Leading Through Times of Crisis- Part 2

April 29, 2020

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Leading Through Times of Crisis- Part 2

Welcome back to Growing With North Carolina Farms! In Episode 2 (Leading Through Times of Crisis- Part 1), we discussed how to lead through a crisis by analyzing and optimizing our processes. In Episode 3 (Leading Through Times of Crisis- Part 2), we focus on personnel, communication, and how to deal with stress.

Some of the highlights include:

  • How do we keep our employees safe in times of crisis?
  • How can we get creative to keep staff safe?
  • How can we keep as many people employed as possible?
  • What type of communication style is best during a crisis?
  • How can you manage personal stress that you can lead from a place of strength rather than weakness?
  • How can you use facts and metrics to keep yourself grounded?
  • What type of impact does empathy and recognition for a job well done have on your employees?

Grab a cup of coffee and get comfortable. You’re about to listen in to a valuable 30-minute conversation filled with leadership wisdom from:

Mick– One of our owners, and our Director of Business Strategy

Jeremy– Our Director of Operations, a current Town Councilman, and former Fire Chief

Josh– Owner and Operator of a Chick-fil-A in Columbus, Ohio

If you aren’t able to listen, we’ve provided the full transcript below. If you missed Part 1, make sure you go back to our blog history and check that out, too.


Intro: Welcome to Growing With North Carolina Farms.

Where we talk about people, processes and plants.  Because we are here to grow your business.  

Safety in Times of Crisis

Mick: Guys, I’d like to talk about the human factor now. We, as small business owners, have this tension. Because we are essential, we get to come to work. Really that’s the best thing for our employees. 

It’s this paradoxical decision that we have to make. If we close, they get to go on unemployment, but there may not be a job to come back to after it is all over. The best thing for us to do is to continue to work….continue to create jobs…continue to have a place where people can come and feed their families.

Yet, at the same time, if we come to work, we are taking a risk. I’ve talked to several business owners just this week. We all feel that tension. Jeremy, one of your key result areas is safety. Have you felt that tension that I’m talking about?  How are you dealing with that from a safety aspect?

Jeremy:  Yes, what you are saying is straightforward. You get up in the morning and you feel like you are blessed to have a job and be able to go to work. That’s when your eyes open. Then you get up and you start getting dressed and you’ve got the news on and you’re making a pot of coffee, And then there were 312 more cases of coronavirus last night, or on the news last night, and there were 606 more deaths in New York yesterday. In one day!  

So you hear that and as you are getting ready to go to work, you are still in the mindset that you are blessed to be able to go, then it’s “But wait a minute.” And we know that we have 47 other people that are up and getting ready to come in too. Is this the responsible thing to do? Should we shut down for a week, two weeks, three weeks? Whatever that number is. 

The short answer is, my take is, no, you can’t do that as a small business. You can apply for the PPP loan if you get lucky enough to get it, or EIDL- whatever the acronym is- but at the end of time, can you survive an eight week hiatus? Can a small mom and pop business survive an eight week hiatus a year down the road? How impactful has that become? 

So, then you start thinking backwards about how do we do this right? So, we have our doors propped open. We have the air conditioning still running. We are wasting some money cooling the break room with the doors open, but the employees don’t have to touch the doorknobs. The delivery driver that is coming to pick up FedEx, he just comes in, gets the boxes and leaves. He touches a pallet jacket and that is it. 

We’ve got a cleaning crew cleaning our tables after every break. So after morning, ten o’clock break, noon, and three o’clock break, they are cloroxing every table in the break room.The door handles to the restroom and the restroom itself are being cleaned. Probably more than they have ever been cleaned. Which creates more challenges of where do you find the cleaning supplies, which leads to what you were talking about earlier as well.

While I don’t own any portion of North Carolina Farms, I certainly feel attached and feel responsibility to act on y’all’s behalf. So it becomes, where do you find the supplies? So, you go to Walmart or Home Depot or to Lowe’s. You do what you can to find what you have to find.

Are you putting yourself at more risk? Maybe you are, but you are doing it for the right reason to protect the 47 people that are working for you/with you to keep these jobs going because that time may come when we do have to shut down for that hiatus and I have a grave concern for a small to medium size business being able to survive that. Even with government bailout money, which is, as we already know, nearly impossible to bank on. 

Getting Creative to Keep Staff Safe

Mick:  Yeah, Josh, you have some significant challenges as well. You have a fairly young staff and parents to navigate. Talk to us about your challenges there.

Josh:  So, what we’ve done. Individualization is a big strength in my wheelhouse. So, we are doing a case-by-case thing. If we hear a hint of a parent being uncomfortable with their child coming to work… We hire from 16 up, so we have a lot of 16 to 18 year olds. Even a couple of 19/20 year olds, they live at home and their parents have said we don’t want you going to work, there are no questions asked. They are still on payroll. 

A lot of them don’t need the money like a full-time person does. To Jeremy’s point, in my world, where I have a mom who has a kid who is not in school and she has no child care, so she has to take care of that child. Well, there are some programs out there where I can pay her the 67% we are required to pay her, but we are just going to pay that other 33% to go the second mile. I’m going to take that hit, of course, and I know some businesses might not have the buffer to do that. I just go back to what Jeremy said. The benefit of staying in business in the long run and offering a place to work. 

Going back to the corporate purpose of Chick-Fil-A, I feel that is the best way to steward these employees that God has given me and the young people helping them realize how serious this is. Not to be flippant about it and to wear their masks and wash their hands every 30 minutes. That if they touch change or cash payments, they have to immediately wash their hands. We’ve set up a drive-thru hand washing station outside, so they don’t even have to come in the building anymore. They are able to wash them outside. 

I think this is where business owners get to prove their mettle by getting creative about ways to take care of their staff. Part of me hopes that there is a renewal in the pride of work that comes out of this.People remembering how important work is. Because I love offering it and I love that I can feed my families by giving them the hours they need.

Keeping Workers Employed in Crisis

Mick: Yeah, that is we are talking to business owners here, so this will probably resonate with everyone listening. The core of our business… we have to make money. That is what a business is for. So that we can be here again next year, but it really is a platform by which we can work out our gifts and our abilities and use them in the community. It is a way for us to feed our families. It is a way for us to do that work that we were meant to do. 

Josh: I think on that note. Just an example. We have a lady who is older. I don’t want to guess her age. If she ever saw this I don’t want to get in trouble for guessing her age. She is our dining room hostess. She literally wears a different uniform and she walks around the dining room. I don’t know if you’ve seen this at Chick-Fil-A, but she literally walks around and her job is to talk to guests and refill drinks and make them feel at home. 

What do you do with that employee when your entire dining room is shut down?  Because she came up and said, I gotta work. So we taught her how to direct traffic to the right spots for this curbside, Doordash, and drive-thru and she has done amazing at it! So, there is going to be some creativity that is required. This is why you are the owner. There is going to be some creativity required to figure out how you are going to take care of your people, because they take care of you most of the time. 

Communicating During a Crisis

Mick: Yeah, you think about the guys out in the greenhouse during the summer. They are the ones sweating it out and they are creating the product that we are going to sell. Without them, there is no business. 

Now, we have a high level job and it’s not easy necessarily, but without them, there is no business. Josh, it is beautiful that you can take this employee that needs to be completely re-tooled and train them to function at a high level in a different area. I think a lot of us wish we had more time to do that. 

It goes back to that important vs. urgent thing. Urgency takes over and we don’t have time to do the important thing. So that goes back to delegation and again I realize there are people who are listening who are customers that have one or two employees. That’s a whole different ball game than what we are really talking about. The idea of being able to be creative and delegate and retool people, that’s just great. 

I’d like to switch gears here a little bit and start talking about communication style. How has your communication changed over the last few weeks? People look to us during a crisis like this and they want to have assurance and they want us to be confident. They need someone who can point to the future and point to the hope that we have. Yet, you have to balance that with honesty. You can’t just say, hey, everything is going great guys, knowing you are about to lay 10 people off. So, it’s important for us to be realistic and yet, visionary. So, how has your communication style changed? Jeremy, we will go to you first. What have you seen differently because of this crisis?

Jeremy: I can tell you I am probably trying to have more empathy than I normally give to people. Knowing that the stress level at my house is maybe to my nose and the stress level at their house is to their forehead. Literally, I am speaking of it working and I’ll give you just a quick for instance.

Last Tuesday night- Wednesday night, fairly late, 8:45, 8:50- getting pretty much dark. My doorbell rings at home. We are sitting around the den and it’s a guy I’ve never met before. I see him standing out front and I go out and he is a neighbor I’ve never met. He lives behind me- several houses behind me- and he is extremely upset about my lights on the corner of my house. They are bright. He is a musician and he can’t sit on his deck and enjoy his deck because my lights blind him and his wife. 

Now, I don’t know if he has just not been out there in the past because I’ve had those lights for two years. And I felt initially, I was not enraged, but I was charged to get on the defensive because man, are you really going to come to my house at this time and tell me my lights are too bright. 

I caught myself and said man, “I apologize for that, but I don’t have my ladder.”  My neighbor had my ladder. I’ll look at them tomorrow night and just keep telling him, I’ll look at them. I got my ladder the next night. It got dark and I went up, I’m talking about a three degree change in the light head, just to pull it in a little bit and I went over and he was on his porch. I hollered in the little woods to him and he came over and he said, “Man, that’s unbelievable. That’s so much better. Thank you so much.”  

Then I thought to myself, at first it was pretty trivial, but then maybe it’s not. Maybe that really is his only way to escape whatever he is going through is to go out on his porch with his wife and play music. 

It transfers to my body at work when I would want to find myself getting aggravated at an order that didn’t get shipped right or a label that got put on wrong and it’s easy to say, “Hey, so and so, you did this wrong,” or “Man, you know this is not right.” I have tried for the next couple of weeks now to make sure I’m coaching versus correcting. I’m speaking more of direct communication. 

Generally, communication, like we’re doing right here on a Zoom call. I never thought- I worked 20 years for local government, I’m recently elected to the town council here- I never dreamed it to be legal to have a public meeting called and I’m sitting in my office at home on a Zoom call making decisions for our community taking roll call votes to make sure who is voting one way or the other. It’s nothing you could ever fathom, I don’t think. 

Again, to an earlier conversation, what is the new norm? I sure hope a Zoom call for town council is not the new norm, but hey, maybe it is, I don’t know. Good sides and bad sides. My biggest thing is empathy. I think I’m trying to communicate with more empathy within my household and at work. 

Mick:  That’s so good Jeremy. For those of you who don’t know, I do a lot of the up front big meetings, but then afterward Jeremy is the guy who gets pulled aside. He does a lot of one-on-one coaching and helping with people. Helping people understand the reason behind new policies and helping navigate that. That is really good with the empathy side. Josh, do you have anything to add there?  Anything that has changed in your world?

Josh:  I think Jeremy is dead on. Going back to that Stephen Covey idea, right?  Seek first to understand before seeking to be understood. He covered that perfectly. I would agree 100%. I would add that during my time being an operator, I’ve realized my most important five minutes of my day is walking through and greeting all my employees. Saying hello. Just walking through.

I have about 30 on staff at any given time. Just making sure they know I see them. That I appreciate them. Anything that is specific to their individual situation that I can identify. Hey, I saw your mom the other day. Your dad came through the other day. Stuff like that. If I know someone is sick, asking about them. 

What that does I feel is it tethers people back to the human relationships that we all share. Right now, more than ever, we just have this island feel. I have a family of six and it still feels like an island and when we get to connect with other people, in person, I just think it’s a valuable thing. It’s not really something I’ve really changed in my communication style. I think it’s just something I’ve noticed is more important now than ever. Also, a lot of these young folks that work for me. I’m not sure somebody in their life is showing the calm positive leadership in the midst of a crisis. 

Honestly, I have to draw my faith from that. It’s going to be OK. I don’t think they are hearing that from the news for sure. I don’t think they are hearing that from many places. So, being able to be that person that’s reminding them it’s going to be OK and being a stability for them.

Managing Personal Stress

Mick: Yeah, I don’t know who wrote it, but someone talked about managing by walking around. That is one of those things. I talked to Rachel, my wife. I enjoy working from home. I get a lot more high level things done, but I don’t do a very good job of managing by walking and just talking to people, which is something that is just natural when you are on site. 

Well, time is starting to wind down here and I want to shift gears one last time because I don’t want to leave this conversation without talking about personal stress. I know we talk a lot about business and how to lead, but at the end of the day if we are not healthy- physically, emotionally, spiritually healthy- we can’t lead well. So Josh, let’s go to your first here. What have you done that has helped to create a stable basis, so that you can lead from a place of strength rather than weakness?

Josh: I’ve actually joined another operator once a week for a game of golf. It’s something I’ve decided I want to get better at. That’s one thing. The weather in Ohio tricked me. I’m from Nashville, TN originally. So, mid-April, we are in Spring, but up here winter made an evil turn back. So, we’ve been playing in 40 degree weather, which is not fun at all. 

Another thing that I’ve been doing is… I have much more time at home and just really turning everything off and plugging in with my kids because I’m realizing this is…we’ve just moved so there’s a lot of personal stress. We’re actually in the middle of a move right now, so there’s a lot of personal stress on me and Alicia, my wife, but there is also looking in their eyes realizing there is a lot of stress on them uprooting once again. 

And Mick understands, we’ve been through several family moves internationally and whatnot, and it’s challenging on the kids. So, plugging back in and being able to listen, I leave rejuvenated from that. 

Mick: I guess you’ve got a couple of things going on there, right? You’ve got a hobby to get your mind off of business. Also, skills and a passion you are trying to develop, but you’ve also got family, which draws you back to those principles of why we even do this. Why do we continue in the midst of crisis? Jeremy, let’s hear from you. You got anything specific you try to do to help you lower stress and stay healthy?

Jeremy: Yeah, I mean it’s led into this and I work for you and certainly blessed to have the job. As you well know Carrie, my wife, is a small business owner. A non-essential small business, so she is for all intents and purposes shut down. She has been home. The stress of everything we’ve talked about here within North Carolina Farms and Chick-fil-A is replicated here at my house.

 Are we doing the right thing by going back to work? Am I dragging the virus in to the family who is self-isolated, if you will. Jared our son works at the farm with us, so he and I go to work everyday, then we come home and Carrie and Jenna, our 13 year old daughter. School’s out and there is no norm with that. It’s stressful. 

It’s probably, going back to my empathy, I have seen people post on Facebook now, nobody questions what a stay at home mom does or something to that effect. I guess they are right, actually, but it’s happening to faith. I’m a Christian and I firmly believe that all things happen for a reason and we will get through this with the greatness of God on our side. 

Where it all leads, I don’t know, but I’m confident in the fact that, Mick, as you’ve said many times, it is His plan. That’s probably the best way I know to deal with it is prayer. 

Looking at the Metrics

Mick: Yeah, I feel that too. There are so many layers of stress right now. You’ve got family and they are dealing with stress. Josh even mentioned his kids with the move. You all with your new routine. Am I being safe?  Am I bringing something home from work? You have a hundred decisions to make every hour, it feels like, with the business and then you’ve got to come home and you’ve gotta lead your family somehow and those things compound. 

Now, I think that one of the things that’s helped me is to know there are certain things I can control and there are certain things that I can’t. So, those things that I can control. Either I can make a decision about that and let’s get it off my plate or if it’s too big of a decision and needs some more time, writing it down. Putting it in a “to do” app. 

We use Asana. I just slap a date on it out there in the future and we just come back and revisit that in 90 days or whatever. Then there are just certain things that I can’t control and Jeremy, like you, that is where that faith aspect comes in. 

I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I do really believe there is someone who is in complete control and I believe certain things about Him.That He is good. That He cares about me and all those. That helps me from an emotional and spiritual side. I would add to those things that you all have.

 I’ll recap here. You’ve got hobbies and family time. I’m trying to focus on the spiritual aspect of it. Then you’ve got a physical side that we haven’t really talked about yet and that’s some exercise. A lot of science out there. I actually went through a depression in 2014 and 2015 and still deal with anxiety and I can see some of those warning signs fairly early on. 

One of my first things that I do is begin to exercise again because the science says that releases endorphins that helps my body to strengthen. It also gives me something to do that is completely outside the scope of business. I can just go kinda push my body and say today I’m going to do “x” many miles and refuse to quit until it’s done, so I think that is another important aspect. 

Josh, from a metrics standpoint, a lot of the time what helps me is to take the emotion out of it and go back to the data. So, we use a metric here that you all use in the restaurant business – sales per labor hour. If you want to google it, a lot of times it is listed SPLH (Sales Per Labor Hour). When this first started, they were saying the economy is melting down and small business is going away. We had to make some decisions about how many people to keep on staff and so, we went back and historically recreated that. 

How many labor hours did I have during this week and then what were my sales. Then you just create ratios and it let’s you know if you are on track. Maybe we are off a little on revenue. Maybe we’re off a little on some pre-sales and summer crops, but at least this week I know I’m OK. Josh, I know you have a lot of tools like that. Can you talk to us about how helpful it is? How it helps you sleep at night. Maybe some of the most important ones.

Josh:  If you are still open. Here’s the thing- and it goes back to what you were saying just a minute ago. There’s a real need for business owners to be gracious to themselves. Let’s say there is somebody with two or three employees and right now, all the stuff we are talking about, that is so outside of my area right now and I can’t do that. Well, give grace to yourself. You are not the only one in that situation. That can’t be easy, but for us, numbers don’t lie and if you are looking for a place to get away from the fear, pick some numbers. 

For us, we are looking at drive-thru transactions and drive-thru check average and sales. So, what we had to do because we shut down the dining room, we quit looking at sales overall. It’s an apples and oranges comparison, so let’s go to drive-thru and now I’m celebrating with my drive-thru team because they are breaking records. Now, sure they are breaking records because no one is coming in the dining room, but the team is excited about that and I enjoy seeing that as well. 

We are also watching this productivity, which is what Mick is talking about, the sales per labor hour. Just helping people see how productive each individual person is gives my schedulers and my leaders a chance to see. Every minute it updates, so we get a chance to see as the day goes on, how we can tweak and be good stewards of these labor hours.

Mick:  What I’ve found is that it has been really helpful in the present, but it is difficult to project next week because I have no idea what sales are going to be. I know what my pre-sales are, but I don’t know who is going to walk through the door or what is going to happen online this weekend and you probably deal with the same thing. I would imagine your historical numbers are just out the window at this point. How do you deal with that as a business owner and trying to plan that future payroll?

Josh: So, we’ve let go of historical. So, our system creates an algorithm based on the last six weeks, last year/this date and then this current week. So it throws all that together and it gives us this forecast and it’s been way off, obviously. So, we’ve really gone to a weekly comparison. This time last week what are we doing and we still haven’t been able to hone it in. This is where the grace comes in, right?

If you run days of high labor/low productivity, give yourself a little bit of grace that you are managing in the middle of a crisis. If you are a perfectionist… Which a lot of business owners are- they want it right! They have high expectations of themselves and others. It might be time just to take a step back. Bring on someone that has more empathy to surround you and remind you what you are in the middle of. We forecast. We are honing it in everyday. Supply is a big thing. I know that I’m on the other side of what you all do. You all supply people. I get supplies from someone, so we are trying to stock up to help that supply center have more on hand, and might be able to keep their shifts going.

Mick: Yeah, I can really feel that. Historical side is difficult because… I was talking to an accountant this week and they wanted us to do a 13 week program to make sure we were tracking where we thought we were and I just don’t want to do it. I don’t have a CFO. 

You know, this is going to fall to me and we don’t put our accounts receivable in Quickbooks. It is two different systems. So, we have our customer management system that does invoicing and then we pay bills out of Quickbooks. So, it is like merging these two things. So, it is going to be me… 10:30 at night after a long day-  I’ve gotta build this thing. What I’ve come to is that if I could just take an hour to build a report, that is going to help me to see that data and I’m not going to toss and turn for two hours while I’m wondering about what that report would say.

Josh: As an owner… This is kind of confession time, but I struggle with anxiety. And one of the reasons I struggle with it is this idea of catastrophizing. I will go to the worst possible situation this can be. And your team doesn’t need that, your family doesn’t need that, and numbers don’t lie- but the problem is we create unrealistic numbers sometimes in the midst of a crisis. 

So, what you are talking about, these metrics that you’re talking about. Pick the right ones and understand what the context is for that number. I was on track to do $520,000 this month, but it won’t be anywhere near that. It won’t even be close to that. So, if that is the case, then I need to readjust those numbers and find a new place where my team can achieve. It’s a realistic number and I can watch us grow towards that.

Empathy and Recognition Go a Long Way

Mick:  That is so powerful because as business owners, we don’t have a fixed mindset. We are not OK with the status quo. We want to see something grow. So, to say, well, this month I’m going to have to settle for this number. We don’t like that. But there are other ways we can grow. We can grow our people. We can grow our values. We can grow our mission. We can grow our innovation. So, there are still things to reach for, but I really love what you are saying about creating a realistic number and then let’s celebrate that number. 

We are just about out of time here. I want to let you guys sound off here at the end. Tell me what are the one or maybe two things from a personal or business standpoint that in the midst of this crisis have probably changed you forever. What do you hope to bring out of this?

Jeremy:  I hope that I can grow or have grown from the perspective of empathy as I talked about earlier. Not that I was ever, and I hope you don’t think this or have thought it, that I’m just  some gruff guy that doesn’t care about what you are going through, how you feel, or that I’m not walking in your shoes. But I think, as Josh said a little bit ago, the least little thing can go a long way. In particular, at a time like this. 

Several years back, Mick, I came back from… I’d been out of town working and you had put a handwritten note card on my desk and it just meant a lot. I have it upstairs on my dresser. That’s where it is at. It says a lot that somebody thought enough, even though you are going home at 10:30 or 11 o’clock, whatever time I got back, the fact that you thought enough of me to say, “Hey, man, Thanks for all you did this week. We had a great week. I appreciate it.” Those are the things that go a long way. 

Those are the things that I think we as a company can do that don’t cost us a dime and what we gain in that is… the lady I was talking about earlier, I was talking about needing those orders by noon on Tuesday and I got them at two o’clock on Monday and I was able to get them gone and that gives us a customer whom we underpromised and overdelivered and our company shines. 

So, I hope that I can carry empathy forward. Understanding that we are not on that island as Josh has said. That is whether we are in a pandemic or not. We are not on an island if we will just reach out and touch someone. Probably not the best analogy or the best tagline right now to use, but if we just do that- and if we allow ourselves to be touched- we can get through this and everything together. 

Mick:  It’s such a good point that just a little pat on the back. I think Josh said it earlier as well and Jeremy thanks for affirming that note that I wrote. It doesn’t even stand out in my mind because you week after week after week have turned in just great work ethic and good leadership. I really appreciate your position on our team. Such a valued asset. Josh, how about you?  Anything changing internally on your side.

Josh: Yeah, so I’m a first born and I’m a strong birth order belief guy. There is a problem with firstborns. We tend to watch someone try for about five minutes and then we realize we can do it better. So, just step away and let me do it. 

I’m going to walk away with realizing my team is much better than what I give them credit for. I know they are great, but the stuff they have pulled off in the last month, the way they’ve taken initiatives, I have… there’s been one situation where… 

So, there is this one organization called Shared Table, that comes and picks up food that you have leftover. You freeze it and bag it up, then they come take it to soup kitchens and whatnot and I’ve always wanted to be involved in this and never knew quite how to take the first bite of the elephant to get this going. So, I mention it, just in passing, to my kitchen director. I said, “Hey, I’d love to get involved with this Shared Table.”  

Two days later, the boxes are there and the bags are there. I never thought to give her that task and yet, here it was done. So, I’m going to take away that people have much more capacity for leadership at my organization than what I gave them credit for.

Mick: I’ve seen that. Where you limit people by what they can do by what you give them. You underestimate and you don’t give them enough. I was in a C12 meeting recently and we were talking about stewardship from the personnel level. 

We think of stewarding money, stewarding resources and people are our greatest resource. That’s the catchline, but we don’t seem to think about how we can steward that person into a place where they can thrive. 

Part of that is realizing what their skills are and putting them in the right place. The next part of that is let them run. Build a sandbox, if you’ve never read Leading from the Sandbox that is a great book. You build the rules around and then you let people go. That is great stuff!  

Well guys, we are out of time for today. I could sit and talk for hours. We’ll have to have you both back and do this all again. Thank you so much for your time. 

Josh: It’s our pleasure. Thank you.

Jeremy: Thank you.

Outro: We hope you’ve enjoyed the show today. If you find this content helpful, please let us know. We want to create the content you need. Visit our website at ncfarmsinc.com. Find us on Facebook,Twitter, Instagram or email us at media@ncfarmsinc.com.  

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