“What if the trials of this life are your mercies in disguise?”
That lyric from the song “Blessings,” by Laura Story, sums up the past two years of running a business.
Going through the pandemic – which I believe is still far from over in terms of the economy and a full recovery… whatever a “full recovery” looks like -- while trying to lead others through a sheer nightmare, brought on a level of stress that pushed me to my limits – physically, emotionally, financially, and spiritually.
And boy, did I screw a lot of things up.
As we continue our month-long look at what the media is calling, “The Big Quit,” I thought I’d open up by sharing my story of the “The Little Quit,” we had at my PR firm.
I’m calling it “The Little Quit” not to diminish the magnitude of a historic shift in the culture of the American workforce, but because I own a small agency, and losing three people was the equivalent of a workplace tsunami.
What I Believe I Got Right
Loyalty to our team – To my own financial detriment, I retained our team at full salaries, although we had nowhere near the work to support that level of payroll when the pandemic hit the U.S. in full-force, starting in spring 2020.
I kept hearing the voice of my longtime business coach and friend, Kevin Kragenbrink, in my head saying “Kelly, you have to stop making business decisions with your heart and run it by the numbers.”
Yeah, I get that, Kevin.
But this was a crisis of unparalleled enormity. How could I sleep at night if the women I work with and care about are thrown headlong into unemployment? So, we stayed fully staffed, and I sold my house and moved to a much smaller, downsized home (albeit at the beach in a place I’ve already felt called to live), so I could keep our work family together.
I believe I did the right thing.
Moving to a Hybrid Workplace Model
Fletcher Marketing PR had a very nice office on Market Square in Downtown Knoxville, Tennessee for 11 years. I loved the space. It had character and bolstered creativity. We had some amazingly good times there and some really hard times in that space. There were laughter and tears, celebrations and heartbreaks. I think a piece of me will always linger in that space.
But as the end of our lease was approaching anyway, I evaluated the expense of having the fancy, downtown office space versus going into co-working space. We made the move in January of this year. We still have a stand-alone office but share conference rooms, common areas, and other resources with other businesses.
The team decides who is going to go into the office and on which days as the space is not large enough to accommodate a dedicated workspace for every employee.
And that’s pretty much it. Those are the only two things I really got right.
How I Failed
Employee Communications and Culture – In retrospect, it’s interesting to me that I make a living at communications, but when it came to communicating, I did a terrible job at it.
It’s not like I never communicated, but what I realize now (and we tell our crisis comms clients this), that in times of crisis – especially with a seismic shift in the WAY we work, OVER-COMMUNICATION should have been my top priority.
Now, I try to check in personally with every employee almost every day – some days I don’t get to everyone, but I make a mental note to try not to let two days pass without a one-to-one conversation.
Employee communications is at the heart of building culture, and most companies would be wise to take a moment and assess culture. Without culture, you have no common values or mission. Without culture, you can’t get to where you want to go.
My Definition of Leadership – Until I started splitting my time between Knoxville and Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, I didn’t have much “me” time.
My life was a constant blur of activity – social engagements, lunches, dinners, business travel, running a household – you know all the things many of us live with. And I began to think that if I wasn’t booked every minute of every single day, I wasn’t doing something right. I wasn’t trying hard enough.
To me, leadership meant providing. In the employment context, I provide you a career, and you show up and do the work. Pre-pandemic, I didn’t naturally gravitate toward ideas of training or mentoring.
From 2020 to 2021, I decided to make a conscious effort to course-correct my mindset.
Today, I embrace a stronger mindset of lifting up my team to our highest potential… embracing Colin Powell’s 13th rule of leadership, which is “perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.”
Earlier in my career, I worked for an Omnicom recruitment advertising agency out of their Atlanta office. We focused entirely on recruitment, retention and workplace culture using tools from a marketer’s perspective. We helped large companies like The Home Depot and the U.S. military approach recruitment and retention using creative, data-driven advertising campaigns that attracted new applicants and – as a side benefit – instilled pride in current employees.
In the wake of the pandemic, I’m reconnecting with this prior career experience and newly embracing recent lessons-learned, to mobilize culture-development alongside lifelong-learning.
Together, these priorities are bringing my team together in a confluence of mutual benefit for my team members and me personally – intellectually, professionally, socially, motivationally … and in many ways, even spiritually.
Looking ahead to 2022, if you’re a business owner or leader in your organization struggling with hiring, workforce development or recruitment and retention, marketing firms with expertise in internal communications – including having “lived-experience” through many years of entrepreneurship – can be critical toward helping you achieve goals.
I’d be happy to schedule a complimentary consultation to discuss how we may be of service to your company. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.