with Resilience

Trying to understand how companies reacted to and are reacting to COVID-19 and the subsequent government reactions to it requires observations of people’s behaviors. The observations in this series were not only gleaned from interviews with the companies who were reacting; the series also tuned in on many webinars from markets to find out how companies and people were behaving.

This brought about the observation that one of the main words associated with behaviors to COVID-19 that came up repeatedly “resilience.” Some had it; others didn’t have it. Some who said they had it didn’t, and so on. The implication in what was heard was that having resilience helped in dealing with COVID-19 and government’s interventions. But did it?

When entering “covid-19 and resilience” in Google, you get 135,000,000 results in less than a second. The results include highly respected organizations’ papers on the topic, including: Deloitte, Harvard, American Psychological Association as well as the CDC. In short, there’s no shortage of expert opinions about the topic.

The Harvard reference says this: “The worldwide outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is a source of unexpected stress and adversity for many people. Resilience can help us get through and overcome hardship.” It leads to a 4-pager, “How to Help Families and Staff Build Resilience During the COVID-19 Outbreak,” where Harvard advises to think of resilience as a seesaw or balance scale, where negative experiences tip the scale toward bad outcomes and positive experiences tip it toward good outcomes.”[1]

The Deloitte paper points out: “As resilient leaders, one of our most critical roles right now is to sustain: to sustain our people, many of whom are experiencing not only fatigue, but more stresses than they ever have; to sustain our organizations in continuing to create value for all stakeholders; and to sustain society as it experiences multiple existential threats.”[2] The use of the word “sustain” actually confuses the definition of resilience as you will see.

Galluping Toward Resilience

What is resilience, really? Is it the right word that we need to understand in order to behave with respect to COVID-19? How does resilience factor into dealing with COVID-19, against which we can’t seem to marshal our forces enough to get an economy going again, much less our own safety? Indeed, what does resilience have to do with safety, if anything at all?

One of the webinars on the topic of resilience was presented by Gallup, the global analytics and advice firm that helps leaders and organizations solve pressing problems. The most pressing problem today, of course, is COVID-19 and what it is doing to companies. Since Gallup operates 30 regional City Centers and collects data in over 160 countries to achieve their stated mission – to create extraordinary impact through analytics and advice –  it stood to reason they would be a good source for some ideas on what people were doing, should be doing, could be doing against COVID-19 and its impact.

Gallup, in fact, boasts on their website: “We know more about the will of employees, customers, students and citizens than anyone in the world. We know what matters most to them at work and in life and how those priorities change over time.”

A powerful statement from a powerful company, to “know more.”

Their presentation should, therefore, show us “the more” with its title, Building Resilience: How Managers Lead Post-Crisis Performance.[3] In that presentation, Gallup’s Dean Jones asked and tried to answer what enables an organization to be resilient after a crisis. Sharing these outcomes should help attendees understand what to do to be resilient. He also discussed if there was anything that predicts post-crisis performance in organizations and where organizations should invest to build resiliency.

Unfortunately, it turned into a sales pitch. While there’s nothing wrong with pitching your services, to do that you should demonstrate in the presentation some of the insights and solutions that are available through the services.

That didn’t happen. The presentation threw doubt into the “know more” claim than perhaps intended, as will be explored in this article. In fact, resilience may not be what’s actually required to combat COVID-19 because actually, we’re fighting on two fronts: the virus itself and the government reactions to the virus. We believe adaptability, not resilience, is the word we are all looking for.

The first problem, however, was to overcome defining the word (Aristotle always said to do that before you do anything else).

What is Resilience?

Resilience is one of those words that has been used a lot recently even before the virus hit. As a result, it has been abused and drifted from its meaning. It’s thrown out there freely, and frankly, no one takes the time to really understand what it really means, giving way to analogies like seesaws in the Harvard paper.[4]

The dictionary says resilience is “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness” or “the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.”

Definitions are interesting because they have to use other words to shape the definition of the word being defined. In this case, words like “capacity” or “difficulties” or “elasticity” are used to define resilience. As usual, definitions often confuse the issue further.

For example, if resilience is recovering quickly from difficulties, we would all have to conclude that resilience was something we all lacked when it came to COVID-19’s impact on us and our economy. Resilience is really a characteristic, something that helps us build a picture of a person, place or thing. The thing about characteristics is you usually need more than one to help you paint the complete picture of the person, place or thing.

People, places and things are never one dimensional; they are complex.

So resilience as a single characteristic can apply to a person, as well as a company. A rock isn’t resilient. If you smash it with a sledge hammer, it breaks into pieces. Your head isn’t resilient either. If you hit it with the rock it may not snap back into shape. Bread dough is resilient. You can pound it and it will go back to its original shape. A rubber band is resilient, unless you pull the ends too hard and you break it.

Recovering quickly from something is the characteristic we’re looking for when we talk about resilience. Elastic. Is it apparent to anyone that there is no resilience going on with COVID-19?

We are fighting on two fronts. The statistics tell us clearly that the virus kills some people, but it doesn’t kill others. In fact, the ones it does not kill can be said to have resilience — some more than others, since they return to their normal health after the virus experience.

But on the other front, regarding government rules and regulations, many businesses do not exhibit that characteristic. The rules and regulations are breaking many businesses. Even when lockdown rules are relaxed, these businesses do not snap back to their original shapes.

Elasticity is no where to be seen.

One would have to say, therefore, that the majority of companies and people are not really resilient — not because of the virus itself, but because of the rules imposed on businesses by governments. The governments’ reactions to the virus have crippled and shattered companies and people, markets and ways of life.

But, reactions to events or a crisis like COVID-19 have proven to all of us that resilience – or some other word – is something we should really consider carefully to have in our arsenal if we are running a company. In fact, resilience is a characteristic we should have in our personal life because life is difficult. Overcoming difficulties because you have resilience helps survival.

Sometimes.

The start-stop-start again regulations of governments nullify how resilience works or should work. Being “elastic” and springing back to what you were doing and then being shutdown again or partially open, doesn’t do a business any good in terms of survival. No amount of resilience is going to allow that.

Adapt, Change or Disappear

I believe the word we’re looking for is adaptability. Like a virus mutates itself to survive, businesses have to mutate and adapt in order to change into something other than what they were in order to survive. Or die. This article supports that thesis.

As the research conducted proved in our series Navigating COVID-19 in Sales and Marketing, most companies survived because they adapted, not because they were resilient. Those with resilience kept moving forward only to be thrown backward again and again. Those that adapted changed their behaviors enough to survive whatever rules and regulations were thrown at them – and the effects of COVID-19 itself.

In other words, they mutated.

For example, some just shutdown, collapsed from the weight of regulations banning customers (the lifeblood of businesses). Others adapted by furloughing employees for awhile (and actually re-defined the word “furlough”) or took the PPP or did something else (i.e., declaring themselves an “essential” business somehow by reading carefully what the word “essential” means and then revamping their own purpose and mission). Sometimes, no amount of adaptability or resilience would have saved the business (i.e., a riot destroys the building where the business operated, or a state mandate eliminated customers and then crushed a business for daring to ignore the mandate, eventually killing the business).

Corporations everywhere large and small are even now redefining themselves or trying to refine themselves. As one associate said to me recently about the COVID-19 situation, “It’s just accelerating what was going to happen anyway.”

Which is only partially true.

The acceleration came from the government reactions to COVID-19, not the virus itself. Words like “pandemic” or “death” brought about an intense fear, resulting in “lockdowns.” If you are tied up and you do not possess Houdini-like talent, no amount of resilience or adaptability or anything else is going to help you survive.[5]

Therein lies one of the dirty secrets about resilience: resilience needs a difficulty in front of it to show itself. The difficulty itself will help define if resilience – or some other characteristic – is being displayed. Without difficulty, without something that tries to “break” the person, place or thing, resilience can not exist –nor can adaptability. Resilience will allow the person, place or thing to bounce back once the difficulty appears. Adaptability will allow the person, place or thing to change in order to survive the difficulty.

But, which word do we need to cope with this COVID-19 environment?

What Gallup had to say about resilience

Most of the time, when such discussion happens, people respond by saying, “We’re just arguing about words.” But, words are important – very important. So are actions. Some say actions speak louder than words. But, we have to use words to describe actions, don’t we?

One of Gallup’s findings was: “In the U.S., general life ratings plummet, matching historic lows.” In other words, they weren’t seeing a lot of resilience. But then, who would think life ratings would rise during a difficulty like COVID-19? And, what is a “general life rating” anyway? But what do life ratings have to do with resilience if anything?

One of the good things about Gallup and other research organizations and papers on this topic is that they often confirm the obvious. Confirmation is one thing, but active suggestions to combat the obvious like “we’re not feeling too good about this virus thing” should be part of the information being provided, wouldn’t you agree?

In other words, if I know life ratings are plummeting, what should I do to reverse course as an organization who “knows more?” That was what the Gallup webinar attempted to do. So, here are some of the findings from the Gallup research that attempted to answer this question during the presentation for your study:

  1. Engagement is a strong predictor of performance during a crisis.
  2. Meaningful feedback is critical to engaging employees during COVID-19.
  3. Managers play a significant role in reducing worry during COVID-19. However, manager feedback has been missing, especially with remote workers.
  4. Managers should provide feedback.
  5. Focusing on what you do best boosts enthusiasm and commitment to the organization.
  6. Positive reinforcements work better than negative.

With respect to Gallup, these are all good, but they are obvious observations, for which extended research would not be required. Nor do they contain any suggestion of overcoming the difficulty.

For example, the fourth finding – that managers should provide feedback – is elemental whether a virus is here or not. The last finding – that positive reinforcement works better than negative – should be apparent to anyone who has ever had to discipline children or taught in a classroom. What WAS Gallup trying to say?

Gallup pointed out that most employee engagement programs haven’t worked…that the elements of engagement that increase in importance during “tough times” include: 1) knowing what is expected, 2) materials and equipment, 3) the opportunity to do your best, 4) the mission or purpose that makes you feel what you’re doing is important and 5) having coworkers committed to quality.

With respect again, duh. With even more respect, you cannot create a program of engagement. You can try, but engagement must happen naturally, with purpose of course, but a structured program where you “have to” engage simply never works.[6]

How do you structure a program that tells you when to engage someone in conversation, in action? Part of what COVID-19 has done is expose the impotence of such structures. These programs all collapsed in the face of the virus and government’s impositions.

Besides, these Gallup  findings are true whether there is a crisis going on or not. Importantly, Gallup noted that 70% of any variance in the team engagement is determined solely by the manager.

But, the influence of the manager has always been the determining factor of a successful operation.

I learned early when I was a teacher that “all education is self education.” I could only facilitate students, trick them into learning[7], but the commitment to learning had to be on the student’s shoulders. Teachers don’t teach: they facilitate.

The Gallup presentation allowed questions. One of the questions I asked was regarding their finding that feedback from managers was really important.

My question, which was based on the lockdowns and everyone being separated, was: “Could ‘feedback’ be just the physical presence of the manager and employee being in the same room together?” It was based on the assumption that virtual doesn’t cut it…that being in the office even part time would be feedback. That if a manager just showed up at the office and an employee also did, their physical presence together would be “feedback.”

Someone at Gallup typed the answer, “’meaningful feedback’ cannot be just the presence.”

With respect, Gallup is wrong.

Physical presence between manager and employee is always meaningful (just ask any employee who never sees the boss). Seeing “the general” in the midst of battle does wonders for the troops’ morale. Seeing your boss lead the charge to overcome fear, walk through the office with or without a mask, is reinforcement – and sometimes more meaningful than can be measured as a data point.

That’s one of the things COVID-19 has done: shown us all how we really need physical contact with each other.

Words Have Consequences

One of the slides of the Gallup presentation was about the changing global workplace, where Gallup presented words of the past juxtaposed with words of the future. For example,. “My Paycheck” was in the past, but “My Purpose” was in the future column. The chart looked like this[8]:

What Gallup and other organizations miss, however, is that you can’t have one without the other. That is, one simply can’t ignore the past for the future because you’ll miss the present entirely. Their chart is comprised of words and words have consequences. They mean different things to different people.

For example, you might think people are looking for purpose, but without a paycheck, frankly, who cares about your purpose? Should you be paid to achieve YOUR purpose, or the company’s?

Most purposes – company or personal – need money to be achieved and you get money by working. If you can’t work, your purpose is going to change instantly to survival, not trying to understand the secrets of the universe.

The virus has qualified everything to a simple choice: is it a want or a need[9]?

Note all of their words in the chart begin with “my.” In a culture of “my” where is the “your?” Can you have one without the other?

Whistle While You Work

The most successful people in life do not work. They turn work into their life. Therefore when they work, they live their life. And when they are leading their life, they are working. They have merged the two words into one: doing.

This is actually why Aristotle was right when he said we have to define our words in order to understand each other and ourselves. Throwing words around like resilience or work or adaptability without defining them confuses things.

The same is true of Gallup’s “boss” versus “coach.” A good boss IS a coach, and a good coach is a boss. Just ask Lou Holtz. He once said that a bus can have only driver. If you don’t like the way he is driving, get off the bus. Or, to paraphrase another thing he said, “If you’re a good boss, you’ll be a good coach. If you’re a good coach, you’ll be a good boss. And to be good at either, you’ve got to have discipline.”

The Gallup presentation was interesting, but being more effective as a leader requires practice, discipline and a thorough understanding of mission– not a resilience checklist.[10]

Someone once said that there are only two reasons why people buy anything: to gain something or to protect what they already have. But, “buying” when COVID-19 hit disappeared or it changed – safety became the concern. People bought toilet paper, not cars. Or disinfectant, not a vacation (besides, look what happened to the airlines).

There is a relationship between people in business as buyers and sellers, but when rules and regulations are imposed changing that relationship, the words around the relationship also changed.

Freedom is such a word. In business, pre-COVID-19, you were free to buy what you wanted, how you wanted, how much you wanted. Post-COVID-19, that freedom was taken away. Is it any wonder that any amount of resilience failed miserably? A lockdown can’t be overcome by resilience. It can only be overcome by unlocking.

No two companies can coexist that make their living in the identical way. To survive, a company has to not only uncover and promote what are its unique advantages, it must also have the capacity to change those advantages quickl, and then communicate those changes to its markets.

Adaptability is what’s required to survive this COVID-19 environment. We are going to have to adapt, to change. If we do not, we would, could and will disappear.

_________________________________________

[1] How to Help Families and Staff Build Resilience During the COVID-19 Outbreak, Center on the Developing Child.

[2] The perseverance of resilient leadership: Sustaining impact on the road to Thrive, by Punit Renjen, Deloitte.

[3] You can view the presentation here: Building Resilience: How Managers Lead Post-Crisis Performance. You will have to register to see it, but it might be worth it just to understand what we’re talking about. It may surprise you.

[4] If you read the short paper, a statement says, “We can make it easier for a scale to tip toward positive outcomes by strengthening core life skills.” While it’s an interesting paper, it’s not really about resilience per se.

[5] Arthur Schopenhauer was a smart guy. In his Freedom of the Will (one of the essential books to read) he talked about where a person can experience true freedom. Physically, for example, we’re not really free. Try not sleeping or not eating. You might think that mentally you are totally free to think about anything you want, but that’s not true either. You can only think about what you know, not about what you don’t know. Schopenhauer led us to the moral plane where true freedom exists (good or evil choices). In other words, you have the freedom to select one over the other (of course, as you define these words). The behaviors around COVID-19 have, actually, led us to this moral plane, which is not the topic for this study. In Schopenhauer language, you are physically resilient if you can bounce back from a cold or from the virus if you catch it. You are mentally resilient if you can argue both sides of an idea. If the virus kills you or you can’t see the other side of an argument, you are not resilient. This is why adaptability is the key word – you have to adapt and change in order to survive. The businesses studied adapted – they changed HOW they worked in order to survive.

[6] Affectation means the act of displaying an attitude or mode of behavior not natural to yourself or genuinely felt. This is what happens when you “force fit” a program designed to elicit behavioral changes. Trying to do so with a structure program automatically eliminates the genuineness of what it is you are trying to do. That may seem counter to what is going on, but that is what the virus has shown us: the uselessness of, for example, performance reviews. What do you review when you can’t “see” the performance? Indeed, what IS performance in a COVID-19 environment?

[7] I had been a teacher of underachievers – a specialized program called Individualized Instructional Resource Program (IIRP) for seven years before moving on to another public school teaching career and then finally advertising. It was a great training ground, actually, for what I did as a businessman.

[8] : Building Resilience: How Managers Lead Post-Crisis Performance, Gallup, Dean Jones, Global Talent Development Architect

[9] I remember going to my first Market at HIGHPOINT with Don Tickle, one of the greatest businessmen I ever met. As we walked into one of the hundreds of showrooms in that city, we walked past furniture, fabric, statues, all manner of items. Don was pulling a stroller case behind him. He stopped suddenly, turned to me (I was trying to keep up with this man 15 years my senior at the time) and said with a gleam in his eye: “Do you see anything you need?” Instantly, and I mean instantly, a complete understanding took place in my brain: MARKET wasn’t about anything you need. It was all about the “want.” COVID-19 has exposed to all of us that essential difference and some of those differences we had lost sight of, like the need for human contact. Family. What is important in our lives.

[10] See Leadership in Today’s World, an article written by Jim Nowakowski. In fact, if you Google “leadership in today’s world” you will find it ranked close to the top on page one. It is one of the most highly read articles on the Interline website.

…in Travel and Hospitality

A picture they say is worth one thousand words.

Chart 1 based on TSA checkpoint travel numbers for 2020 and 2019, which is updated by 9 a.m. daily.

What you are looking at is the official TSA data on people who travel pre- and post-COVID-19, and what they did in 2019 as a basis of comparison. Someone said that knowledge is comparison – that in order to know what something is, you need to know something in relationship to that “something.”

The same is true in any observation you make.

For example, you’d never know you’re spinning by being on the earth at around 1,000 miles per hour unless you had a reference point. One of the things about COVID-19 is that we don’t have anything to compare it to. Without comparison, it is impossible to know if what you are doing will work or not. It’s all the “wild west” and therefore, we are all learning by experience.

So, when we ask what the effect of COVID-19 is on any industry, comparison would really help. What do you do when you don’t have comparisons? You do your best by gathering facts!

Just the Facts Please

Here are some facts on the occupancy rates of hospitality establishments with references as well.

Chart 2 is from STR, who provides data benchmarking, analytics and marketplace insights for global hospitality sectors. STR was acquired in October 2019 as a division of CoStar Group, Inc. (NASDAQ: CSGP). The chart shows aggregated data for the Top 25 Markets.

According to STR, compared to 2019, the following was true:

  • Occupancy was negative 31.5% compared to last year
  • Average daily rate at US$96.38 was negative 29.6% compared to 2019
  • Revenue per available room (RevPAR) was US$46.96 -51.7% again, compared to 2019

Not good. But, the real question is, what is driving the negative? Because absorbing these kinds of statistics is one thing. What to do about them is another. I mean, how much negativity can a person handle?

In July, Worth, a global media platform connecting a community that embraces worth beyond wealth, presented an online session entitled How Vacationing Is Changing in a Pandemic-Ridden World. Worth has been online presenting this kind of information. I attended that session to learn exactly what was happening to this industry and help figure out some navigation ideas.[1]

Now granted: wealthy people are in a different category than non-wealthy people. However, one of the effects of COVID-19 is that it doesn’t really discriminate. It treats everyone equally, as evidenced by our research for this series.

The session was described as “The world is reopening. That means the idea of taking that vacation you’ve been longing for is once again within reach.” That was in July, but as we have seen, the world really wasn’t reopening.

Consequently, this particular discussion is important from understanding expectations and reality – or more properly, perception and reality, which is the basis of all comparison.[2]

The panelists were impressive: Paul Tumpowsky, Founder and CEO of Skylark, and Kathleen Entwistle, Private Wealth Advisor at Morgan Stanley Private Wealth Management. It was moderated by Juliet Scott-Croxford, CEO of Worth.

Tumpowsky opened up with a stunning statement: “This is not the month to own a travel company.” Then, he repeated the TSA statistics at the time, which mirrored our opening chart.

His company, Skylark, seeks to pair technology with expert advice to book exceptional luxury vacations at the “world’s best hotels with unmatched pricing on flights, plus outstanding perks and 24/7 service.” So he knows metrics. But he also knew, no one was traveling.

“Airlines are developing personalities in a commoditized industry,” he told us. “All share the same science, but…we just saw news that Emiratis is going to pay for COVID treatment, if you get COVID when traveling with them. There are lots of layers and we never saw this coming.”

In other words, the airline companies were seeking to differentiate themselves in the virus-infected world.

They still are. At this writing, American Airlines and United Airlines began laying off 32,000 workers, but said they would reverse course, if lawmakers reach a deal on a new government program to fund payroll costs. When you read this post, who knows what will be happening.

That is the essence of what we’re talking about: things change so quickly, your strategy must include flexibility above all things. The ability to turn on a dime as the saying goes is and will be essential to the survival of any business, including those in travel and hospitality.

Tumpowsky pointed out, for example, that if flight attendants were getting the virus, we’d all know about it. They weren’t. There is research on how really safe the airplane is. But if no one believes the research, what good is it?

“It is the travel process that puts you in the way of the virus…and the process is far safer than perceived,” he said. “I’m not going to try to convince our clients, but sitting on a plane with other people who are responsible, is probably not that unsafe relative to other things that put us in higher risk.”

Perception and Reality

What is safe? What is safer? What is less safe?

These are important questions to all of us, but the perception and reality of the word “safe” is important to moving forward – or backward. In our post “Navigating COVID-19 in Your Sales and Marketing in Security” we said: “being, feeling safe is one of the primary goals. But, what is safe? Is anyone really safe? Owners have to define that and what it means to employees and customers (i.e., see A Plea to Ban Masks from Business Meetings where I purchased a thermometer and took it to a meeting to help my client feel safe!).”

Take elevators. The trends are moving away from elevators according to Tumpowsky. The more people they have in elevators, the less bookings. When New York was a hot spot, people booked west.

He said that hotels were offering different incentives, like 4th extra night, getting into longer weeks. “We had a client at a resort, staying for some time and wanted additional computer equipment. He wasn’t satisfied with what the desk told him, but by 9:04 that morning, after speaking to the GM, had a new desk in his room and he was set up to go for the next two weeks.”

In other words, flexibility. This was the first time I heard another trend: empty hotel rooms being used for meetings. In our own business, we had a very spacious meeting room where pre-COVID-19 we held CEU meetings, planning meetings. It held 25 people comfortably. When the virus hit, we consolidated our space and turned it into offices for our employees. The Chamber of Commerce where I work and who have used that room before sent me an e-mail: “We need a venue. It would be about 12-15 people. I thought your meeting room would be large enough for us to plan and spread out, keeping social distancing as we do this. We would also want to bring in a little food and drink. I know it is a lot to ask, but would you be open to us using your meeting room?”

I replied: “I’m sorry to say we don’t have the meeting room anymore. I consolidated my space and we moved people into that room. Otherwise, it would be yours! Sorry! But, let me see what I can do.”

I contacted my landlord whom I’ve been renting from and he took care of the Chamber. Like all landlords, he has an abundance of space!

Lots of Noise Out There

According to Tumpowsky, every hotel wants to tell you what they are doing and that his company is well aware of what the brand is doing. But, that causes lots of noise. Some of his examples included:

  • One brand took three suites and turned them into private dining rooms
  • Another cut the wine list price in half
  • Another recognized if you needed a room for a longer stay, they would give it to you.
  • One hotel in upper state New York couldn’t have their dining room open, so they sent a map that listed 14 different locations where to eat, the times and how they would set up the food for you.

All of these generated business. All were innovative. But, they were “one offs.” While they demonstrated flexibility and the need for businesses to keep trying anything, the real answer was far from being uncovered.

AHLA (The American Hotel and Lodging Association) represents every segment of the hotel industry including major chains, independent hotels, management companies, REIT’s, bed and breakfasts, industry partners and more. In their 10-page report, State of the Hotel Industry Analysis: COVID-19 Six Month Later, they write an interesting sentence: “Hotels are central to getting our economy back on track and supporting millions of jobs across the country.”

That is true only if people travel. If people don’t travel, hotels become obsolete. If people aren’t allowed to go to restaurants, restaurants become obsolete. Moreover, if two-thirds of the travel is comprised of business travelers as was outlined in this online webinar[3] and no one is doing “face to face,” how does that make hotels central to getting the economy going?

Business drives everything. If business stalls, everything stalls. It’s pretty simple.[4]

So is the solution: keep doing business!

The AHLA report outlined five key issues facing the hotel industry today that apply to EVERY industry, not just hotels[5] (remember, one of the benefits of COVID-19 is that it doesn’t discriminate by business type. What is the discriminator are the particular reactions by individuals states, the federal government, the health-governing bodies like CDC). For your consideration and review, here they are.

  1. Four (4) out of 10 Hotel Employees Are Still Not Working. Unemployment in all industries is a serious issue – unless you are in an industry that is COVID-19 friendly. What does that mean? I just heard a comment, “Business is booming.” When is the last time you heard that? It was from a manufacturer of plexiglass – a hot commodity in the age of COVID-19. But,what about the rest of us? Almost all industries were faced with furloughs or layoffs. Almost everyone I know in business applied for the PPP. Businesses – like people – did everything they could to survive.  The outcome is still uncertain. But then, it always was, only no one knew it. When an economy is booming, people don’t look for hidden threats like a virus. If we had the gift of Cassandra[6], no one would believe us even if we did.
  2. Almost 2/3 (65%) of Hotels Remain at or Below 50% Occupancy. This is not surprising if business travel is so slow. The thing about COVID-19 is that it has exposed the interconnections of businesses everywhere. Those interconnections were always there, but there has never been a situation (including the 2009 depression) that showed us those relationships. Further, the reaction of governments to the virus (including globally) sparks discussion, opinions and more. Those “judgments” have profound effects on things like occupancy in hotels. One of the things the hotelier has to do is redefine what a hotel is or should be, either temporarily or permanently. Speaking to a client this morning discussing the state of affairs, he said, “I think the manufacturer’s rep is lost. Manufacturers should begin turning to e-commerce and other ways to sell their products.” That’s a dramatic statement. It’s one that reflects on hotels, which manufacturer representatives tended to use during their face-to-face trips. Hotels are in a tough spot, for sure, but dwelling on the past or waiting for “normal” to kick in is going to obsolete them before they know it. Therefore, the hotel business – like all business – has to reinvent itself; not just using the word “reinvent” as a cliché.
  3. Consumer Travel Remains at All-Time Low: Only 33% of Americans say they have traveled overnight for leisure or vacation since March. Only 38% say they are likely to do so by the end of the year. Yet, people are moving around in vehicles.[7] There is actually a redefinition of “travel” occurring as a result of COVID-19. Ketchum Travel, who operates as a boutique within the walls of Ketchum, a communications consultancy, did a survey on How COVID-19 Is Transforming Traveler Behavior, Loyalty and Values. This one page overview might be worth your time to look at, since it shows how and why the redefinition is taking place. For example, if 87% don’t trust fellow travelers to follow safety guidelines, how will that impact getting to a hotel and staying there? What will overcome that lack of trust? That lack of trust is true of ALL industries and begs the question: how did this happen? Or, if 68% are less interested in travel for work (remember when that was an attractor?) and 25% don’t trust hotels to provide a safe experience, how is the hotel industry to react in order to survive?[8]
  4. Industry’s Leading Employers – Urban Hotels – Face Collapse with Cripplingly Low Occupancy. The AHLA report noted that urban hotels are major employers due to their size. But, these properties are faring “significantly worse than the national average, with an occupancy rate of just 38%.”[9]  The report proceeded to make this incredible statement: “Jobs at urban hotels are unlikely to return without either a dramatic increase in occupancy – which is unlikely – or additional Congressional action.”[10] Here’s the bad news: you can’t depend on the government to help this time. While the PPP was terrific for companies, going back to the well for more is not the answer. Figuring out WHY people aren’t traveling or using hotels is the answer. The answer is they are afraid. Business will survive by helping people feel safe…by helping them understand the measures being taken to secure their safety. Of course, you can’t go out of business doing that. But, that’s why ultimately, defining “safe” is the key to this COVID-19 puzzle. Part of the answer is understanding just how interconnected we all are in everything we do – in business or in our personal lives.
  5. The final point the report made was that COVID-19’s Impact on Hotel Industry was felt in Major Cities Across The Country. But, we already knew that the virus doesn’t discriminate. There was nothing in its attack that would lead us to believe one city would be affected differently than another. The difference was the REACTION of those cities – and the reactions they are still having to combat the virus.

Waldo Knows

Ralph Waldo Emerson, the great American essayist, wrote Self Reliance in 1841 and kicked off his 10,141-word essay with a Latin quotation (who reads Latin these days except for Google): “Ne te quæsiveris extra.” Plug that into Google and you get: Do not look for yourself outside.

Self Reliance is a marvelous essay. I encourage you to read it, especially if you are facing survival against COVID-19. While we all need help in overcoming difficulties, there’s something to be said about what Emerson has written in light of COVID-19. For your consideration, here are just three quotes from this deep writing for you to explore in running your businesses:

  • It is easy to see that a greater self-reliance must work a revolution in all the offices and relations of men; in their religion; in their education; in their pursuits; their modes of living; their association; in their property; in their speculative views
  • Society is a wave. The wave moves onward, but the water of which it is composed does not. The same particle does not rise from the valley to the ridge. Its unity is only phenomenal. The persons who make up a nation today, next year die, and their experience with them.
  • A political victory, a rise of rents, the recovery of your sick, or the return of your absent friend, or some other favorable event, raises your spirits, and you think good days are preparing for you. Do not believe it. Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.

One of the panelists from the webinar noted: “My little blue book, the passport, is worthless today. I’m hopeful this will return to much more normal and people’s confidence will come back.”

The key to his statement is “people’s confidence” – something you, I or he have no control over. However, it is your own confidence that will be infectious. It is your own ability to navigate COVID-19 that will inspire people to do the same. As a panelists also noted: “Find the silver lining and find the gaps.”

Amen.

_______________________________________________________________________

[1] In a Plea to Ban Masks from Business Meetings, I argued “Let’s hope we can somehow overcome this mask-thing, this fear, maybe even invent a see-through mask.” Little did I know it would turn out to be THE topic around COVID-19. The post got some good comments. But if knowledge is comparison, we have to also start to define what knowledge is. What are we talking about?

[2] In Just Connect the Dots I discussed a personal issue: I’m color-blind. Learning to see “real” red – whatever that is – was something that helped me understand the whole concept of comparison.

[3] Kathleen Entwistle, Private Wealth Advisor at Morgan Stanley Private Wealth Management.

[4] In Business Travel Won’t Be Taking Off Soon Amid Coronavirus: Executives rethink multiday trips and plan for less travel; some prefer Zoom —‘Everybody has the same size box’ in Wall Street Journal, by Chip Cutter, June 15, 2020, it was noted: “A major decline in corporate travel spending would have vast implications for the nation’s airlines, hotels and rental-car companies. Air carriers have predicted it could take years for business travel to recover to their pre-COVID-19 levels, though a vaccine could bolster confidence.”

[5] State of the Hotel Industry Analysis: COVID-19 Six Months Later American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA).

[6] Cassandra was a daughter of Priam, the King of Troy. Apollo provided her with the gift of prophecy, but when Cassandra refused the god’s romantic advances, he placed a curse ensuring that nobody would believe her warnings. This is the “curse” of Cassandra.

[7] Note, too, that the definition of “vacation” and “travel” are changing. In Navigating COVID-19 in your sales and marketing from the home, I observed: “One of the panelists said, ‘Our concentric circles we typically discuss are gone. I was in Colorado recently and every other vehicle I saw in the hotel parking lot was from Texas. People are driving to their destinations, not flying.’”

[8] Brand Reckoning 2020: How Covid-19 is Transforming Traveler Behavior, Loyalty and Values. Ketchum.com

[9] State of the Hotel Industry Analysis: COVID-19 Six Months Later American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA).

[10] Ibid.

…in Media Outlets

One of our major association clients who is also a publisher of a key industry trade publication told us their budgets were slashed as member companies were closing because of COVID-19.

“Our conference had to be taken down,” he said. “That was a million-dollar swing. People were already paid to do things – but those things never happened. Despite negotiations, we have to refund all the money, pay the time and materials for housing reservations we cancelled. Very difficult.”[1]

He continued explaining the effects of the virus on his association and his staff. He pointed out that one of his related media outlets wanted to flip the switch from a physical to a virtual conference, one that his association used to sponsor when it was live. My client asked a simple question: “What do I get to be a big sponsor?”

The organizer said exposure, contacts from the virtual event. “These are hard people to see,” the organizer said. “We’re opening the doors for you to see them, only virtually this year.”

My client asked within his own organization to “see” the contacts from prior conferences in order to determine quality and quantity for the effort. My client uses the most sophisticated CRM to maintain his databases. He was told by his staff, “Well, they’ve never been put in there from the last time.”

Dire Straits

Even before COVID-19, media outlets were in trouble, which began when the Internet arrived. COVID-19 has only made things worse.

Pre-COVID-19, the formula for their success – print advertising – was simple: they had audiences, and companies paid money to reach those audiences with their ads.

When the Internet arrived, a strange thing happened: the audiences bolted. They escaped. They ran out into the Internet like horses escaping the corral. Media outlets are still trying to round them back up.

They never will.

The dirty little secret is audiences can’t be corralled by any media outlet any longer: audiences can only corral themselves around media outlets, or in today’s world, bloggers, influencers, social media channels, websites, you name it. Audiences, which were the media outlet’s key to revenue, vaporized.

COVID-19 Didn’t Help Matters

Stuck in their homes because of lockdowns, audiences ran to the digital channels. Total internet hits have surged between 50% and 70%, according to preliminary statistics. Streaming has also jumped by at least 12%, estimates show. Omdia predicts $11 billion losses for the movie industry with a 25% decline and a 15% drop in TV advertising, especially for ads promoting events such as concerts that can no longer take place.[2]

As the rise of smartphones accelerated the trend towards online consuming news and other forms of journalism at the expense of newspapers and magazines, advertisers gradually moved their budgets online as well, forcing many print publications out of existence.[3]

According to a new forecast from GroupM who studies these things, the worst may be yet to come for publishers in the United States. GroupM expects newspaper advertising revenue to be cut in half once more within the next five years, bringing the total to $5.5 billion, down from more than $25 billion in 2012.

Magazines are facing a similar fate with ad revenues expected to drop to $6.6 billion by 2024, down from $20.6 billion in 2012 and $12.1 billion this year.[4]

Engagement

The goal of advertising of course is engagement that leads to sales. The audiences that companies want to engage with have, as pointed out, deserted their channels for the Internet. So it stands to reason that the media outlets followed them out to the Internet. And as digital media expanded, circulation of print titles fell, making what was left of print less worthwhile for marketers than ever before[5].

Proving engagement was an entirely different value proposition on the Internet. Today, most media outlets view advertising as a “complementary source” of revenue rather than the main source. Scrambling for revenue sources, they try different things – and usually don’t produce much results. Based on MediaRadar analysis, there were 151,825 advertisers in print in Jan-Apr 2018 representing a decrease of 13% year-on-year (net decline). In reality, 87,943 brands stopped buying print altogether.[6]

Scale is the primary draw for advertisers through enormous digital ad networks which is actually self-defeating. Scale is an illusion. Just ask any publisher to prove who visits their websites and you’ll get blank stares.

Helen Bazuaye, global editor in chief of IKEA magazine points out, ““We were told repeatedly print is dead – plus it’s expensive. Digital natives want stuff for free, so print is always going to be and seem a lot more expensive than a digital alternative. Digital can produce cheap, quick results. However, we’re coming to a tipping point where mistrust and familiarity with digital is starting to blunt its effectiveness.”[7]

In the most optimistic scenario, print ad spend is projected to decline another 29.3% in 2020 according to Dan Schechter, Stephen Matthews, Michael Kaufman and John Harb from L.E.K. . a global management consulting firm (US Print Ad Outlook: COVID-19 Implications)

Show me the people

Recently, we deployed an email blast for a client to a media outlet’s list. The deal was simple: for a few thousand dollars, the outlet would send it out to their list and we would receive the names of anyone who clicked on the email blast.

Sounds reasonable.

However, because we study such things, we built in a form into the blast; that is, there was a link within the html that led to a form that could be filled out by a target. The discussion even in our own agency was, why do a form if we will receive the names?

The answer is lists atrophy at alarming rates. More important, if that email blast is sent further around the target’s company (or as we have learned, since people talk to each other outside the company), there would be no way the media outlet would know the name. As pointed out, audiences have escaped.

Within one hour of deployment, we had 9 people fill out the form. We are still waiting for the media outlet’s names to see if these were on their file at the time of this writing.

The point is, advertising has never just been about exposure. It’s been about sales. As difficult as that is to understand, that is what media outlets understood and by selling “exposure” were able to sidetrack the real intention: sales.

Today, EVERYONE is a media outlet. Any business with a website is a media outlet, competing with other media outlets for attention. In Rorschach Test: Who Is Robert Redford?, Shane Smith, the man who built Vice into a $2.5 Billion Empire, said something profound: ““Vice has found that magical point of convergence…We want to do three things. We want to make good content, we want to have as many eyeballs as possible see that content, and we want to make money so that we can keep paying to do that content.”[8]

So if the question is engagement, then the real test is how much you engage, how often you engage, and where. COVID-19 doesn’t change that. It might limit temporarily physical contact, but if a company were to weigh physical contact against all other forms of sales contact, physical – while the most expensive – would probably be dwarfed by digital.

It always was like that.

Today, media outlets are beside themselves trying to survive. They are confused, failing, and miserable because they can’t find their value proposition. While that may sound like a generalization, you can prove it or disprove it for yourself by asking a simple question: what are you getting for your advertising investment in a media outlet?

If engagement is the goal, why do you need a middle man? Do we really believe a media outlet is a matchmaker between people who want to buy and sell things? To be engaged, you need content, and an audience to engage with around that content.

Gensler is one of the leading architects – if not THE leading architects – in the country. They have recognized this concept and have become, as a result, their own media outlet.

On their website they have a blog called Dialogue. Here they produce points of view about everything impacted by COVID-19. No advertisements (except their own because it’s on their website). Hopefully they monitor who visits through technology like reverse IP lookup. And they pound out content that would make any media outlet jealous.

Associations like AIA do the same thing. The thirst for content by people can’t be underestimated, but it can be satisfied by companies once they realize that they themselves are the media outlet.[9] Google, don’t forget, reads everything. The Internet has all the eyeballs, and the door to them is Google. That’s what media outlets don’t understand. They don’t “own” any people. Neither does Google. People consume content at THEIR will, not the media outlet’s.

You can’t have, therefore, enough content. In the world of engagement, more is more. Less doesn’t exist. And content is not affected by COVID-19. There’s a whole set of different viruses for that!

_____________________________________________________

[1] More than $1.5 billion loss as a result of the impact the coronavirus is being reported just at McCormick Place this year. Hotels also suffered, with nearly 1,181,045 room nights lost. A total of only 61 percent of the canceled conventions are planning to return. Trade Show Losses At McCormick Place Amid Pandemic Has Cost Nearly $1.7 Billion By Suzanne Le Mignot, July 28, 2020

[2] COVID-19 Pushes Up Internet Use 70% And Streaming More Than 12%, First Figures Reveal, by Mark Beech, Forbes, March 25, 2020.

[3] The Dramatic Decline of Print Advertising, by Felix Richter, Dec 9, 2019

[4] GroupM is the world’s leading media investment company responsible for more than $63B in annual media investment through agencies Mindshare, MediaCom, Wavemaker, Essence and m/SIX, as well as the outcomes-driven programmatic audience company, Xaxis According to GroupM, Internet-related advertising is now unambiguously the most important medium globally, with $326 billion in ad revenue during 2020, up from $294 billion in 2019. Accounting for 52% of global advertising tracked here during 2020, digital is taking share of advertising in almost every country in 2019 and should do so in all of them in 2020. THIS YEAR NEXT YEAR: GLOBAL MEDIA FORECASTS by Brian Wieser, Decembner 9, 2019.

[5] This Next Year Worldwide Media Forecasts, GroupM, December 2019,

[6] Print advertising is in decline, but advertisers not moving to digital, by What’s New In Publishing

[7] Helen Bazuaye, global editor in chief of IKEA magazine Spend is down but the power of print keeps rising by Print Power, February 7, 2019

[8] Rorschach Test: Who Is Robert Redford? By Jim Nowakowski, on www.interlinegroup.com.

[9] MY E-MAIL BOUNCED BUT HIS DIDN’T. NOW WHAT? was a blog we posted on April 2018 and has since (just from the shorted link we use for tracking) been consumed over 10,000 times. This isn’t counting the direct consumption that comes from Google searches directly, or from shared linking.

… in Architecture

Architects need projects to survive. And projects need architects. It’s what can be called a symbiotic relationship. Since mid-March, nearly 60% of architecture practices have seen a downturn in workload, with a similar story for new business.[1]

Not only will architecture itself change (the way buildings are constructed and fortified against COVID-19), but the business of architecture will be dramatically altered.

According to Aleah Pullen, Architectural Designer at Apogee Consulting Group, “there will be an emphasis on the speed of planning and construction.” Currently, she wrote, “all design projects go through a strenuous process of design, budgeting, redesign, and drawn out construction.” COVID-19 could change that. [2]

The AIA offers resources to help architects. In “Business strategies that you can put to work now” by William Richards for AIA Architect, May 15, 2020, stated, “If your client is a school superintendent, what will it take to reopen schools in September?” We know what happened this September, don’t we?

Confusion.

What Richards wrote is relevant for all of us: “Clients will want to implement visible, convenient, and pervasive personal hygiene solutions that include hand-sanitizer stations and, for many, beyond.” In other words, you will have to adapt. One of the true adapters is Wendi Lau.

Wendi Lau, Erosion and Sediment Control Plan (ESCP) Coordinator, All Kinds Drafting Services, Honolulu, HI

I met Wendi Lau after she sent me an e-mail as a result of attending one of my online courses, Staying in Front of Your Customer: Strategic Planning in the COVID-19 World in August, 2020. After reading her e-mail[3], I interviewed her and learned about her father’s business.

In her role as Erosion and Sediment Control Plan Coordinator[4] and building plans Router in the family business, Wendi observed sales and customer service evolve unexpectedly.

For months, in-person contact dwindled as everyone tried to avoid each other. City and County of Honolulu Department of Planning and Permitting (DPP) employees usually worked from home.

But, that turned out to be a very good thing for All Kinds Drafting Services[5], her father’s company, and others in the building industry because DPP services, improved. DPP employees now communicate more clearly via email, respond more quickly to voice mail and e-mail, and are more efficient because the public doesn’t constantly interrupt them.

Clerks and plan examiners often work on computers next to the public access counters. Pre-COVID-19, people could walk up and ask about their projects any time. The staff’s accessibility interfered with their complicated assessments and processing of each building plan set.

“I’d hate to have my train of thought constantly interrupted like that,” Lau said.

“Communication is the new COVID-19 super power. I’ve only been doing customer care and handling prospects for a few months. And I probably dwell on each e-mail too long. But focusing on the recipient, what she needs to know, and how to address the issue simply and appropriately, has helped clients and prospects feel heard.”

“Even with masks, people seem to respond to honesty and genuine appreciation for their viewpoint.”

She adds, “Dad (Mike Lau) and I are lucky. With the support of Soleah Tirase, the Business Manager and my mom, and my teenage daughter who’s learning to measure sites and use AutoCAD®, we get to meet interesting people and work on unique projects every day.”

“Besides keeping the customer’s needs and concerns in mind, also consider treating city departmental employees and building crew with kindness and respect.”

Opening Up Architecture

Services such as Lau’s become increasingly important as the economy opens back up. As architecture shifts during opening up, services themselves will undergo more change. How the architect and services around architecture respond to post-COVID-19 will be a test of their flexibility as far as how they pursue, win and deliver capital projects.

SmithGroup is one of the many firms within this maelstrom. With 15 offices throughout the US and one in Shanghai, they boast a network of 1,300 people to leverage the right expertise for a specific project.

They pointed out in a May, 2020 article on their website some of the important points to consider as an architect during COVID-19[6]. They described architecture as a “People-Centered Process,” and that communication tools and tactics are a critical part of every procurement process.

“People are being more personalized and real in their communication,” observed Kelli McLeod a Director of Marketing at Commodore Builders, a construction management firm. “We are being more open with peers, partners and clients in ways that previously would not have been considered appropriate in the professional realm. Under physical constraints, we have accidentally become more human-centric, proximate, accessible to each other. Practicing procurement processes with more empathy and authenticity is a trend worth keeping.”[7]

Fees

The future of fees was another consideration in the SmithGroup discussion. The firm observed the erosion of a firms’ ability to procure certain work in low-bid environments, undoubtedly what COVID-19 created. In fact, the word “agility” is again one of the main thoughts that creeps into conversations around what to charge.

In such an environment, the entire marketplace competes for fewer project opportunities. Requirements change quickly (i.e., from hard copy to digital or as Lau pointed out, the way documentation moves through a process). Pools of prequalified experts are being lined up for procuring services quickly (the short list).

But, there has always been a short list. In What End Users Want (from Architects and Engineers), AIM (Accountability Information Management, Inc., a leading B2B research firm), found that “in the selection of a firm, 51% said they do not have a ‘short list.’ But more important, it really doesn’t matter whether the end user had or didn’t have a short list: The factors they used for selecting architects and engineers were virtually the same in terms of importance whether they had the list or not! And ‘personal relationship’ was almost at the bottom of the list!”[8]

COVID-19 has changed that. For example, in other reports by AIM, “If a manufacturer is not on a firm’s ‘short list,’ it is almost impossible to be listed in a project’s specifications.”[9] And what dictates getting on that list is the personal relationship the firm develops with the client.

Collaboration

Collaboration has always been important in developing these relationships, and construction (as in any business) and COVID-19 has brought this to the forefront of key effects from the virus.

But, it is collaboration in a different way. After all, if everyone knows what I know because I have achieved true collaboration, how do I: 1) differentiate myself and my business, 2) gain a competitive advantage, and 3) make a profit? If everyone knows what I know and how I do things, how do I make money? The answer is of course, service.

Someone once said you make money on information no one else has, not on information everyone else has. If everyone has the same information, the only differentiation is speed. If everyone makes what I make, or knows what I know, I’m in the commodity business, and that’s a tough business for anyone. So what does collaboration really mean?

Posted in 2012, an article What are we talking about? noted, “Current wisdom states that winners in such an environment [going traditional channels into what is being called the disruptive multi-channel areas] have to be above everything else, resistant to disruption. What are we talking about?”[10] Back then a cited report said: “They argue that ‘the experience’ is now the critical differentiator between companies, and that people are the most important component of that strategy.” That was true then, and it is more true today.

You can’t be resistant to disruption, but you can learn to use disruption to your advantage.

If you Google “leadership in today’s world,” you’ll find my blog listed on the page one results. It is one of the most-read articles I’ve written since its publication in May, 2019. In it, I wrote:

“The example I always use to explain this concept involves a rubber band. If you and I take each end of a rubber band and begin pulling, eventually the rubber band will break. We created enough tension to do that. However, if you start pulling and I let myself be pulled (or vice versa), the rubber band will never break. In this case, someone is leading, and someone is following. A relationship is created. The question is, of course, who is leading and who is following? It’s a question of who is in control?”[11]

Architects, their related services, are affected like any other industry as a result of the COVID-19 onslaught – with disruption. Like the pre-COVID-19 world, one law applies: adapt, change or disappear. Architects and their related services will certainly survive because there will always be the need for construction. How they survive will be determined on an ongoing basis determined by their agility.

And their hustle.

______________________________________________

[1] What is Covid-19 doing to your business? Eleanor Young in the RIBA Journal, April 6, 2020. Also, More than 70% of architecture firms saw their billings drop in the second quarter of 2020—but some building types are actually more in-demand than they were before the pandemic as noted in COVID-19 is crushing the architecture industry—but not in the ways you’d expect by Nate Berg, August 14, 2020, Fast Company.

[2] THE EFFECTS OF COVID-19 ON ARCHITECTURE: PREDICTIONS FROM TOMORROW’S DESIGNERS, by Meg Whalen, The UNC Charlotte Urban Institute.

[3] When someone writes, “I really like Jim’s webinars. He speaks from experience and an awareness of the big picture. I can tell he never takes clients for granted and earnestly speaks to those with a meaningful connection to their companies. He respects his webinar viewers and himself. (People’s lack of self-respect has become increasingly obvious during the pandemic.) Jim doesn’t pander to fears or popular virus-response phrases; instead, he addresses the client’s concerns head-on. I appreciate Jim’s communication style and book references in the webinars. Some webinars I can just tune out, but both Interline webinars I attended (also How to Target and Hit the Right Customers Special COVID-19 Edition) each gave me two action steps for my dad’s small architecture business–things that will help with referrals and customer satisfaction.” Well, you have to find out more about them! It was a pleasure interviewing Wendi Lau.

[4] An Erosion and Sediment Control Plan (ESCP) is a requirement for most construction projects in Hawaii. The ESCP is approved by the Stormwater Branch and requires the consumer to designate a Certified Coordinator before they approve your ESCP. In other words, you must designate your Coordinator before construction begins.

[5] All Kinds Drafting Services provides services like design and draft plans and details required to get a building permit from the Department of Planning and Permitting of Honolulu, sketches and drawings necessary to develop a concept and idea, site visit assistance with determining work – remodel/alteration/addition – to new or existing home, and more.

[6] HOW WILL COVID-19 CHANGE THE PROCUREMENT OF PROFESSIONAL DESIGN SERVICES? by Erin Miller, May 2, 2020, www.smithgroup.com.

[7] Ibid.

[8] What End Users Want (from Architects and Engineers,That Is), on www.a-i-m.com.

[9] Opening the Door to Metal and Steel Door Specification Preference July 3, 2019, on www.a-i-m.com.

[10] “What are we talking about?” by Jim Nowakowski, August 2012, on www.interlinegroup.com.

[11] Leadership in Today’s World by Jim Nowakowski, May 2019, on www.interlinegroup.com.

…in Security

Gene Kranz, in his great book “Failure is Not an Option,” put it this way: “Kraft [his boss] nodded and growled at his controllers. ‘That is the first rule of flight control. If you don’t know what to do, don’t do anything!’” And later, “The learning curve of my first mission had been steep. But I had gained something precious. I now knew how much I didn’t know.”

If you made a mistake in flight control, people could die. If you made a mistake in business, you lose revenue and people might lose their jobs. The comparison is unmistakable.

COVID-19’s impact (and the government response) has changed the equation because you might lose revenue and people and there was nothing you can do about it. The devastation of COVID-19 on people and business is in the headlines each and every day. We are pounded with negative news, about the virus, about the economy, about us.

Nevertheless, you have to react. One media outlet told us: “We have to do something. I mean, we’re going down anyway, so why not redesign?” Redesigning your publications is probably the last thing you want to do during this kind of situation. The comment expressed the desperation we heard in many of the interviews and in the underlying tone of the webinars we attended. In fact, economic reports we attended drew the same conclusion: “No one knows what is going to happen, so it is impossible to forecast and act on anything.”

The security market is no exception. Security has become especially important to everyone in business after the virus hit, as well as with the subsequent social unrest that has and is occurring.

I was speaking with one of the top media outlet owners in March when it first hit and he asked me at the end of our virtual breakfast, “Do you think there will be social unrest?” Without hesitation, I said, “Of course. It’s going to be inevitable.”

The forecast has become, unfortunately, too true. It has unhinged the very definition of security itself.

I attended How Security Has Changed in 2020:  Benchmarking Trends in the New Normal on August 25, 2020. This online webinar presentation featured  Steve Vitale, Executive VP of P4 Protective Services, Jeff Didomenico, VP of Business Development at Trackfroce Valiant and Tim Lozier, VP of Market Research at Trackforce Valiant. Together, they discussed the state of the industry and how it has changed since COVID-19 hit us.

What I learned is common to all industries: the impact of the virus and the government’s reactions to the virus are profound, upending businesses at what seems to be warp speed. For example, before the virus, over 87% of the security market was made up of companies under 250 employees and 60% of the market’s revenue was from four security guard firms. Since the virus, the market has splintered according to these experts.

They pointed out common themes emerging from the shutdowns: economic downturns. That affected trust and fear – the two emotions at the heart of security and what drives to their marketplace. As you read their reactions and discussion points, ask yourself how much of what they are saying is EXACTLY not only as you feel, but what is actually happening in your own market!

1929

“Nothing like this since the great depression,” one said. “Just witness what people are doing with toilet paper and yeast, and now how will we react to what mask you should use. Turbulent times.” (One of the recurring themes are the opportunities that COVID-19 creates. In this case, the rush on toilet paper actually created a significant increase in the sale of bidets!)

Some of the key points are worthwhile to factor into our thinking about the security of our businesses.

  • Reduced on-site resources, including contactless operations, more lone workers, more restricted areas and remote supervisory.[1]
  • Processes Disruption, including more safety training. Enforcing distance rules, new ways of working for guard tasks, management, first response. This will have effects on commercial buildings, industrial buildings. When I was asked if there are design guidelines we were hearing about in the marketplace recently, I told our client that they have bigger problems than worrying about design guidelines for their products in the building. That is, the structure itself is the issue. If no one is going to the office anymore in a commercial building, there is no need for renovating with new products.
  • Technology Changes, including the real-time data driving response and communications, multiple-site monitoring from remote locations and leveraging analytics to mitigate risks. Technology – data – is at the heart today of everything we do (i.e., we listen to statistics on COVID-19 from a variety of sources, and still no one knows what is or what is not reality). As I heard Ian Schrager say in a recent webinar, “Playing with the data is very dangerous.” And by the way, one of the true benefits of COVID-19 is that powerful people like Schrager and others have been forced into the digital world into “zoom rooms,” so you get to not only see they are human, but hear for yourself what made them successful. It gives you excellent food for thought.

The security webinar discussed the guard outlook and the impact the virus had on that segment. In businesses that depended on a mix of guards and automated technologies (i.e., hospitality and high rise commercial as well as aviation schools), the impact was stunning: “from 90 MPH we went to to 10 MPH.” Bluntly put by the presenters: “If you are still in business, congratulations.”

Their suggestions for security companies – which oddly applies to all of us – is to align yourself with essential industries that thrive during virus. As we have seen in other industries, there is a positive impact from the virus: in this case, adding special forces s to work on crowd control at supermarkets, making sure customers keep social distancing or adhering to product limits. “Keeping the peace in a crazy time has brought on more officers to our locations,” said one customer.

Nimble, Nimble Burning Bright, In the Virus of the Night

Security companies have seen a boon from the virus in special work. Smaller and nimbler companies make it easier, often spawning boutique firms. These companies inventory people – getting them trained, getting them in the field so that they can do what companies want quickly and efficiently.

There is a lesson here for all industries: being nimble. But, what does “nimble” mean? What should your business be doing to emulate that model? What special work is emerging that you can take advantage of?

Baba Prasad, CEO of the Vivékin Group, a management consulting firm in Durham, N.C. knows something about being nimble. In Five Ways Companies Can Be More Nimble, he spoke with Knowledge@Wharton about his book in an interview. In that discussion, you will quickly find out that nimble is often used in the same context as agile. There’s an entire cult around agile. Or at least there was.

What they are really talking about is speed. If you want to know all you need to know about being nimble and agile in business, read Lone Survivor by Marcus Lutrell. The lesson can be summed up on one sentence: “The SEALs do place a premium on brute strength, but there’s an even bigger premium on speed.” With this added footnote: “Someone screws it up, the consequences affect everyone.”

The companies that survive COVID-19 will be the ones who move neatly, quickly and efficiently – the way my algebra teacher taught me to solve my math problems. Because as I learned in this webinar, there is no doubt that the uptick in security is here to stay, and that the virus will create new, different opportunities for the agile to take. The questions will be:

  • How does the situation impact your business?
  • How should your business impact the situation?
  • What are the associations (business, professional) you’ve participated in that need to be re-examined (see what’s happening to trade shows and other forms of communications AIM’s Snapshots)?
  • And what are the new products and services you should examine?

The presenters pointed out rightly that every company needs a purpose: why your employees (and your customers) are coming to work with and for you. They want to know what you will do for them from education…health and wellness.

They pointed out their top challenges, which extend beyond security industry to all our industries. But, the real question we all have to answer is: what are we going to do about them? Here are the challenges they outlined.

  • Hiring and Turnover – the PPP was the saving grace of many businesses, but all that did is buy some time. Owners, firms everywhere still have to decide what to do when PPP ends.
  • Implement COVID-19 protocols – being, feeling safe is one of the primary goals. But, what is safe? Is anyone really safe? Owners have to define that and what it means to employees and customers (i.e., see A Plea to Ban Masks from Business Meetings where I purchased a thermometer and took it to a meeting to help my client feel safe!).
  • Compliance risk and liability – this is the unknown territory. Part of the business is understanding this, and having access to excellent legal advice. Don’t forget, insurance companies don’t know either (remember they are still sorting out what the heck cyber liability really means).

Security new clients and timely receivables – everyone needs new business and driving for new business is a primary consideration. How you do it has changed, but change you must if you are to land new accounts.

Expanding service offerings to remain competitive. One of the reasons a business keeps standing is the ability to re-invent themselves – to go beyond what is “normal” into areas that may be outside their expertise. COVID-19 has made this an essential attribute to remain successful.

In other words, out-of-the-box thinking is necessary, as cliché as that statement has become. And by the way, the biggest to least challenge was from the top to the bottom in that list, the most urgent being hiring and turnover.

What is YOUR industry’s biggest challenge?

When the presenters noted, “Google said they don’t want to address going back to work until 2021,:[2] I found it difficult to believe. I remember when I started my business 30 years ago, I read an article that was an interview with the President of Toshiba. He said that he was willing to lose money for ten years, as long as at the end of ten years his company would be the number one in market share in that market.

I never forgot that quote. For me, in my just-formed business, I couldn’t lose money for one month much less ten years. Since then, of course, you understand or think you understand the ups and downs of a business. To make a statement like that is part of a strategic vision.

But, strategic visions take cash. Things like COVID-19 play havoc on strategic visions because it affects cash.

Unforseen events happen all the time. Some are large and some are small, but the company’s reaction to events – seen and unforeseen – defines them not only to their internal people, but to their external observers. That’s why one of the common themes I heard in my investigations is reflected in Lutrell’s other comments from the many in his narrative: “Only one person in life knows whether you’re going to make it or fail. And that’s you. Always give it everything.”

This is also what is reflected in the security industry. As society goes through unrest, something interesting starts to occur: officers are transitioning to the private sector. As they said in this webinar, “resumes are coming in” giving the guard firms untold capacity of specialized resources that prior to COVID-19 would be out of reach. In other words, good things happen despite the bad.

So the real question is, what are we going to about it today?

A Word About Cyber

In Cyber and Physical Security: Safeguarding Employee and Customer Data on August 5, 2020, Jason Christman, VP, Chief Product Security Officer, Johnson Controls and Jon Williamson, Director, Cyber Experience Global Product Security, Johnson Controls, talked about the newly distributed workforce, which is creating new and increased cybersecurity risks.

One of the key things in any approach to security is “situational awareness.” This concept has been important before COVID-19, As any law enforcement or military person will tell you, you always have it on. “The primary element in establishing this mindset[situational awareness] is first to recognize that threats exist. Ignorance or denial of a threat make a person’s chances of quickly recognizing an emerging threat and avoiding it highly unlikely. Bad things do happen. Apathy, denial and complacency can be deadly.”[3]

And you might say, how does that affect you if you are “working from home” or in lockdown? The answer is when it comes to cyber it affects you more than ever .

According to Interpol, “With organizations and businesses rapidly deploying remote systems and networks to support staff working from home, criminals are also taking advantage of increased security vulnerabilities to steal data, generate profits and cause disruption.”[4]

The presenters noted that there is a shift in the way people are processing and reacting  in the environment today, but also from a physical and cyber security point of view. While physical security of “smart buildings” has been going on for awhile, what makes the building smart are the people in it. If no people are in it, it’s a dumb building, and the security shifts to cyber. Or does it?

As they pointed out, “A building can be both a target itself and also used to facilitate other attacks in the environment. It part of the ‘Kill chain’ for cyber security.”

What Cyber Security Risks Look Like Today

Sophisticated attacks. They discussed a new term — cyber physical attacks — that combines both strategies. For example, the attack goes in through cyber to circumvent access controls in a building so the actor can do things. A more severe cyber physical attack cause a process to go out of control and cause real damage even to remote workers.

“You have to think about what you are trying to protect,” they emphasized. In other words, situational awareness. Always.

Cyber hygiene today involves the remote workforce. Work from home policies should be developed because there will be fewer individuals onsite at a building to notice out-of-the-ordinary events.

“And continually re-access your policies,” they noted. “Things change fast under COVID-19. Those changes lead to new bad-guy initiatives.”

Physical and cyber security are shared responsibilities. It’s no longer the “IT guy” or the “security department.” Think broadly.

“Don’t run away from technology,” Jon Williamson said in conclusion. “Run to it. If you don’t, you will fall behind in other ways.”

When it came time to questions, I asked what can people do in this environment “if a Tweet can put a brand in a tailspin?” I asked that because they talked throughout the presentation about how brands are attacked and disrupted. I had always studied this problem for many years, including writing about it in Brands in Crisis.

Their answer was clear: “Don’t have a knee-jerk reaction. Put checks and balances in place.”

In other words, have a strategy! As Jim Mattis said in his book, Call Sign Chaos, “Strategy is hard, unless you’re a dilettante. You must think until your head hurts.”

________________________________________

[1] In a webinar Tech Solutions for Safer Buildings Bruce Montgomery Sr. Business Development Manager,  for Honeywell Commercial Security expanded on this trend, with people counting (in cameras), thermal imaging for health and a variety of other metrics that are being deployed. Interestingly, in the August issue of Security Business, Robert Few wrote “Security’s Role in Civil Unrest”  that dicussed how guard services company is reaction, citing one firm in California. Besides more cameras, the owners recommended alarm companies install video verification as part of the process.

[2] https://www.wsj.com/articles/google-to-keep-employees-home-until-summer-2021-amid-coronavirus-pandemic-11595854201.

[3] A Practical Guide to Situation Awareness, March 14, 2012 on Statfor.com, the world’s leading geopolitical intelligence platform.

[4] In one four-month period (January to April 2020) some 907,000 spam messages, 737 incidents related to malware and 48,000 malicious URLs – all related to COVID-19 – were detected by one of INTERPOL’s private sector partners. Interpol report shows alarming rate of cyberattacks during COVID-19. August 4, 2020 on www.interpol.int.

…in Retailing

Retailing has a big tent. There’s food, clothing, appliances, fashion, you name it. So when you ask how to manage COVID-19 sales and marketing in retail, it’s a loaded question: many retail outlets got locked down and out of business as customers vaporized in their homes before they could answer the question.

Accenture, who knows about such things, noted the “retail consumer” is changing behavior at “unprecedented speed.” And before you say, “Duh,” consider what else they said: “The COVID-19 global pandemic is having a profound impact on consumers’ lives. As stay-at-home orders and country-wide lockdowns start to be eased, consumer behavior continues to be driven by new personal circumstances, such as changes in discretionary income and spare time, and reconsidered values and priorities.”[1]

Consumer behavior, of course, is tied to retail success and failure. Katrin Zimmermann, the managing director of the Americas at TLGG Consulting noted in an interview with BoF (Business of Fashion): “Beyond shopping habits, even lifestyle changes will have profound effects on retail. Take, for instance, working from home becoming the norm. Formerly highly trafficked stores in commercial hubs are no longer viable without a steady flow of commuters. This means that instead of a flagship on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan or Avenue Montaigne in Paris, retailers could consider physical concepts in residential neighborhoods.”[2]

Accenture noted consumers are experiencing changes to free time and disposable income, including:

  • 33% being financially squeezed
  • 9% having less free time
  • 32% not feeling any change since the virus hit
  • 26% having more disposable income since the virus hit

Consumer behavior has a direct impact on retail, but when retail closes, customers’ behaviors change – instantly. Even when opening up happens, there is no guarantee consumers will run back to stores (they may creep, but they will not run). The shopping behavior has changed. “Retailers no longer need prodigious fleets of stores in order to reach their shoppers. The coronavirus pandemic made this clearer than ever.”[3]

Accenture conclusions were based on the company’s Consumer Research Report 2020 conducted from 5–11 May 2020, which includes 7,872 consumers in 18 markets around the globe.

The implications of the research on retailers is dramatic.

They suggest that the consumer retailers thought they knew is no longer the consumer that is there. Lack of confidence by the consumer is ubiquitous – and a big problem for retailers. To succeed, they suggest retailers will have to help consumers “feel more comfortable in stores, encouraging them to return…prioritizing investment in digital experiences and services and new social occasions IN THE HOME.”[4] In fact, “Digital goes hand-in- hand with brick-and-mortar commerce. Navigating this evolution will be critical for any brand or retailer hoping to grow in 2020 and beyond.”[5]

The IDC (International Data Corporation) provides market intelligence with more than 1,100 analysts worldwide. For $4500, you can purchase a report that tells you, “Retail technology investments will continue to reflect digital transformation efforts, as retailers reserve capital for technology investments by reducing spending on store openings and remodels.[6]

You may not need to do that. Since the conclusions of not only your own observations, but also the readily available information on the Internet will lead you to the same main conclusion: no one knows for sure what will happen.

For example, Deloitte has a two page report Understanding the Impact of COVID-19 Grocery and Food Retail. The key questions they propose for executives are true across the board, regardless of industry (i.e., how you safeguard associates, taking steps to minimize supply chain risks, etc.).

Or, there’s a 44-page report – The Shape of Retail: consumers and the new normal – from Alvarex & Marsal, a leading global professional services firm that provides advisory, business performance improvement and turnaround management services. This report explores how the COVID-19 crisis is impacting consumer behaviors, measuring the attitudes of over 6,000 consumers across six European countries. What they found is similar to what other companies find: that people will not focus on essentials, will shift toward online interactions, and will readjust their expectations. All of this is “normal” in terms of reacting to the crisis, and not just true of retail. It is true of every industry and market.

Another Point of View

Nielsen Holdings plc (NYSE: NLSN) is a global measurement and data analytics company that provides a complete and trusted view of consumers and markets worldwide. The company has over 10,000 people aggregating their proprietary Nielsen data with other data sources to help clients around the world understand what’s happening now, what’s happening next, and how to best act on this knowledge.

Nielsen offered THE COVID-19 BEHAVIORAL RESET recently in a dataset. It offers insights as part of this discussion, which they called “Four Consumer Responses Identified Following Prolonged Coronavirus Impact.”[7]

The four emerging patterns shown in the chart are what Nielsen calls “resets” and can help predict drivers of pandemic purchase decisions which, in turn, have an affect on retail. They provide a framework for ideas from which we can examine and develop what retailers should do in navigating the virus.

The four patterns shown in the chart are resets of 1) basketwhat people buy, 2) homebodywhere they consume what they buy, 3) rationalewhy they buy, and 4) affordabilityhow much they will spend for what they buy.

The chart was shareable from the report. Nielsen Intelligence Unit leader Scott McKenzie highlights why it’s important to get ahead of these expected consumer responses. “Consumer behavior is spinning in fundamental ways right now,” he said. “The unique macro conditions of a pandemic driving economic recession are forcing consumers to rethink how they shop and what they buy.” Nielsen data shows that changes are already unfolding in households across the world.[8]

For any retailer who is trying to understand the consumer path to purchase, this framework gives us a head start to our navigation. Knowing the What, Where, Why, and How Much is what our own response must investigate.

One of the insights, for example, from Nielsen is in the “how much” affordability reset. What Nielsen found is important to all retailers. Consider the following:

  • Price becomes more of a purchase driver to consumers as product availability improves. Consumers have to make spending adjustments because of falling wages, economic uncertainty, etc. Certain brands, package formats and retailers, according to Nielsen, become at-risk of being abandoned by consumers.[9] So, a retailer trying to navigate COVID-19 must factor this into their consideration to prevent this, and as it turns out, some may be in an excellent position to prevent it. In other words, have products people want, when they want it.
  • Consumers seek luxuries within FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) to compensate for travel and entertainment they can no longer safely enjoy. With limited income, each purchase holds greater significance, FMCG is sought to fulfill a broader set of both essential and discretionary needs.[10] Any spike in sales is an example of this “greater significance.” Retailers should study their purchase carefully. Making decisions on “what” to sell changes because of the circumstances that surround people who are purchasing.

In other words, opportunities emerge as consumers redefine why, where, and what consumers or your customers buy. When you see spikes, we believe this is what Nielsen is referring to in their affordability reset. Consumers are going for the value, quality, and peace of mind characteristics of certain products.[11]

HOW Should a Retailer React is the Puzzle to Solve.

BoF is an authoritative, analytical media organization that reviews the $2.5 trillion global fashion industry. Their mission is to build fashion’s global membership community to open, inform and connect the industry, serving members in more than 125 countries. Part of that service has been to hold online presentations, webinars, and discussions, including reactions of professionals to COVID-19 and other topics.

On July 7, 2020, a meeting was held around the topic: What Will Beauty Retail Look Like Post COVID 19? This online forum’s premise was that without the support of well-capitalized conglomerates, most independent beauty brands have a limited cash runway to work with “while they navigate changing consumer sentiments, marketing pivots and the closure of crucial distributors. What will the beauty industry look like post-pandemic?”[12] The panel of experts discussed perhaps the most important question not only for the beauty market, but for all retail markets: What people want is changing, how they shop is changing. What have you seen? This is what I heard when I attended the event.

Julee Wilson, Beauty Director, Cosmopolitan said that there is a heightened awareness of caution around everything we do, including beauty. “The Beauty industry has done well in this COVID-19 time, because it goes hand in hand with wellness, self care. And with the lockdowns, we have more time to pamper ourselves.”

Wilson reflected what we have heard in some other industries we serve (i.e., showrooms). Despite lockdowns, businesses “stay busy.” But, they are cautious. This is why demonstrating safety is one the key ingredients to keeping doors open and business on the right path.

Dawn Dobras, Chief Executive at Credo Beauty, said something interesting during the panel discussion: “Reopening stores is like starting green with Google. Some mornings it changes that morning.” She pointed out that the “spear” of the beauty industry is still the same: “engage with customers.” She said that people are putting makeup on zoom close to camera, getting involved; a lot more inventing in a different way is going on.”

One of the other things Dobras pointed out was the increasing importance of assisted chat on the website. When everything shutdown, you are on your own. So, all their sales associates shifted to assisted chat. That way, the most knowledgeable people in her company were working chat. “We realized the best thing about our stores is our sales associates.” She said the chats are “great” because their sales managers and associates love people.

We need customers talking to each other, we miss each other.

Kimberly Smith, Founder of Brown Beauty Co-Op, pointed out customers are looking to retailers for guidance. From day one, customers are still trying to come to the store. “You have to be the expert on how you will go forward,” she explained. “Customers don’t know the work you are doing behind the scenes and providing a safe environment, so you have to keep them informed.” While her company is moving slow, customers still come to the store. “It depends what phase you are in, one, one point five, back to one. The point is to move.”

The panel felt that customers are looking to them for guidance. “We even have virtual happy hours,” one commented. “People crave a connection,” said another. The social aspect of physical contact was emphasized as the “missing link.”

As discussion ensued, one panelists said, “Most retailers don’t partner with other retailers, but I think we are living in a time when clean beauty is being democratized. We should be thinking about partners, about distribution, about innovation. The world is alive.”

One of the truths about COVID-19 isn’t so much it’s own nature, but the reactions to it by human beings. Humans have the ability not just to react, shape, change themselves, but what is around them. “The pandemic will expedite the transition toward a whole new world of physical retail where a cashier-less experience or a 90-day shopping pop-up will no longer be novel experiments, but part of the new normal.”[13]  It will be amazing, whatever the outcome.

_____________________________________________________

[1] COVID-19: Consumers change how they shop, work and live, Accenture, Jill Standish, Senior Managing Director – Global Lead, Retail and Maureen Bossi, Consumer Research Lead, May 2020.

[2] Tapping into the Future of Physical Retail, by Cathaleen Chen, professional subscription, BoF businessoffashion.com August 2020.

[3] Ibid.

[4] COVID-19: Consumers change how they shop, work and live, Accenture.

[5] Tapping into the Future of Physical Retail, by Cathaleen Chen, professional subscription, BoF businessoffashion.com August 2020.

[6] COVID-19 Retail Industry Impact, by Leslie Hand, March 27, 2020.

[7] PREDICTING THE COVID-19 BEHAVIORAL RESET: THE NEWS CYCLE IS NO LONGER DRIVING CONSUMER RESPONSE TO COVID-19, August 6, 2020.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Nielsen cites an example on how the affordability reset is redefining the way luxury products move: “Many consumers have been enticed in stores by high-grade meats, seafood and other food luxuries that have historically been sold exclusively to restaurants. This is transforming the perception of affordability of many products and adjacent categories.”

[12] What Will Beauty Retail Look Like Post COVID 19? BoF online forum July 7, 2020. Melissa Sansone, Vice-President, Seen Group; Dawn Dobras, Chief Executive, Credo Beauty; Kimberly Smith, Founder, Brown Beauty Co-Op; Julee Wilson, Beauty Director, Cosmopolitan in conversation with Lauren Sherman.

[13] Tapping into the Future of Physical Retail, by Cathaleen Chen, professional subscription, BoF businessoffashion.com August 2020.

Jim Lovell, the Commander of Apollo 13 said, “There are three kinds of people in the world: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who wonder what happened.”

But then, in 1513, Niccolo Machiavelli had said, “There are three different kinds of brains. One understands things unassisted, while the another understands things when shown by others. The third kind understands neither alone nor with the explanations of others. The first kind is most excellent, and the second also excellent. The third, however, is useless.”

When COVID-19 hit, businesses everywhere had not only to deal with the virus, but with the government’s reaction to the virus. Essentially, businesses did not go on pause: they went on full stop or lock down as was described.

We are going to live with these decisions for many years ahead of us. As Scott Berman, the principal and industry leader at PwC said in an online panel discussion “Recovery by Numbers,” “Data are better now, but data scientists have to speak to the moment. We are far from the end.”[1]

My question since the onslaught of COVID-19 was simple: what did businesses do when this happened? Did they make things happen, watch what happened or wonder what happened? What kind of brains did we have – the kind that understood unassisted, when shown by others, or neither alone or with the explanations of others? In other words, were we excellent or useless? Most important, what could we learn from the reaction of businesses to COVID-19?

I could tell you what our business did, but that would be self-serving. Instead I interviewed businesses, watched webinars and drove our small business forward so that today, we’re still standing. Fighting. Trying to make things happen.

But, not all businesses did the same thing. What did the ones that are still standing do? What did the ones that fell (often, there was nothing they could do about it) share in common?

I wanted to share what I heard and decided to post what I wrote. Hopefully, what I learned during this unbelievable disruptive time will help you get through these turbulent waters, which are here and still ahead of us for some time to come.

Please click on any of the sections below. And, Good Luck!

Navigating COVID-19 in Sales and Marketing in Travel and Hospitality

Navigating COVID-19 in Your Sales and Marketing

Navigating COVID-19 in Your Sales and Marketing in Manufacturing

Navigating COVID-19 in Your Sales and Marketing from the Home

Navigating COVID-19 in Your Sales and Marketing in Architecture

Navigating COVID-19 in Your Sales and Marketing in Media Outlets

Navigating COVID-19 in Your Sales and Marketing in Retailing

Navigating COVID-19 in Your Sales and Marketing in Security

Navigating COVID-19 in Your Sales and Marketing in Showrooms

Navigating COVID-19 in Your Sales and Marketing with Resilience


[1] Recovery by the Numbers: What to Expect in the Lodging Industry, held on September 15 with Linda Canina, Professor, Cornell School of Hotel Administration, Aran Ryan, Director, Lodging Analytics, Tourism Economics, Scott Berman, Principal and Industry Leader, PwC, Jess Petitt, VP of Analytics, Hilton, and Jan Freitag, Senior VP, STR. The session featured five lodging industry veterans sharing their experiences thus far and taking a close look at the road ahead, offering insights into the recoveries already underway in some sectors as well as strategies for how other sectors can successfully weather this unprecedented storm.

…in Manufacturing

“All things are a-flowing,” Heraclitus said about change. But, what he didn’t say is how fast that river could be flowing. COVID-19 and the reactions to it created a tsunami of change that has rocked our world. In sales and marketing, regardless of the type of business you are in, you will never do anything the same. Ever.

No where is this more evident than in the manufacturing industry.

So when Nick Goode, the executive VP at Sage wrote, “new skills in artificial intelligence (AI), the internet of things (IoT), machine learning (ML) and automated tools” were the technologies needed to succeed in the 21st century in January of 2020[1], unfortunately COVID-19 smashed into that thought and put that in an entirely different perspective. In fact, COVID-19 smashed pretty much all thoughts.

In March when COVID-19 broke in the US, 35.5% of respondents from a NAM survey said they are facing supply chain disruptions, with 64.5% saying they are not.[2]  However, Deloitte rightly concluded as we have seen subsequently that, “The magnitude of these disruptions increases as the time to recovery lengthens.”[3] Furthermore, “The impact on the industry will be far more significant if the spread of the virus impacts other key industrial countries beyond China. In the long term, the manufacturing industry should get back on track.”

The question has always been, what does “get back on track” mean?

PwC is a global accounting practice originating in London well over a century ago and migrated into a global network of over 276,000 people in 157 countries. Today, their services include audit and assurance, tax and consulting, cover such areas as cybersecurity and privacy, human resources, deals and forensics. They put it this way: “The COVID-19 outbreak is likely to result in longer-lasting reconfigurations of supply chains to build resilience, and this is already under way as some US companies diversify Asia operating models in response to shifting trade policies.”[4]

In other words, no one is really certain. My interview with Sylvia Moore reflected these ideas.

Sylvia Moore, Director of Technical Development, Shintech, Houston, Texas

I met Sylvia at the Vinyl360 meeting last year when I delivered a presentation entitled, “Where Should We Go, Now That We Know? Uncovering Strategies from Research.” The presentation was the result of a survey Accountability Information Management, Inc., a leading B2B research company, conducted to 14,782 architects, interior designers, and facility professionals about their uses and specifications of vinyl.

Shintech Inc. is the world’s largest producer of polyvinyl chloride (PVC). PVC is a general-use resin that is finding wide application in goods used in daily life and a significant number of industrial materials. Her role since she has a background in manufacturing, is a key ingredient in communications between Shintech and the customer.

“The impact of COVID-19 was actually seen when the air conditioning season came on,” she explains. “People relaxed. We had a few cases here and there, but nothing we did not control prior to June.” Through the summer people have become much more diligent about following CDC guidelines in all of manufacturing.

Moore believes that air conditioning had something to do with the big jump of COVID-19 cases nation wide. “With air conditioning and air flow, you have to have certain filters not to carry the virus from room to room,” she explains.

Shintech sales people are getting out some, but only driving short distances and only if the customer wants to see them. Her team has become very good at “virtual.” She notes: “For years we’ve been meeting virtually between plants, so we didn’t miss a beat.” Shintech has locations in Houston, TX, Freeport, TX, Addis, LA, and Plaquemine, LA.

Chit chat

As COVID-19 settled in, Moore says there was more and more “chit chat” – people communicating with nothing specific except to talk. This seems to have replaced the face-to-face in the office that everyone took for granted pre-COVID-19.[5]

Gensler, one of the leading architects in the world, conducted a study recently that bears this out.

The study, U.S. Work from Home Survey 2020, spawned a number of other findings. Gensler worked with a third party to conduct an online, anonymous survey of 2,300+ US workers across 10 different industries. Most want to go back to the office, but everyone expects to return to a better workplace than the one they left.

One of their articles, Planning for the Future Workplace and a Distributed Workforce, noted: “The overall effectiveness of virtual collaboration relies on a critical factor: human connection. Our recent work-from-home experiment has shown how important virtual collaboration platforms and management tools can be. But nothing can replace face-to-face time with colleagues. Those interactions build social capital and personal connections that can keep you connected outside of the office.”[6]

Moore’s customers are working. “I would say building construction which is 70% of the business, is doing well; the market is flexible.” Some customers switched their operation over to making the needed PPE.

The latest report from ConstructConnect™ the database people noted that 35 “mega projects” is the difference year over year for the August -43% difference. They also noted:

  • Their adjusted upward numbers month over month they say is from warehouse, bridge power and marine work.
  • And the word settled on to describe what’s going on: “uneven.”

Moore says that before COVID-19 business was doing well, but now there has been foreseen and unforeseen obstacles to overcome. The PVC resin market is very tight in September and October.

__________________________________

[1] “Three trends that will change the manufacturing industry in 2020″, by Nike Goode, Executive VP, Sage, on IT in the Supply Chain.

[2] NAM CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK SPECIAL SURVEY, FEBRUARY/MARCH 2020.

[3] COVID-19 Managing supply chain risk and disruption, by Jim Kilpatrick, Deloitte Global Supply Chain & Network Operations Leader and Lee Barter, Deloitte Canada SCNO Partner, Innovation & Eminence Leader.

[4] How do you transform your supply chain into an intelligent, digital ecosystem? on the PwC website.

[5] Throughout my investigations, the need for “social” was reflected again and again, and is an underlying byproduct of COVID-19. The virus has taught us, once again, that we are social animals after all.

[6] Planning for the Future Workplace and a Distributed Workforce, September 10, 2020, by José Luis Sanchez-Concha and Francesca Poma, part of Gensler’s ongoing exploration of how design is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

…in Showrooms

One of the premier sources of information on this industry is National Kitchen & Bath Association and John Burns Real Estate Consulting, whom together product the Kitchen & Bath Market Index (KBMI)[1]. This index examines current kitchen and bath industry demand, future expectations, and issues and challenges that industry professionals are facing in their businesses.

The Q2 2020 report is based on findings from 624 NKBA members across four primary industry segments: design, building and construction, retail sales and manufacturing.

The picture they painted was no more or less bleak than other industries. Here are some of the highlights from their report:

  • Q2 sales declined –more than 30% lower than last year’s rating.
  • Future industry outlook turned optimistic.
  • The industry says the COVID-19 pandemic is still having a significant impact on the business environment.
  • Supply-side issues continue to negatively impact the industry’s ability to consistently operate and grow.
  • Eighty-six percent of designers report making ‘some level of progress’ on existing projects (i.e., virtual meetings, etc.).
  • Building and construction companies saw sales declines during Q2, but see robust sales growth next quarter.
  • Retail and sales companies say showroom closures and supply chain management were significant.
  • Manufacturers also report lower sales in Q2 compared to prior year as supply and demand slowed due to market shutdowns across the US.

In my own participation in the IFDA (International Furnishings and Design Association) Illinois Chapter held a virtual “Gab Fest” on May 21, 2020 over ZOOM, we had a great discussion about what members were doing in this COVID-19 environment, and participation was terrific. In my blog for www.KB-Resource.com, one of the participants mentioned that business is actually “easier” because they don’t have to visit physically. This led to a discussion about doing things virtually.

Like discussions I have participated in the past since the virus began, there are always two sides to this story. The majority, however, felt that the physical contact with the room to social distance – even though technology exists that facilities the virtual experience – is still irreplaceable. You can read the other discussion points on KB-Resource.com.[2]

I deepened my understanding of the situation with showrooms when I talked to Shannon Janeczek.

Shannon Janeczek, Marketing Manager, DreamMaker Bath & Kitchen, Ann Arbor, MI

I met Shannon Janeczek at the 2020 KBIS show, probably the last one that will be happening for some time to come. KBIS is like IBS; driving hard to stay relevant. But, trying to stay relevant by imposing the same trade show-concept on a world full of fear will simply not work.

Accountability Information Management, Inc. (AIM, www.a-i-m.com) is a B2B research company with over 30 years of experience studying the construction marketplace and advertising. Prior to COVID-19, they had, probably, the largest database of recorded independent research results from companies like Starch, Harvey, Readex and others.

They produce what they call SNAPSHOTS, which are single questions that they ask architects, engineers, facility managers, designers – the people that used to attend shows like KBIS and IBS. Just last month they produced one that asked: “Before the COVID-19 pandemic, what was your preferred method for manufacturers to introduce new products or building materials and what is it today?” The results paint a bleak picture for trade shows.

Who do you think will attend shows after looking at this chart? What’s more, as other channels spring up from the COVID-19-created opportunities, people will find different ways to exchange information.[3]

But, I was fortunate to meet Janeczek and interview her then and now. She works as the marketing director for DreamMaker Bath & Kitchen, a franchised business (there are about 36 in the country pre-COVID-19). Listed among the top 300 franchises by Franchising.com, her operation is located in Ann Arbor, Michigan – a state where the government lockdown was particularly strong.

“When it hit, we asked ourselves ‘What should we do? What could we do?’” Shannon explains. “The good news was that our owner had, for the past 18 months, been transitioning and putting everything into the cloud. That saved us two months of work and we were quickly able to have people working from home.”

DreamMaker Bath & Kitchen is a remodeling business at its base. And with the lockdown, there was nothing moving, so Janeczek says they used the time to simply stay in touch with their clients. For example, in one project they were about to finish a kitchen with the countertop, but the countertop company had shut down. “No one knew what’s going on,” she says. “So our carpenters rigged up a temporary laminate countertop. The customer was very appreciative of that.”

This innovation that Shannon talks about is one of the common threads of my interviews with people who want to make things happen. According to Janeczek, the Ann Arbor DreamMaker franchise was rated the number one franchise in terms of sales among all DreamMaker Bath & Kitchen operations, pre-COVID-19. Then the virus hit and their customer base went on pause.

“So we used the time to retool the marketing we were doing,” she says. “We couldn’t have anyone in the showroom. What should we do with people who WERE calling?”

They, like so many others, turned to Zoom, GoToMeeting and FaceTime. Their company started doing virtual appointments with people, which was a learning curve for sure. “We had to walk people through that. Some of our designers had to also learn on-the-fly,” she points out.

Then the leads “dribbled down to nothing.” Though she didn’t have any week with zero leads incoming, people were just talking – not committing to remodeling. “And that was OK,” she said. The company was financially stable. The owner determined that nothing would close them.

“So we just kept moving forward,” she points out. “We made phone calls to get pricing and more phone calls. Our supply chain was limping… moving, but limping. We were scrounging for anyone who could give us accurate pricing.”

Shannon says her company rarely has change orders because they work closely with customers. They can boast of a 1% fluctuation in prices normally, “But during the first part of the pandemic, we had to guess a little more and that just wasn’t comfortable.”

Though the carpenters were furloughed for about six weeks, the salespeople were still selling during lockdown. At one point, a salesperson “tailgated” at the back of a client’s  SUV in their driveway, where the deal was made.

“Our attitude was, ‘Let’s figure this out,’” she explains.

In April and May, there was no money incoming. The carpenters were called back in mid-May. Once the lockdown was lifted in June, the phone couldn’t stop ringing. Leads are coming in hot and heavy now. Their showroom is open, but the door is locked, because they decided they would limit capacity to one client and one designer at a time. They follow strict safety guidelines and utilize a cleaning company on a regular basis.

“As the marketing person, I want to make sure our messaging is very COVID-friendly,” Janeczek says.

What Virus?

Janeczek says they already do so much with dust protection that they didn’t have to change much with the COVID-19 policy, in terms of for social distancing at clients’ homes. They pride themselves in securing the area where work is performed, including plastic, tape plastic to the floor and wall, and they use flooring protection as well. Dust collection vacuum systems are vented outdoors and windows are open whenever possible as well.

“Communication with the clients is really the key,” she emphasizes. “You want to communicate with your clients the way they want to communicate with you – calling, virtual meetings, texts, whatever. It’s not about us, it’s about them.”

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[1] Kitchen & Bath Market Index, 2Q2020.

[2] Go to Blogs on KB-Resource.com http://www.kb-resource.com/blogs/ifdas-virtual-gab-fest-shop-talk/.

[3] According to MeetExpo, 3,916 fairs and exhibitions have been cancelled or postponed because of COVID-19. 522 of these were in America. The Chicago Tribune is reporting that Chicago is losing out on $1.4 billion in spending as trade shows keep canceling because of Coronavirus. The International Manufacturing Technology Show is the latest to be scrubbed. And that’s just in Chicago.

…from the Home

Maybe all we need to know about working from home comes from Global Workplace Analytics (GWA), a research and consulting firm that helps employers understand and prepare for the future of work for a living. They say: “More important point: If you’re confused by all the conflicting numbers you read about telework, join the club. We explain the problem and try to offer a clearer view here.” When you click “here,” you go to a wonderful article entitled, “Why Are The Work-At-Home Statistics So Different From One Source To The Next?” After you read that, you’ll quickly conclude: who cares.

Or more aptly, “How does that lack of consistency in information affect me?”

Since COVID-19’s appearance and the lockdowns, it’s no longer whether or not people will be working from home that’s the question. It’s how often they will be doing it and how many will be doing it? Like other questions around COVID-19, no one knows for certain.

This is mainly the result of not only fear, but also because of states that change their lockdown orders based on information they receive or don’t receive (i.e., on September 25, Florida completely opened up, while in Illinois, the governor started talking lockdown again).

I’ve worked at home my entire life. As a teacher, I graded papers “at home.” As an advertising creative director, I wrote ads “at home.” Running my own business for the past 30 years, I’ve worked at home as much as I have at “the office.” I have worked in the office AND at home simultaneously.

The question is really integrated with the word “work.”

A friend today, at home schooling his young boys “at home” is tied to the dining room table for his work. His frustration was evident in his tone as we spoke, to the point of being almost desperate for “it” [the virus] to end.

In The Future of Work Post-COVID-19, Gil Press argued, “Balancing work and life is similar to productivity, cost of commuting, impact on the environment, and workers’ health, in that they are all viewed as both potential costs and potential benefits of working from home.”[1] But, the problem with that is the word “balance.” Since when does work and life have to be “in balance?” The wording (and not just Gil’s) has always confused “work” and “life” as separate functions (are you not living when you are working?). In other words, work is life and life is work. You really can’t separate the two. You couldn’t pre-COVID-19 and you certainly can’t today. The truth is, “balance” was an illusion. COVID-19 is a truth serum.

One of the real benefits of COVID-19 is that it has brought into focus such false distinctions. What is school? What is education? What is work? What is living? It is actually making people redefine the words, which Aristotle has always is of great benefit to communication.[2]

In “State of the Consumer: Future of the Home, an online presentation August 18, 2020, Suzy Founder/CEO Matt Britton and Domino Media Group Deputy Editor Lindsay Mather [3]discussed how consumers have transformed their living spaces in 2020. It was during that webinar that I first heard the term “zoom room” and I have been using it ever since.

Online meetings not only exploded since COVID-19’s appearance: an entire market is developing about what your “room” should look like when you are online “from the home.”

One of the main points in this webinar (which is terrific news for designers, architects, showrooms and others) is that DIY home improvement companies like Home Depot, Lowes, Sherwin-Williams have reported “unprecedented demand” for their products and services[4]. After months of social distancing, people are reevaluating their connections to the place they’ve spent the vast majority of their time lately: their homes. This is driving the “working from home” movement as well.

Opportunity Knocking

Their findings during this webinar were based on 1,000 Americans weighted across age, gender, ethnicity, and region. Some of these findings will not just be interesting, they will weigh into your strategic thinking about your business as you configure what “working from home” means for you, your staff, your business. Here are a few I learned to consider.

  • Over past 6 months, America has been home more than ever. 77% of people are spending more time at home regardless of eased restrictions. Note, too, that the definition of “vacation” and “travel” are changing. In another webinar on hospitality I attended, one of the panelists said, “Our concentric circles we typically discuss are gone. I was in Colorado recently and every other vehicle I saw in the hotel parking lot was from Texas. People are driving to their destinations, not flying.”[5]
  • Allison Petty of Hypen & Co. said, “Our houses are becoming our new offices, classrooms, restaurants, and bars, and our remodels are reflecting that.”
  • 47% of people have repurposed areas of their home to replace the gym. Becky Shea, and interior designer, said, “We just finished a project last week in the West Village where we converted a sitting area that was never used into a full-on gym with layered rubber floors to protect the hardwood underneath and all the equipment needed to get a good sweat in.”
  • Software will get into hardware (Lululemon to buy Mirror, a fitness startup for $500M).
  • Hollywood is over. A study showed that only four out of ten people wanted to go back to theaters to see movies. Gaming, on the other hand, is exploding as a market. 53% of 18 to 24 year-olds spend their time in their bedroom, while 46% of people are spending more time in the living room than before COVID-19.
  • COVID-19 has resulted in a new market: serious cleaning. 64% of people have given their home “deep cleaning.” Clorox and Lysol have become heroes of the pandemic.

These observations not only shape residential markets, they shape commercial markets because of people are spending more time at home. It will have a direct impact on the offices.

Gensler again is trying to nail down what will happen. Most People Want to Return to the Office — But They Expect Changes by Janet Pogue McLaurin written in May, 2020 noted: “The new workplace must be worth the commute — a human-centric experience where employees feel safe, healthy, and empowered. It must be a place where design can nudge healthy behaviors and people can feel that their work, and their personal well-being, is valued.”[6]

The key word is behavior – and that is what COVID-19 has changed forever. Our behaviors. Professionals that can anticipate those behavioral changes and adapt to them will be the winners when the virus ends.

For example, one of the findings of the Suzy survey was that “While some families are opting to escape the city, others are staying put and re-imagining their homes.” (Domino Magazine)

The word “re-imagining” is being overused these days, but more important, that survey finding or observation is already obsolete depending on the city you live in (i.e., New York, Portland). With the virus comes societal changes. Those changes also breed new strategies if a business is to survive.

Remodeling

Survey after survey is pointing to remodeling as a key ingredient that results in business. But, remodeling what?

It’s not just about remodeling the kitchen anymore – it’s about remodeling lifestyles.

Low effort upgrades like adding a piece of furniture to a large appliance may work, but the real opportunities are in remodeling a lifestyle. The Suzy report called out an important point: people want brands to help with remodeling. But the real question is, what is a brand?

Pre-COVID-19, an architect’s workload may have been commercial, high-end residential. Who would think to have an architect involved in a kitchen remodel at any income level?

One showroom we interviewed did just that: contracted with several architects to participate in the work they brought in – an innovative way of showing their clients that they care beyond the “normal.”

Beyond the “normal” is really what COVID-19 has spawned. Many people call it the “new normal.” But the real term is no longer normal, because there never was “normal.” There was only habit. As we all know, habits can be good or bad.

Besides, what is a brand?

Brand

AIM (Accountability Information Management, Inc.) and one of the leading B2B research companies, has an excellent article, What is a Brand? When you read it, you’ll find out that YOU are the brand, especially if you are an architect, designer, interior designer, etc. If that is true – and it is – then shaping your brand’s perceptions becomes the key to redefining yourself in the COVID-19 environment.

If creating “zoom rooms” becomes part of the needs of people, then your expertise in creating certain special lighting, closing off spaces – these ideas that typically were the portfolio of “commercial” businesses – now have to be modified for the home. Who better than the professionals who did them for businesses?

Moreover, if everything is going digital, how do you reshape (and rebrand) your firm to be digital? As you have seen in this series, many people walked effortlessly into that world, while others struggled and continue to struggle.[7]

Tele-health may pave the way for tele-architecture, tele-interior design and so on. The possibilities becomes endless. But in all these cases, the brand – you – have to become the trusted source.

Education is Being Redefined

Finally, if 43% of parents have drastically changed their schedule in order to accommodate school closings, and people are uncertain about when and if schools will reopen, how does that change the way we work? As COVID-19 drags on, as states changed their minds about what is and is not safe, these decisions impact the way we work. How should we manage these issues? If you are a large corporation, your answers are going to be very different than if you are a small company. COVID-19 is going to change our definition of education.

What COVID-19 perhaps has revealed is how interconnected every aspect of our lives really are. Like dominoes, if you push one, you begin a chain reaction that will bring them all down unless you stop them somehow or unless they are not arranged just right. Sadly, the elements of our lives are connected in ways we are just now finding out.

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[1] The Future Of Work Post-Covid-19 Gil Press Senior Contributor, Enterprise & Cloud, FORBES, Jul 15, 2020.

[2] In Rearchitecting the Future Through Philanthropy and Social Entrepreneurship Series, a six-part online series from Worth and New Profit, Tulaine Montgomery, Managing Partner, New Profit said in a September 25th session just that using the words “charity” and “investment.” Also, she added, “We are facing the storm together, we are just not in the same boat.” That’s a very interesting statement, but what does it mean? Why aren’t we in the same boat? Does COVID-19 discriminate?

[3] Suzy is a real-time market research platform. Domino Media Group is group of energetic New York City agency ex-pats that started their own PR firm.

[4] Home Depot and Lowes have reported in September hiring 25,000 to 33,000 each.

[5] Recovery by the Numbers: What to Expect in the Lodging Industry, held on September 15.

[6] Most People Want to Return to the Office — But They Expect Changes by Janet Pogue McLaurin, May, 2020.

[7] I was online for a security webinar on 9/22/20 that crashed ten minutes into it and never recovered. Emails showed up a couple of hours later saying the recording will be available. “Bugs” exist regardless of the size of the company, and this webinar was from one of the major security software companies in the world. The sound was horrible!