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Lessons from Wentworth by the Sea

The power of dreams, community, customer service, and customer retention

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Come join me at a remarkable hotel. The Wentworth by the Sea was a grand New Hampshire fixture through much of the 20th century. Home to the peace talks that ended the Russo-Japanese War, everyone who was anyone stayed there. Movie stars, politicians, the rich and famous—all could be found summering at the Wentworth. Yet the hotel gradually faded and closed its doors in the early 1980s. By the time I first saw it in 1997, all that was left was a rotted, weathered facade. You could see right through it. It was a protected historical landmark, but no one had the time or money to repair it. We sat in our car and dreamed of how wonderful it would be, fully restored.

Last year, while surfing the Web, I found a story that the Wentworth had been purchased. It was being renovated and would be opened under Marriott’s management in May, 2003. I started calling for reservations a year in advance, and arrived on opening day, May 16, 2003, for the hotel’s first weekend in operation.

The weekend was remarkable. Restored, the hotel was beautiful. But even better than the building and the grounds were the people.

The Wentworth’s service was hands-down the best I’d ever had. We were very challenging guests. We forgot clothes in our car. The valet ran out and got them for us. We ran out of gas, and the concierge arranged a refill from a nearby boat marina. We wanted a special dinner on opening night, opposite a hundred person catered function, and the chef treated us to the best meal of our lives. I had stayed in Marriott hotels before and while the service was good, it wasn’t like this. The staff was going far out of their way to provide a superb experience.

What went right

I had to know why, so I spoke to Kris Francis, Marriott’s on-site training manager. In all the hotels she had ever opened, Kris related, the Wentworth was by far the most exceptional.

The Wentworth was more than a hotel to people. It symbolized an era. It was a national landmark, and for years had been a site where locals would drive past and wish for its restoration. People had invested great emotional pride, longing, and energy into the building over the years.

When Marriott announced the restoration, six years before, the hotel’s draw was so great that Marriott employees requested a transfer years in advance to help bring the building back to life. People from as close as nearby Portsmouth and as far away as Key West asked for a spot at the Wentworth. The staff ended up drawing from people for whom the Wentworth is more than just another hotel; it is part of their personal dreams. They are serving far more than just the guests—they are making their own dreams come true.

Of course, Kris assured us, the guests were just as important. People married there decades before came back to enjoy the hotel’s resurrection. Their stories and reverence for the hotel just reinforced the staff’s dedication to making the hotel experience exceptional.

A devoted staff gives great service. Devoted customers make the staff feel great. The staff gives better service, and the customers have a great time. The interaction becomes self-reinforcing. Once the initial delight shifts to business as usual, the Wentworth will have to continue to be run as an excellent business. But with this kind of energy behind the launch, I have few doubts that the Wentworth can be hugely successful again. Heck, I’m looking for an excuse to hold events there!

This week’s action challenge: unite people with a dream

What does your community long for, just beneath the surface? Find out what it would take to offer the community the dream, and engage both the people who will make it happen and the ones who will enjoy it once it’s done. It may be as huge as re-opening a grand hotel, or something as simple as setting up an old fashioned soda fountain for an evening at the local drugstore, or even just restoring a sign by the corner store. Because sometimes it’s just as important to build community as it is to build business.

Linking Leadership and Management with Powerful Strategic Planning

Linking Leadership and Management with Powerful Strategic Planning

from It Takes a Lot More than Attitude…to Lead a Stellar Organization by Stever Robbins

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Leaders set direction, decide acceptable behavior (values), and get people moving towards a common dream. Managers design systems, set goals, track progress, and generally make sure things get done. You need both to create a high-performing organization: knowing where to go, and knowing how to get there.

A lot can go wrong. Weak leadership and the organization can stagger in circles, incoherent and directionless. Weak management and an organization wastes time and money, duplicates effort, and produces far too much (or too little) paperwork. But even strong management and strong leadership can dissolve into chaos without a tight connection translating the leadership direction into management systems. A good strategic plan creates that connection and gives your business traction.

Leadership sets the destination

One company’s vision statement lays out the company’s purpose, vision, and values:

“Our Business is the design and manufacture of impenetrable widgets for renewable energy source control plans. We aspire to become a leading worldwide player where customers love our products and service, and that these are provided at consistently good quality and a fair price.”

Sounds like a great vision. It gives direction to new product development, displays values of customer-orientation and quality, and even lets us know the company’s intended markets. And like most leadership documents, it’s timeless. The company could be living this vision right now, or it could be hopelessly mired, years away from making the vision real. Or the vision might be just nice-sounding words on a boardroom wall, with no link to the business whatsoever.

Ideally, the vision drives strategy. Most business goals serve a higher-level goal. The sales goal “land 10 new clients” is part of the higher goal, “increase market share by 5%.” Strategy sets the highest level management goal.Its guidance comes straight from the vision and mission of the company—which is where leadership resides.

Strategy is a map for achieving the vision, but creating a realistic timetable and action plan requires a map and a route. To choose a route, you need both a destination and a starting point. Leadership sets the destination, and strategic assessment lets you know where you’re starting.

Assessment tells where you are

The better you know your starting point, the better you’re able to create an effective route to your destination. An assessment encompasses what you believe is important in navigating to your vision. Sure, market share and profit goals are common metrics, but aligning an organization must include internal and external assessments:

  • what organizational capabilities exist?
  • what’s your competitive positioning?
  • are partnerships in place? the right ones?
  • do you attract and retain the right employees?
  • does your culture support those employees?
  • do your profitable customers stay with you?
  • does your financial strategy deliver funding when it’s needed?
  • are operational systems delivering product and service properly?

Organizational learning boosts impact

A destination and starting point are enough to chart a course, but they aren’t enough to form the most effective plans. As the highest-leverage activity in a company, strategic planning is where organizational learning has the greatest impact.

When Intuit launched the Quicken visa card, the software-only company learned a lot about what it takes to run an operational service business. The business’s infrastructure was revamped multiple times to make use of lessons learned about reliability, security, and customer service.

No one wants to repeat past mistakes and everyone likes to repeat successes. Most organizations learn a lot, but the learning gets lost. If your strategic planning group spends time sharing lessons of prior years, you’ll end up with goals and plans that bring learning forward.

Well-scoped goals drive success

Set yourself up for success in your goals. If people feel chronically overworked, “stretch” goals may be stretching people too far. Be realistic about what’s possible in a year. Get productivity from ruthless focus on goals that make the most difference, not from ruthless overwork on low-value initiatives.

Productivity goes down under too much stress or too little sleep. If 283 initiatives are essential to reaching goals, change the goals, because you can be sure they’re hopeless. People will be too stressed to do a good job, and consider 283 status meetings each week … it’s simply too horrible to think about.

Underpromise and overdeliver—even when promising yourself.

Plans transition you into management

When it’s finally time to make plans, the transition to management is in full swing. It’s time for management to take the ball and run with it. All the standard planning rules apply:

  • have lots of measurable milestones
  • schedule regular re-planning sessions
  • know your critical paths
  • communicate success criteria clearly
  • coordinate between different groups
  • monitor your plan and adjust as necessary

Leadership remains important

Once the strategic plan is in action, the leadership direction is well on its way to becoming reality. But leadership isn’t over by any stretch of imagination. The leadership job becomes keeping a powerful presence, reminding people of the company’s ultimate destination, values, and reason for existing.

People will get demotivated; the leader re-inspires them. Plans will drift or the world will change; the leader calls for re-examining whether the organization is still on course. The leaders provide the stability of direction and values that free everyone else to make it happen.

Even if the world is wildly different than expected, sound strategic planning will provide the map that aligns your organization behind the leaders’ vision. An aligned, energized organization is more likely to reach the vision, and it will be more fun and more motivating along the way. And at the end of the day, aren’t our lives and work are as much about the journey as the destination?

Putting it into action

  • Do the people in your company share a common idea of the business’s direction? If not, choose a direction and start going for it!
  • Look around at the initiatives and projects that are under way. Do all have a clear link to your company’s vision/mission? If not, fix it.
  • Do people seem overworked? Do the research to discover whether goals are poorly scoped, whether the plans to reach those goals are simply bad plans, and whether productivity is suffering from plain old overload. Incorporate that learning into your next planning session.
  • The next time you start planning, ask yourself whether you know your goals and your current situation, measured along all relevant external and internal dimensions.
  • Above all, think, then jump. Planning is important, and so is execution. Most of us prefer one or the other, and we get mired in endless plans or senseless execution. Really think about yourself and your organization and make sure you’re striking the right balance. A week of planning is more valuable than a year of action in the wrong direction.

Take Responsibility as a Leader Before It Takes You!

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We all love to take credit when things go right, and shift the blame when things go wrong. It’s especially tempting as a leader. The leader is perfectly positioned to blame just about anyone and anything when things go wrong. “The market is down.” “That clerk in accounting in incompetent.” “We didn’t count on competition.” “Regulation is unfair.” “The legal department reviewed it before I said it.” Such quotes avoid responsibility, and whether from fear or insecurity, they herald the beginning of the fall from leader to pretender…

This article is continued in “It Takes a Lot More than Attitude … to Lead a Stellar Organization!" Click here to purchase.

Root Your Leadership in a Strong Vision

You Can’t Lead if You Don’t Know Where You’re Going

From my January 2001 newsletter.

Here in America, it was Martin Luther King Day, yesterday. Dr. King was one of the most prominent and revered leaders of the Civil Rights movement in the 60s in America. He spoke passionately about his vision of a country in which white and black people could live side-by-side, without skin color blinding us to each other’s value. His most famous speech is his “I have a Dream” speech, which painted his vision clearly and forcefully, and remains to this day one of the most inspiring speeches I’ve ever read.

Dr. King’s leadership was partially based on his personal charisma and inspiration, which he used to forge a vision that has long outlived him. This “visionary” style of leadership is very powerful; it gives people a powerful sense of direction along with an idea of what to expect once they arrive. Creating and conveying a vision relies on passion. If a vision doesn’t engage people emotionally, it won’t be a powerful motivator…

This article is continued in “It Takes a Lot More than Attitude … to Lead a Stellar Organization!" Click here to purchase.

How to Appreciate Your People

Create a Culture in Which Recognition is Ongoing

From my March 2000 Newsletter, on creating a culture motivating to employees.

A management team was wondering how to recognize their employees and appreciated publicly. It’s a great question to be asking, and a company that does a good job will create a wonderful culture. Let‘s go one step further and ask: how can we simply create a day-to-day work environment which gives that recognition? Public appreciation is nice, but it’s infrequent and often has an aura of “special event” to it. In my experience coaching, I find that people need a boost on an ongoing basis. In the best places in my own career, appreciation wasn’t a special event—it was part of our day-to-day living.

How to recognize your employees for doing a great job? One overlooked strategy is simply complimenting the person in the course of day-to-day work. Drop by their desk and tell them how great they’ve been. Public appreciation is great, but in my experience as a coach, I find that people also need little appreciative gestures on an ongoing basis:

  • when someone stays late, let them know you appreciate it.
  • when someone rearranges their personal life to accommodate work, thank them.
  • treat your team to a meal spontaneously.
  • give people a day off or a trip someplace cool. (needn’t be expensive, just fun)
  • buy your techies that fun new software package they want to play with [even though it has no business value].
  • listen to your employees’ opinions and consider the possibility that when you disagree, they may be right.
  • putting a huge stuffed animal on their chair to hug them when they arrive in the morning.
  • gift certificates to a movie. end meetings on time [shows respect for peoples’ time].
  • never schedule Monday meetings before 10 am, or Friday meetings after 3 pm [I would suggest never scheduling ANY meetings before 10 am or after 4 pm, since otherwise you risk having your night people / morning people only half-there].

Balance Rights with Responsibilities

Creating Your Bill of Responsibility

From my April, 2001 newsletter

Do you have a personal Bill of Responsibility, as a business leader? It’s an intriguing concept. Allow me to explain…

In America, we businesspeople happily ask a lot from our employees. Everyone I know accepts the need for unpaid "crunch time" before a deadline, even though "crunch time" means a project management failure. And does "crunch time" become less common over time? Rarely. And we as business leaders are responsible for the failure to learn. But we expect employees to give from their personal lives to compensate for a company’s poor management.

But we rarely hold ourselves to as high a standard…

This article is continued in “It Takes a Lot More than Attitude … to Lead a Stellar Organization!" Click here to purchase.

Five Great Ways to Tank Customer Loyalty Before It's Begun

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Don’t the best relationships begin with tricks, manipulation, and deception? You’d think so, from the way some companies treat new customers. We all want strong relationships; they lead to loyalty and word of mouth. The buzz builds, and soon you’re thriving. Customers stay because they love us (who can compete with love?) and Life is Good. As with any relationship, beginnings are fragile. Missteps up front can set the stage for arms-length engagement forever. Here are a few mistakes you’ve either made or been victim of, and what to do instead to have the best chances of keeping your customers.

Mistake #1: Collecting Customer Information Before Establishing Customer Loyalty

I needed a quote from an article in a famous business daily newspaper. The business daily was happy to let me search their last month’s archive, but first I had to register, giving them personal information up front. A common practice, but how stupid. Sure, they want to market to me. But didn’t I come to their site on my own? They have my awareness already. The free offer isn’t so free. They want contact info in return. Why would they want my info, except to send me junk mail? Oh boy, I can hardly wait!

If you promise a free offer and want to capture customer information before you deliver, make the information capture optional. Most people will be happy to share their contact information with you. After all, they’re there because they hope you’ll solve their problem.

Strong relationships are built on understanding each other’s needs and filling them so well both parties want to stay. At first contact, fill their needs first. Then you’ve earned the right to ask further questions and explore how to get what you want.

This is an introduction, so ask only for information needed to deliver the free offer. If you’re mailing something, you’ll need a person’s mailing address. Ask for it. But stop there. Keep questions respectful. Quizzing someone about their household income before you know them is tasteless and rude, no matter how much you like voyeurism.

If you ask personal questions before you’ve earned the right, people will lie. Even about phone numbers. When a stranger asks for your number and won’t take “no” for an answer, you give them a fake one. And probably a fake name. And an address in Poughkeepsie. Spending a little time to earn trust before asking is the best way to start any relationship.

Mistake #2: Making Customers “Opt-out” of Loyalty Programs

Unfortunately, the quote wasn’t in the one-month archive. But to search last year’s archives required signing up for a free two-week trial of the publication. My trial was active within a few hours. After finishing the search, my day moved on and the incident was forgotten. Two weeks later, a receipt arrived from nowhere informing me my credit card had been charged $30 for “change in account status.”

“Try for two weeks and cancel before we start charging” is a great way to generate active hostility. The free trial is nice. The burden of having to remember the trial expiration is not. If a customer intends to cancel, hoping they forget the due date and get tricked into taking your product isn’t going to inspire fierce devotion and a desire to purchase more. At best, they’ll feel like they screwed up. At worse, they’ll blame you. Do you really want people choosing between shame and anger as how they feel about your company?

The same thing happens with opt-out marketing lists. “Check here if you don’t want us to share your personal purchase data with everyone from General Electric to David Letterman.” Face it: people (except a few fanatical direct-mail marketers) don’t want more junk mail, no matter how profitable it is for you to send it. Making them “opt out” demonstrates that you act only in your own interests unless a customer takes the initiative to have their needs considered.

The daily business site did an especially bad job, because the first reminder of the trial expiration was the charge receipt. What’s worse, the site gave no instructions for canceling a trial before it became real.

If you’re going to offer people a trial that turns into commitment, warn them before the transition. Otherwise, people convert by fiat. If you’d rather have them convert out of enthusiastic satisfaction, spend the trial period giving them value, value, value. Teach them to use your product better. Give them tips about how many problems they can solve forever with just your product and a bag of odds-and-ends they can find around the home. Then let them know the transition is coming up, and only then start charging.

Moving from dating to marriage should require ceremony in any relationship. Sure, if you shack up together for a while, you’re married under common law. But make sure you check in together before it becomes real. Accidental marriage is no fun for either party.

Mistake #3: Not Planning for Separation (Loyalty isn’t always forever)

Well, there was no obvious way to back out of my trial. The “My Account” section of the web site let me modify my account settings and include all kinds of add-ons to my subscription. There was no way to cancel, however, nor did anything in the help file mention canceling. It took a half-hour on the web site, plus calls and emails to customer service before the charge was removed.

What were they thinking? “Gee, if we make it hard to cancel, someone who wants out will just knuckle-under and keep paying us forever?” The marketing genius who came up with that one should be put out of their misery. Making it hard to cancel won’t stop a customer from leaving; it just adds frustration. People leave for all kinds of reasons. They might come back. Don’t guarantee their last memories of you are of trickery and manipulation.

And make it easy for customers to leave and return. Many relationships are paradoxically strengthened when the parties involved feel as if they have the freedom to leave.

“If you want a customer very much, let them go free. If they come back, it was meant to be-treasure them forever.”

— Random New Age Quote

“…If they do not, sell their name and address to your direct marketing partners, because at that point, you have nothing to lose.”
— Marketing addendum to Random New Age Quote

Mistake #4: Making bad first impressions.

While waiting for my subscription refund, I bought new backup software. Installing it took half an hour and then it wouldn’t run. Reading the fine print, it seems I was supposed to bring my system “up to date” before installing. In plain English: download 100 Mb of software updates from Microsoft and install them all. No way. Not until I can afford to go computerless for a week while my tech person fixes everything the updates broke. The backup software went back to the store, amidst grumbling over the lost time.

Those pesky customers. They buy your product, take it home, and expect it to work. When they find no batteries included with their new $180 MP3-player, they curse, scream, and run out to buy the $2 extra batteries. How unreasonable can they get?

When I worked at Intuit, we followed customers home and watched them struggle with our product from purchase until successful use. We quickly learned to streamline the purchase and installation until it was ran as smoothly as melted Velveeta on nachos . We identified everything a customer would need to use our product and make sure it was all included or clearly identified before purchase.

Trying and buying a product is your customer’s first impression of you. Orchestrate it carefully; first impressions count. It’s worth doing whatever it takes to make their experience a joy. It may mean more work for you, but if it gets you a customer for life, it’s probably worth it. We recently bought a manual lawn mower that assembled with no tools and needed a single sheet of instructions to master. We’ve already recommended it to friends. You can bet when it needs replacing we’ll stick with the same brand.

Remember when you picked up your spouse for your first date. Were your first words, “By the way, the car is out of gas. Here’s the gas can. Why don’t you run out and snag a gallon while I wait here with your parents?” Of course not. You are smarter than that when it comes to personal relationships. Be smart in business, too. Include the $2 batteries in your $180 MP3-player.

Mistake #5: Invading personal space

I signed up years ago for a marketing newsletter with a man rumored to be one of the most famous, successful marketing consultants of all time. Imagine my delight when I’ve received great offers directed to his “exclusive inner circle of personally important customers.” My delight was diminished just a bit by the letter having been addressed to “Dear Nospam-marketing@LeadershipDecisionworks.com.” Personal friends? Exclusive inner circle? I think not.

Just don’t do it. Computers may provide “mass customization,” but your customers know that. They own laser printers, too. Fake friendliness won’t impress them. If your letters aren’t hand-signed by someone whose name they know, they won’t believe for a moment that they’re any more special than anyone else. They just believe you have a good mail merge program.

If you waste your “Dear close friend” on people you barely know, you do a double disservice. First, you make it hard to make your true close friends feel special. How do you start the letter, “Dear close friend-no, I mean it this time, you really are a close friend”? I don’t think so. You also deliver the reek of insincere carnival con-man to your customers. They know they aren’t your close friend. Don’t insult them by presuming you can play off a relationship that doesn’t exist. If this is a new customer, don’t be afraid to admit it. After all, they’re under no illusions that you’ve been friends for life. Just say “Dear new customer, here’s a chance to meet your needs for marketing advice!” A little refreshing honesty can work wonders.

Honesty is the foundation for great relationships. Even if you can get away with pretending closeness where none exists, think twice. If the truth comes out, it could be worse than playing it slow to begin with. Just ask any pair of identical twins who pulled the dating switch-a-roo back in high school. It might have been fun for an evening, but once the truth came out, they found themselves suddenly single.

Business leadership is first and foremost about forging relationships. You’ll be most successful when you build those relationships to last. Customer relationships are only part of the story. You also have relationships with employees, vendors, and investors. The same principles apply everywhere: give good first impressions, answer their needs before pushing your own, respect their personal space, and make it easy for them to pull back to their own comfort level. It takes a bit longer than just charging ahead, but anticipation is, they say, the spice of life!

Tragedy Helps us Lead

Terrorism can help us find our inspirational self

Like most people, the WTC bombing left me stunned, confused, and horrified. For the last three days, I’ve watched the news, listlessly done some work, and listened in shock to our national leaders declaring war. Today, I had another shock as I listened to the radio discuss an intercepted memo, leaked from an organization with members in countries around the world. The memo laid out the advantages to killing more than 20,000 foreign civilians. It wasn’t until the end of the news report that I realized… the company was Philip Morris, analyzing how much money early smoking deaths would save the Czech Republic in federal pensions.

As horrible as the WTC bombing was, I left lunch numbed by the behavior of our own countrymen. It is horrible to kill quickly, motivated by hatred and religious fanaticism. Is it somehow better to kill slowly, motivated by profit?

As businesspeople, we represent our country and our values to the rest of the world. Diplomats talk to other diplomats. Businesspeople reach everyone.

Whether you read my list as an entrepreneur, as an aspiring leader, or just as a bystander, take this opportunity to dig beneath your outrage. Beneath it all, you’ll find what you Stand For. Was your sense of security shaken by the bombing? Then you stand for Security. Were you filled with fear for your children, then you stand for Safety. Were you upset by the lives cut short? Then you stand for Leading a Fulfulling Life.

As a future leader, entrepreneur, manager, or human being, begin incorporating your values explicitly into your life. Stand For What’s Important. Ask daily how you can contribute to Security around the world. Question how you can do your part to help people be Safe. Help those around you Lead Fulfilling Lives. Whatever you Stand For, bring it into your life, every day.

You truly rise above yourself and begin to create a stronger, more powerful world when you operate from and act on your values. As horrible as this disaster has been, use the horror to find the good. Find your passion. Live it. Inspire those around you, and create a better world. There will always be those who bring pain to the world. Be someone who brings progress and advancement.

Best wishes,


Management Skill vs. Leadership Skill

A growing business needs both Leadership and Management to thrive

The best companies have managers with strong leadership skill and superb management skill. But when chaos strikes, you can’t always concentrate on both. (It might even be a luxury to concentrate on either for more than an hour at a time!) But what are you losing when you neglect one or the other? Both are essential for keeping a solid foundation during rapid change. But how?

Processes Must Adapt as Business Grows

Management helps the business grow.

This article is continued in “It Takes a Lot More than Attitude … to Lead a Stellar Organization!" Click here to purchase.

Step up to Leadership in Times of War

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The war has begun. Times are scary. People are angry, frightened, uncertain, and need direction. For most people, uncertainty makes them feel afraid, anxious, and helpless. People just can’t go about their lives as normal. They may put on a brave face, but they won’t be concentrating, they won’t be committed; they’ll just be going through the motions. In the coming weeks, people will need leadership more than ever. Your opportunity will be helping employees, families, and communities keep their center and live their lives while the drama unfolds around the world.

Help manage emotions using empathy

First of all, let people vent. People need to talk about what’s happening to deal with the feelings. Some people need a lot of time to process strong emotion, possibly days or weeks. Others can get up and keep going after a day or two. There’s little to be gained by letting people wallow excessively in emotion, but listening to them empathetically can make a huge difference.

To listen empathetically, acknowledge the events that brought up the emotion and asking about the feelings. You aren’t seeking to understand or fix; just to be there with a person in their feelings. “When you hear war has broken out, do you feel afraid?” Let them talk. If they mention their family, follow up with: “When you think about the future, are you concerned for your children?”

The key is to inquire with genuine concern(1), but let them direct the conversation. Keep your attention on the events and the feelings, rather than getting sucked in to analysis or attempts to comfort. Don’t take sides! Everyone has strong feelings about the situation, and your leadership task is giving people what they need, not engaging them in political debate.

Whether their fears are grounded doesn’t matter; emotion is rarely swayed by logic. Just be there, emotionally. It may take 30 seconds or three hours, but you’ll see a physical shift when your listener has had enough empathy to start moving through their feelings.

Provide certainty by facing the truth

Once their immediate fear is past, people need to re-establish a feeling of certainty. You can’t give certainty about the world, but you can give them certainty about values, goals, and local concerns. Forget statements like, “Don’t worry, it will all be over in a week.” That may or may not be true, and they know it. Tell the truth, and give certainty in the form of a role model who sees the world clearly and still moves ahead with life: “We’re at war. We don’t know the outcome. We don’t even know the timeframe of the outcome. But we can take control of our own lives, here and now.”

Help people take control in their lives

After re-steadying, people will want to regain control of their lives. Find chances for them to take small, meaningful actions, maybe around work, but if not, then around home or community. If your town is like many, people may be afraid of terrorist attacks, yet towns may have few resources in place. For instance, here in Boston, a fire chief said yesterday that the fire department doesn’t know how they would find out about any attacks, except by listening to the radio. This would be a great opportunity to take a half-day off, go to Costco, and help people put together water supplies, dried fruit, etc. They could create a phone tree, and take a proactive hand in feeling safe. Just make sure you’re providing opportunities for people to have control over some aspect of their situation.

Shift attention to the positive future

Once the immediate fears are past, it’s an ideal time to shift people’s attention to the future they will be part of creating.

Start talking about future dreams. You’ll know their concerns by this time, so enlist them in speculation and brainstorming about the kind of future they would be excited about and committed to achieving in the workplace (or in the world!)

Help them take steps here and now to continue living their lives in the service of that larger vision. If your company is devoted to creating intimate lifelong banking relationships with your customers, start asking people, “What does this mean in the world as it’s unfolding? What can we do to make this come about?” But stay aware that this isn’t a planning exercise so much as a way to direct attention towards a bright future.

Ultimately, that’s the most precious thing you can offer your employees, your families, and your communities. You can’t promise a specific future, but you can promise a possibility of future greatness. You can help people take control in small ways, and move on from their fear and anxiety. Because the people around us need direction. They want someone they can count on. Be that someone. Provide the stability, empathy, and direction, and use the current crisis to forge a stronger community.

(1) One of the best techniques for empathetic listening I’ve ever found is called Nonviolent Communication, available at http://www.nonviolentcommunication.com. This article mentions two of the four steps of the full NVC technique. back to article