On Being a Retailer in Times of Crisis
Nov 10, 2020

Proactively boarding up store windows instead of using them to tout the well-thought-out expressions of our brands.  Directing associates to keep six feet of distance, rather than building comradery, and requiring masks that cover up those customer-friendly smiles. Did you ever think that this would be the retail world you would be working in? 

 

We are experts at traditional claims management and insurance, but today’s complex world has added unchartered challenges to our risk management portfolio, including responding to a global pandemic and civil unrest.  The world is moving fast – there is no way one person can stay up-to-speed on every detail of an issue, plus do their job.  And every decision that we’re facing has so many facets, that one person could never be expected to anticipate the far-reaching tentacles it might have.

 

So how do you keep up?  How do you do the right thing to protect your associates, your customers and your company?

 

Be Consistent

Communication and crisis expert Tammy Roberts Myers, founder and CEO of SS Resolution LLC, discussed the value of cross-functional working groups in debating emerging issues during our Client Retail forum in September.  In setting up and working with these groups during the COVID-19 crisis, she stressed the importance establishing ground rules, with the overarching norm that at the end of the day, whatever the group decides, all members of the group become advocates for that decision. This approach:

  1. Stops people from seeking someone to give them the answer that they really wanted (somewhat like the old trick of asking both mom and dad a question, assuming you’d get the answer you want from at least one of them)
  2. Breaks down silo’d decision making
  3. Takes the pressure to make decisions off individuals…when so often, there really wasn’t a clear “right” answer … at least it never seemed obvious in the moment
  4. Cuts down on Monday morning quarterbacks who have 20-20 vision in the rearview mirror
  5. Instills confidence in those who had to carry out the decisions

This cat-herding tactic can end up being a team-building experience. The groups succeeded by gathering disparate corporate decision makers and instilling a sense of urgency equal to their hair being on fire and securing their commitment that when the Zoom call ended, they would stand behind the decisions made.  These COVID working groups also consulted on what and how information was going to be communicated so they had consistency throughout the company.  Any communication always pointed to any available facts from medical experts. 

 

Be Nimble

During a crisis, it is critical not only to be nimble, but also to communicate on where you are vulnerable and to be willing to change as quickly as new information becomes available.  Risk management teams would be well served to consider now how to form cross-functional teams with this efficiency, alignment and focus on communication … even for more mundane topics than a global pandemic.  A near-term example could be the anticipated public unrest after the election. 

If your company wasn’t focused on safety and loss control in the past, it likely has changed along with the times.  Now more than ever, executives are emphasizing safety.  Listen to a company’s earnings call:  CEOs and CFOs are outlining -- with great detail -- the safety precautions they’ve put into place for employees and customers. 

Do you remember when it was like pulling teeth to get approval for the labor hours to show a ladder safety video?  Now is the time to capitalize on that executive mindset.  The importance of safety shouldn’t disappear with a vaccination.  The time is now for us to have conversations with our executives to praise them for how they embraced safety during these unsettled times and how the importance of safety should continue. 

 

Be Ready for What’s Next

In these unprecedented times, we need to take the lessons we learned from the pandemic response and apply them to the next crisis:  

  • The great need for empathy.  Now’s the time to make sure everyone on our teams is being more empathetic than ever.  
  • Make sure your crisis plan truly is nimble and can cast a wide net.  Empower your crisis team to reel in others to build an efficient team that is committed and aligned.  Not only does it lead to quicker action – but also provides clarity and a calming effect.
  • Communicate often and embrace the tremendous responsibility to be a source of truth for your employees.  It will serve your company well as it builds trust and credibility among your most important constituency.
  • Capitalize on your executives’ current commitment to safety.  As they say, strike while the iron is hot to make sure that safety remains a priority.

 

While these times have placed everyone under considerable strain, it’s likely that your communication with your C Suite has improved and your crisis management and communications plans have been fine-tuned. How your company reacts in these unprecedented times plays a large part in determining the sustainability of your organization.  Your company’s response to the significant events of 2020 will impact your brand for years to come – measured by how safe your customers feel in your stores and their confidence in your ability to protect them.

 

Tammy Roberts Myers is a crisis management expert with 30+ years of global experience in the retail, restaurant and food products industries. Find her on LinkedIn.

Mary McGurn has 30+ years of industry experience and leads the Retail Practice at GB. Find her on LinkedIn.

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