s primarily a defensive posture.
2. Other people have the exact opposite reaction. They said no. The world has changed a lot, things have changed. Let’s go on the offensive and figure out new ways to create value for people. And they’re using the time as a means of creating value for people, not for cutting back on expenses.
I share the story of Roam (a network of shared workspaces that I’m a partner in) as one of the examples. A lot of our competitors’ first reaction was to immediately lay off, furlough, or fire as many employees as possible because they wanted to conserve what little cash they had. There was an article about one of our competitors that came out during that time. And it was stunning to me the way their leadership talked about this time. They said that they were so proud of their team because of how courageous they were at making that tough decision to lay everybody off. And they laid off something like six hundred people immediately. My business partner and I looked at the same situation and came to a different conclusion. We thought, it doesn’t take much courage to lay off a bunch of people. What takes courage is to figure out a way to keep them employed. And we made a commitment to our employees that we were going to do whatever we could to keep everyone employed during this time period. So we viewed it as an opportunity not to save on expenses, but to deploy our team to create new value that didn’t exist.
Part of the way we framed it with our team was this; we said, all of us will look back on this time, 10 years from now, 15 years from now. It’s one of those times where the whole world was impacted by a major event. You will all look back and share a story about this time. What story do you want to tell about how you used this time? And will you be proud of that story?
We decided to focus on three areas to use our team productively to create value and create a story we would all be proud of:
1. Find new ways to create value for your employees and your customers.
We had to close all of our locations for two to three months. And during that time, instead of laying everybody off, furloughing people, etc., we spent some time brainstorming and then created project teams to pursue the most promising ideas coming out of those sessions. As a result we:
- Created and rolled out a new Roam App for members
- Created and rolled out a new partnership offering Virtual Assistants and social media help as a new membership offering
- Created and rolled out a Member Referral Program
- Created and launched a new podcast called “Make Work Matter”
- Created and launched a new office sales strategy and campaign
- Developed and launched a new hospitality strategy and trained the entire organization
- Got a head start on 2021 Strategic Planning
One of our Managing Partners made the statement “I feel like we got three years’ worth of work done in three months.” I love that! Instead of feeling like wasted time, it gave us a chance to get to all these things we never had time for. And we were able to produce things that will now create tremendous value post-COVID and make us more relevant in a world that looks very different. We essentially created a new playbook for the new world in which we find ourselves.
2. Use this time to train & develop your people.
Additionally, we did a lot of training and development during that time because for the first time, everyone was available. Normally we’re running our locations, and the only way you could get people together was after hours. And so now when we look back on that period, most of our employees are saying it was one of the best seasons we’ve had for each of us to train, develop and take our skills and knowledge to the next level. There’s a lot of upside to personally getting better. If we are going to expect our people to grow our business, doesn’t it make sense that we would use our business to grow our people? Truett Cathy, the founder of Chick-fil-A, used to say “Businesses don’t succeed or fail…people do.” So, if that is the case, and I believe it is, if we want to grow our business it starts with growing our people. What a perfect time to do just that!
3. Explore what success looks like on the other side.
This season also offers an opportunity to explore what it looks like to be successful on the other side. Contrast that with our competitor who immediately laid off six hundred people. At some point in the future they’re going to try and crank their business back up; how are they going to do that? Will they have made the needed adjustments for the new situation we find ourselves in? And what are they going to have that’s of new value for their customers? And how loyal are their employees going to be if they were that disloyal to them? On and on it goes.
Another example of making the most of a downside comes from my experience at Chick-fil-A. During my time there, we had several seasons like this where we went through a downside. And out of the first one came the Chick-fil-A Corporate Purpose, which is now the central organizing idea for the whole corporation. From the next one came Second Mile Service, which seemed like a crazy idea at the time, because it was born during the 2007/2008 banking crisis. During a time when most of our competitors were cutting back on their expenses and employees, Chick-fil-A was adding hours and resources in order to train employees to give Second Mile Service. And now, Chick-fil-A is more known for its service than its food, where before it was almost exclusively about the food!
In general, you can find the upside to the downside by asking yourself these questions:
- What story do I want to tell?
- Am I happy with the story I’ve written so far?
- Will I be proud of that story ten years from now?
- What story do I want our employees to tell?
- Will they be proud of that story 10 years from now?
If you need to spark a change in the way you’re using this time and need help creating a story you are proud of, I am happy to share my new digital course, called Spark.
Spark is designed to show you how to create your organization’s own “secret sauce.” Through it, discover the secrets of Chick-fil-A’s famed customer loyalty and renowned culture, identify your brand’s competitive advantage, and start to transform your culture from the inside out. My hope is that Spark will help you make the most of your time going forward, and create a story you can be proud to tell.
• • •
Original Chick-fil-A Marketing Executive and Chick-fil-A Pioneer
David Salyers was one of the original two marketing executives at Chick-fil-A. He went on to spend 37 years in the Chick-fil-A Marketing Department, most recently as a Vice President, before his retirement. Having worked at Chick-fil-A his entire career, he saw the principles of servant leadership and creating remarkable customer experiences play out in the growth of more than 2,300 Chick-fil-A restaurants around the country.
Throughout his career, David has had a passion to spark the growth of individuals, teams and organizations. He intuitively sees the potential in others and organizations and what can be rather than what they currently are. After participating in the extraordinary success of Chick-fil-A, David realized the business principles used to catapult that organization can work anytime and anywhere…no matter the size of the team or company. So, in 2018, David founded Spark a Revolution, where he and his team help companies create a competitive advantage by building remarkable cultures and brands. David and his wife, Lynn, have been married for 29 years and have three adult children and one adorable grandchild.
Together, we truly can build Unstoppable Cultures!