There is an old saying often credited to John Adams, the second U.S. president, that holds that “a problem is an opportunity in disguise.” In various forms, it has been used by leaders ever since to illuminate the difficulties faced by nations or organizations in an optimistic light.
Though it’s a good bet that Adams never conceived of the havoc a novel coronavirus could wreak more than 200 years later on the nation he helped found or on the system of capitalism that has thrived here, franchisees and business owners are nonetheless managing in the spirit of his words.
In the months since the calendar turned from 2019 to 2020, the world has experienced unprecedented change. The novel coronavirus pandemic disrupted economies and social institutions across the world on a scale that was unimaginable at the dawn of the new year.
Some industries have felt the challenges – and pains – of COVID-19 more strongly than others. Small-business owners across various industries have had to shutter their locations or implement strict cleaning protocols and cope with other disruptions to operations. Restaurant owners had to capitalize on their off-premise capabilities, while salon and fitness club owners had to use time during forced closures to find and implement solutions to keep customers safe when they returned.
Business leaders leaned in to these challenges, working constantly to reassure team members during the uncertainty, emphasize and reinforce company culture, and ensure their organizations would be ready to reopen with increased safety measures and new operating procedures that would keep team members and customers safe.
Now, as states slowly loosen restrictions and more businesses opening their doors, those efforts are paying off. The Elevanta team spoke with several of its clients to gather ideas on their best practices for reopening and managing their businesses in the wake of COVID-19.
Communication is Key
One takeaway that franchisees have all deemed important is consistent communication. Of course, every business is different and requires different action as the nation’s economy has ground to a halt. Regardless of specific situations, however, the No. 1 thing small-business owners can do is communicate – with vendor partners, with lenders, with lease holders, with their franchisor and with employees.
Attorney Nate Riordan of West Coast Franchise Law emphasized this in a webinar he conducted for franchisees as the crisis took hold in March. “One of the things that will help you and serve you best is if you can communicate regularly,” Riordan said. “Let people know that you are out there, that you are thinking of them and their issues, and that you are trying to accommodate them. And if one of the things you do is call people up and tell them that you don’t have answers, that’s OK. That’s better than not calling them at all.”
It is vitally important that a business does not go dark with either its suppliers or its sustainers, leaving them to wonder what is happening. The news shared in the short term may be all bad, but in this atmosphere, honesty is far more important than leaving the people who support and rely on a business without information.
Prioritize Your People
In addition to keeping your team members in the loop, it is important to make them feel valued and comfortable. Focusing on company culture is something that has been a top priority for Elevanta clients. Business owners have been true leaders and managers stepping up to the plate in times of crisis.
A franchise group with many locations in the fitness industry set a goal of retaining as many team members as it could while sustaining the financial stability of the organization. The team did so by communicating its goals consistently to all levels of the organization throughout the government-mandated club closures. This effort paid off, as the group retained 650 full-time employees.
Employees have responded well to restaurant franchisees who have used similar practices in their locations. Honest, open and clear communications keep everyone on the same page and reduce anxiety. In uncertain times, one of the biggest challenges can be keeping everyone calm and level-headed. Managing emotions is every bit as important as managing operations.
Growing relationships with community partners should also be a priority. Although in-person events might not be possible, many businesses are continuing to show support for their communities by donating their products or services, reminding partners that their support is unwavering. For example, restaurant owners have been donating thank-you meals to front line workers and nonprofit organizations throughout the pandemic, which keeps their brands top of mind and keeps community bonds strong. It’s also a way to keep team members busy in what otherwise might be a lull for your business.
Pausing to Reflect and Adapt
As business operations came to a screeching halt in mid-March, executives and team members got to look at operations through a new lens.
At some restaurants, franchisees had higher level-team members assist in hourly positions to see firsthand what trials and tribulations their team members face each day. It allowed these managers to see operations from a new perspective and adjust accordingly.
That viewpoint was an important consideration for many managers as they led implementation of the new health and safety guidelines and operations procedures needed – and, in many cases, required – for businesses to reopen. Knowing that significant changes were coming, keeping team members top of mind was an important step toward easing the anxieties they faced and getting buy-in as they returned to work.
Many franchise groups received guidance through local regulations or their corporate headquarters, but some had to create their own policies to fit their business models. Among these steps were developing systems to ensure employees aren’t ill when they come in for shifts, clean efficiently and maximize usable space while keeping socially distant.
It is important for each business owner to consider what will be effective for their own business. Franchisees with many locations might even have to look at each store differently, depending on factors such as size and layout. Take these features into consideration as you reflect on new protocols for your business.
As each day brings new challenges, take advantages of the opportunities that may arise. Connect with other business owners and collaborate on ideas.