“How are we doing today?” According to organizational consulting firm Korn Ferry, it’s essential for leaders to ask associates the question and be prepared for answers that will vary widely, even moment to moment. Given pandemic stress and recent waves of social and political unrest, what used to be a simple check-in on individual mood, team mindset or business performance has become more complex.
One strategy? First, ask how someone is “feeling” instead of how they are “doing.”
“Knowing what your team is feeling predicts productivity,” Korn Ferry claims, and offers a short quiz to help business leaders gauge where teams are on what the company calls the emotion curve. The tool offers guidance on small adjustments that can shift results. “As a leader, it is important to understand the human impact of change,” Korn Ferry advises.
ISBN Past President Rhoda Olsen, vice chair of Great Clips board of directors, agrees. She constantly skims and reviews content from Korn Ferry and other HR-focused companies, as well as research-driven and case study sources like the Harvard Business Review, and often passes along articles she finds valuable or that challenge her thinking to team members and peers, including her ISBN network.
“One of the most important things business leaders can do, especially now, is to identify resources that add value and share them,” Olsen says.
.ISBN members letting each other know what their organizations have tried and what works is one of the most valuable year-round benefits of the association, as became particularly evident during the onset of the pandemic. ISBN members, including Olsen, were among the first to step up and volunteer for industry-wide webinars, sharing what they had learned or were doing to manage through first the COVID-19 shutdown and then the reopening processes. Many members have since shared stories of countless phone calls and emails exchanged between ISBN friends or connections first made at a previous ISBN Conference, ultimately becoming virtual lifelines, too.
Accepting and Leveraging Emotion
In general and across all business categories, people are having difficulty with the extra intensity and emotion the pandemic experience keeps generating, Olsen says.
“At Great Clips, we are in a better position because we already accept, acknowledge and appreciate that there is emotion in every business,” Olsen says. “We don’t get thrown off by it. We know we are better off trying to harness rather than ignore emotion.”
Being a “feeling, caring organization” is one of Great Clips’ greatest attributes, Olsen believes, explaining that from the very beginning of the COVID crisis, the company has leveraged emotion to help franchisees, stylists and customers get through it.
“Overcommunicating during a crisis is a strength,” Olsen says. “We had messages and updates going out every single day at the beginning.”
Tapping emotion doesn’t mean glossing over difficulties, though. An executive’s role is to provide brutal reality and hope at the same time. “You have to acknowledge the struggle, but help your team move forward and stay positive. Share the fact that numbers are down, for instance, but also that you have a plan to rebuild and move forward with even more passion and, with their help, the company can be stronger than before.”
One thing to avoid: any promises or wishes of getting “back to normal.” Businesses that don’t learn, adapt and grow from these challenging times aren’t going to stay competitive or even survive, Olsen says.
“Paint a clear picture of how you are going forward,” she reiterates, even if it has to be in smaller steps or time increments than your group is used to plotting. Balancing emotion and predictability (forecasting) is key. “At Great Clips, we would go week by week, coaching franchisees and stylists to aim to do a few more customers next week than we saw last week” and keep building, Olsen says. “It’s discouraging to put forth goals that aren’t achievable.”
Hope for the Holidays
While sticking to the one-step-at-a-time strategy and remaining ready to pivot, Great Clips is sharing optimism, setting what Olsen describes as a relatively aggressive goal for the two weeks before Christmas.
“We are painting a hopeful picture and trying to generate some positive emotion around the holidays,” based on positive signs. “We are saying we want two great weeks, the ones ending December 18 and December 25.”
Olsen admits these are pretty simple targets and metrics for someone who could “go on for days” about different data sets and metrics she would typically want to mine and pore over months prior and throughout the holidays and year-round to drive business.
“Like a lot of our ISBN organizations, we’ve gotten pretty sophisticated with analytics and goals, and used those numbers and results to create emotion around success and achievement,” she says. For the situation salons find themselves in right now, however, Olsen says they’ve learned to simplify what to focus on and share, emphasizing only the most essential goal: customer counts.
Emotion and the Long Haul
While focusing on short-term goals, it’s of course important to think about the bigger picture and how to coach and connect with your team over time.
“This is a long-term crisis that leaders have to learn to manage and navigate through,” Olsen says. “We have 1,000 franchisees with individual businesses, and we are very overt with each of them about emotion playing a role. Franchisees or managers will often comment about issues that fit under the umbrella, “I’m not sure what I should do about this issue, but I know I should do something,“ she says. “We have a structure and tools built around emotional intelligence and EQI (emotional quotient inventory) to help as we encourage them to be responsible and stay open with their team.”
One effective step Great Clips leaders took as locations reopened nationwide was to show up and be present. Great Clips CEO Steve Hockett, President Rob Goggins, Olsen and others make a habit to stop into local salons whenever traveling, to listen to stylists and thank them.
“We have the right protocols, masking and sanitation practices and we have 33,000 stylists back to work,” she says. “Being available in the salon increases trust and helps your associates feel more comfortable.”
Today, comfort and safety are metrics worth monitoring.