Leading from your Living Room

  1. Leading from your Living Room

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    I don’t know about you, but these have been a long six weeks. With all my employees working from home (except Sam), it has certainly challenged my leadership skills. Now more than ever, I am so grateful I graduated from the California Agricultural Leadership Program (albeit 20 years ago) and the Cornell University Executive Leadership Program as I believe I gained important skills that I am relying on to guide my company and my team.

    While sugar coating things is never very useful from a business perspective, the tone to strike during a crisis is one of optimism balanced with realism. It does not matter if you lead a small team of 5 or a large team of 500, we are all facing challenges that are unique to this crisis. With most of our state, country and world sheltering-in- place, this is a rare moment when the entire planet is having a collective shared experience.

    Here are some ideas that you may find helpful in adjusting to what everyone is calling a “new” normal as we find ourselves leading from our living rooms, kitchens or home offices.

    The first and possibly the most important thing is Self-care. Without your health and well-being, how can you possibly lead effectively? Try hard to not isolate yourself, as that only will increase the stress you are feeling. Take time to read, walk, exercise, meditate, pray, and most importantly connect with others. This is also a great time to learn from leaders of the past, who were also tested during times of crisis. This is an extremely stressful time, there is no denying that. As someone who has definitely been on the verge of tears at times during these trying times, know that you can always call me if you feel the desire to connect with an empathic person.

    Try to establish a normal routine. It may not be what you have done in the past, but make your new routine as normal as possible. For me it has been walking to Starbucks in the Taylor Building every day at approximately 10:45 am. If you want to join me (at a distance) give me a call. If you are working from home, resist the urge to say in your PJ’s and get dressed. Especially if you are Zooming or Skyping a lot. Get up every morning with purpose and focus. This will help your team function with determination. The old “lead by example.”

    Find new ways to be more open to your team. Having an open-door policy has now shifted to an open-channel strategy. Being available to your team on multiple channels is critical especially for teams that typically don’t engage with technology. For example, in addition to my phone, I am texting, Slacking, and Google Messaging with my team. Consider having open video hours which will allow team members to “drop-in” during designated times. At TMD we have our regular staff meeting on Monday where we review projects and priorities. On Tuesday and Thursday, we have what I have called “welfare check-ins.” During these check-ins we just listen and have compassion for each other. On Friday, we have a virtual “happy hour” at the end of the day.

    Fine tune your perspective. One of the byproducts of this crisis and shared experience is people are coming together (philosophically) with greater empathy.  Empathizing with each other’s unique set of challenges is so important. It is my hope that if we as a society/industry/business practice empathy well, it will become more commonplace. Let’s admit it, our world was getting a little hard, polarized, and perhaps lacking tolerance.  As business leaders it is our responsibility to ensure the health of our people while balancing the health of our enterprises.

    At this moment in our collective history, blind optimism is irresponsible, as is heavy negativity. The tone to strike with our teams during the crisis is one of optimism balanced with realism. This situation we find ourselves in will greatly change strategies and plans to protect our people and business. It may be hard to see, but there will be silver linings in our present crisis. Perhaps we will see healthier policies, new societal values, new ways of working and a renewed emphasis on innovation. It is most important to be clear, direct and transparent with your team as they ask hard questions about the impact to the business. Remember the best leaders are often forged in fire.

    I pray that we will come through this crisis stronger, more resilient and more innovative. I am also hopeful that we will emerge more compassionate and empathic. We can strive to engage with positive energy, lend a helping hand to others who may need it, and ensure that your leadership teams have the information they need to make wise decisions.

    A final thought. Support small businesses, we are the backbone of our nation.

    Many Blessings,
    Nicholas M. Pasculli

  2. What’s Next for Brands & Your Business

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    Spending my shelter-in-place time educating myself has been one benefit of our current national situation. My focus has been on learning things I can share with you on multiple levels. I have written about the personal side of this crisis, the social aspects, the business implications and from a perspective of looking forward beyond COVID-19. Looking forward is something I have always enjoyed doing, in particular as I try to recognize trends before they happen to give our clients a competitive advantage.

    History and research clearly has shown, marketers who keep spending during downturns fare much much better than those who don’t. 

    Now that consumer panic buying seems to have peaked [ I have seen toilet paper on shelf 🙂 ], brand panic from a business perspective may have just begun, because many brands including, the industries we serve, have slashed spending. Nonprofits in particular are being hard hit. However, we have to recommend that businesses and nonprofits resist this temptation. There has been an abundance of research that points to the fact that brands cutting spending now will have a harder time when recovery comes. Despite the unprecedented disruption in our collective lives, the current crisis is also creating opportunities for brands.

    As business people, paying close attention to local, regional and national economic cues are important. For example, Goldman Sachs is projecting a 34% decline in 2nd quarter GDP. In addition to the US Department of Labor as of last week, unemployment claims hit 22 million. Understanding these details and their implications makes us better planners and prepares us for what may lie ahead. With that there are some things that marketing experts and economists agree business leaders should try to resist.

    Resist Cutting Marketing now – as it will have long-term effects

    In a survey last week by a leading research firm RSW/US they found that 9% of marketers have cut all spending, another 29% have “greatly reduced it” and another 31% have “somewhat reduced it.” Instead of taking such drastic measures, experts recommend (if at all possible) maintaining your pre COVID-19 posture. It is a well known fact that consumers are drawn to trusted and known brands in challenging times.

    Time to Change the Message

    Brands that have continued to invest in marketing have changed their messages. Now is the time to focus on showing gratitude to your customers, employees and community in your marketing messages. Empathy goes a long way in the trust matrix.

    Changing the Channel

    Ok, so the shops, stores, or service businesses physical locations are closed, it is high time to open your virtual business and shift to e-commerce. Web searches for products and services are up in huge numbers. Are your websites and social media channels tuned up to the point that your products or services can be easily found? A question we can answer if given the proper time to do an analysis and implement sound, time tested recommendations. You would be amazed at how many companies Google listings’ contain numerous inaccuracies. Preliminary research is indicating that consumers flocking to the internet will continue even after shelter-in-place is lifted. Don’t get left behind.

    Look for New Opportunities

    Direct to consumer is here to stay. This has implications for every industry segment including produce. As many as 44% of consumers recently bought something new online because they could not find what they wanted in a brick and mortar store (research by AcuPOLL). In economic terms that means finding a perfect substitute.

    Despite all the stress and anxiety we all are feeling, I am turning that energy into looking for ways to improve, grow and differentiate. My hope is that in writing these articles it will inspire you to do the same. Hold your nerve, this will pass, and we’ll be on the road to recovery.

    Stay tuned for next week when I will discuss leadership from your living room.


  3. Trends that will Endure

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    Dear Clients, Partners and Friends of TMD,

    Since the shelter in place order was issued, I find myself doing a great deal of reading in the evenings and on weekends. I recently read an article in Advertising Age Magazine that discusses 5 Consumers Trends that will endure after COVID-19. These trends are very relevant to business and I want to share some insights I have had after reading the article.

    It is remarkable how the U.S. population has so readily and instinctively changed behavior in ways that will likely have lasting implications for brands. With these changes there are opportunities but also cautions for marketers, and we are all marketers.

     “When there are serious changes in lifestyle and life circumstances, there is a fairly dramatic change in preferences for brands that consumers use, and their perceptions about those brands,” says Peter Noel Murry, who runs his own consumer psychology practice in New York.

    As we plan for the future, we might do well to consider the following trends from Advertising Age, which experts expect to outlive COVID-19.

    1. Time-tested brands will shine
    As consumers change to adopt new behaviors and habits, they’re sticking by the brands they’ve long trusted to get them through and beyond the crisis. There will be a change from “novel and trendy” to “tried and true” will make it difficult for new brands to launch in this environment. The older brands/companies that have been around a long time have built the emotional brand equity up over generations.

    2. DIY gains ground
    Consumers are using their time at home to learn new skills, like cooking (pay attention Produce Companies), baking gardening and many more DIY activities. Food purchasing in the last two week has far exceeded typical Thanksgiving shopping. Bottom line is that we are going to see more people become self-reliant. This could forever change the restaurant and hospitality industry. Recently I attended a webinar and one of the speakers suggested that the restaurant industry may only recover to about 75-80% of what it was prior to the pandemic. 

    3. Comfort with digital offerings
    As media and research companies adjust from live events to virtual ones, so are consumers adjusting to digitizing their behavior. Some demographics, like older consumers who may have been unconformable are quickly adapting to making on-line purchases, especially for groceries and other necessities. Once they fall into a new routine  and get used to the ease of delivery at their door it may be hard pressed to return to brick-and-mortar, experts say. Think about the implications for the construction industry and even supermarkets. The medical industry is not immune to the change, especially as services like Teledoc become more accessible. If you didn’t think telemedicine was here to stay, think again. 

    4. Flexible work arrangements
    Many expect the current situation of so many Americans working from home will lead to a dramatic shift into more flexible  work arrangements as employers realize it’s not necessary to have everyone in the office to get things done. Employers may find significant benefits to employees working at home, not to mention the need for less office space, thus reducing overhead costs like rent and utilities. 

    5. Safety wins over privacy
    While consumers have grown more protective of their privacy and personal data in recent years, experts say that is changing during the current crisis. Many are deferring to the government and those in leadership positions to keep them safe even if it means giving up on their own privacy in the process. (I don’t know about you, but this trend makes me uncomfortable)

    So, what’s next for brands? I will discuss what I see happening next in my next message to you. In the meantime, stay safe and healthy.

    Nicholas M. Pasculli
    President & CEO

  4. Positively Looking Forward Together

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    I am not sure I can say with confidence that we are adjusting to the situation we find ourselves in, however, it has given me time to think and faithfully look forward. Juinpero Serra, founder of the California Mission system (now St. Serra) said: “Always look forward, never look back.” Perhaps this is a message we can all collectively hold on to. With that said, I am committed to looking forward and helping others do the same. I want to remind you we are here for you and ready to help.

    I recently read an article recommended by one of my employees (Fran Murillo), from Harvard Business Review. The article is entitled, “Ensure That Your Customer Relationships Outlast Coronavirus.” I would like to share some highlights with you. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced our businesses to maintain and build relationships with consumers when their world has been upended. Businesses are now facing tension between generating sales during a period of extreme economic hardship and respecting the threats to life and livelihood that have altered consumer priorities and preferences.

    (excerpts from the article)

    This tension is very real, particularly for newer ventures or smaller businesses that provide discretionary products and may not have the resources to survive long periods of severely diminished cash flow. So, what can smaller, newer, more vulnerable businesses do to strengthen relationships with consumers when social distancing has minimized or eliminated personal interaction? 

    “Harvard Business Review writers, drawing on nearly 70 years of combined experience in business practice, research, and education, have found that five key strategies help companies weather crises and preserve their bonds with consumers:

    Humanize your company

    Educate about change

    Assure stability

    Revolutionize offerings

    Tackle the future

    These strategies are part of what they call the HEART framework of sustained crisis communication. It provides guidelines on what to say — and what not to say — to consumers during a sustained crisis. It emphasizes making current and potential customers aware of your company’s plan for supporting them and providing new value that they might require.

    Humanize your company.
    Let consumers know that your company understands the dire social circumstances at play and cares about more than simply reaping profit during this difficult time. Empathize with those affected by Covid-19, and spell out the steps you are taking to help customers, employees, and other stakeholders. Your company’s social media sites and customer mailing lists are ideal vehicles for doing this. 

    Educate consumers about how to interact with your company.
    Tell them about all changes to your operation, including new hours, facility closures, staff reductions, customer service availability, and ordering options, among others. While you can reference the emergency government regulations that necessitated these changes, it’s far better if you are viewed as being proactive and motivated by your customers’ best interests.

    Assure consumers the company’s values will continue.
    Elaborate how, despite the upheaval in how you operate, you will continue to provide the things they have come to know and love — the defining reasons they patronize your business instead of others. If consumers value the impeccable quality of your wares or the thoughtful nature of your customer service, tell them how you will maintain those value propositions.

    Revolutionize what consumers value about your business.
    Sun Tzu, who penned The Art of War, recognized that chaos presents opportunity for innovation. This sentiment has reverberated through the ages. Beyond assuring customers that your company’s existing value propositions will remain the same, tell them what innovations have arisen from dealing with the ongoing pandemic — after all, necessity is the mother of invention.

    Tackle the future.
    Establish a timeline for when you will reevaluate the changes to your company’s operations. While you must comply with any government-imposed limits, do more if you can afford it. Show customers that you are willing to go beyond what you need to do for their benefit, particularly if your company can handle the financial burden.If you would like a copy of the full article, go to our Blog on your website or you can email me and I will gladly share it with you. In the words of Albert Einstein; “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.

    Download Article:
    Ensure That Your Customer Relationships Outlast Coronavirus