Waking with the Robins

I like sitting at my desk early in the morning gathering my thoughts as I listen to the robins chirp in the growing light of the dawn. I am not sure why I got to the office at 4:00 AM this morning, but I find myself doing it more than before.  I think it’s something about the excitement of a new day and awaiting the rising sun through my office window.  Maybe it is the deafening silence of our office situation that inspires me to write as I can sense all my neurons and synapses are vibrantly active and blissfully coherent.  (Yes, I realize some of you are now smirking at that image and thinking to yourselves – He’s going to NEED all those neurons and synapses engaged if this is going to be a coherent message!) 😊

Last Thursday I issued the need for a company-wide ‘State of the Union’ address.  I intended on having it on Friday, but we moved it to Monday to honor religious service commitments.  It was basically a 30-minute presentation where I discussed where we are currently as a company in this bruised-and-beaten business environment.  I admired the sacrifices we are making as a team.  I acknowledged where we have cut costs they can see and some of the additional measures I am making for the long-term good of the company they can’t see.  I discussed where we are month-to-date on sales and where we need to be each month to break even.  I then had the good fortune of noting new opportunities that may add to our near-term success thanks to having the right business partners. In whole, our situation is neither bleak nor is it guaranteed.  Like always, our success is attainable through cooperative and continuous effort to excel and exceed. 

After the call, I asked one of my staff members for an impression of the meeting.  “I like the fact that you told us what our sales goal is for the company to break even and pay the bills as we sit today”  This employee then went on to say, “I appreciate the fact that you don’t pull any punches and that you give it to us straight.”  There was also a bit of constructive criticism having to wait for the call.  “People were concerned and worried about losing their jobs.” 

After I had a chance to digest what we talked about, I’ve come to understand that we are fighting two different forms of pestilence.  First and foremost is COVID-19 itself.  The second perpetrator is everything that comes with the virus but is not a part of the illness.  Worry about family and work  Isolation, lost events and opportunities (like graduations.)  Yes, the first has caused the second, but the secondary effects are just as demanding.  Instead of a fight for health in our bodies, these other complications test our resolve, pushing our leadership skills, stretching our resourcefulness to new limits.  As an employer and, thereby, a leader – I must be more compassionate to these concerns.  Not that I wasn’t compassionate before, but morale in the home and in the workplace is being tested in a way few of us have ever dealt with before.  Few of us have had to deal with the virus directly, but most of us have felt the sting of the secondary effects of layoffs and furloughs directly with our families and friends. 

I can’t stop the virus.  I can’t start the economy.  As much as I reassure my staff that R/B Sales is doing everything we can to keep people’s jobs intact, I know (and regret) that I can’t help them from spending their emotional energy with that as a concern. 

As many of you know, I have made a list of people I am trying to call every week-or-so.  I’m blessed to know just how easy it was to build a list of industry partners that are important to me and amazed how long it is.  And I continue to add to that list.  I want to keep adding to it because I am concerned about our industry and the importance of each employee – mine and yours.  Fear of losing a job should not and cannot freeze us for accomplishing the work at hand while looking forward to a stronger future.  But I know that fear is there.  The best I can do is keep people engaged and hopeful knowing that work can be the medicine we need today.  In medical terms, work is the ounce of medicine I can offer to prevent needing a pound of cure.

I encourage you to openly engage your team. It may be what they have to hear right now.

An industry titan (whom I respect immensely) shared the following article with me last week:

https://hbr.org/2010/03/roaring-out-of-recession

Although this was written in March of 2010 it could just have easily been written in March of 2020.  My most important takeaway of this article is the need to balance operational efficiency with market development and asset investment.  My new favorite term (which I believe my employees are already growing tired of hearing) is ‘pragmatic.’  I want RB Sales to be ‘progressive’ as described in the article, but that is only possible if we make all the ‘optimal’ pragmatic decisions.  One definition of pragmatic is “dealing with things sensibly and realistically in a way that is based on practical rather than theoretical considerations.”  The article notes the need for a Janus-faced strategy – looking backward and forward at the same time.  Cutting budgets here and expanding ideas there and explaining why both decisions are valid.  Any tested leader has been there, improving both offensive and defensive games when others are looking around hoping for a timeout.  In the infinite game of business (just as in life), there aren’t any timeouts.  The game goes on.

Finally, on a positive note, I’m one week closer to being able to hit the road and thank you for your ongoing business support and friendship.

Take care and please let me or anyone on the R/B Sales team know how we can help you and your team (as I like to say) — Hunt it, kill it, drag it home!

Bill P.S. – I will be contemplating if, “Hunt it, kill it, drag it home!” is a pragmatic tag line.  😊

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