The two-month, state-mandated shutdown was long. Her re-opening plan was solid, with the proper cleaning, PPE and social distancing protocols in place. The checklists, set up of supplies and training were all implemented with forethought, precision and compassion. Employees and customers were both in for a CDC-compliant in-store experience. She had exercised leadership through a very difficult time in her business, and I was certain she was well prepared. So when I spoke with her after three days back “in business” I was surprised to learn the truth.
“Opening day was stressful. I felt good about our preparation during the shutdown. The whole week prior to re-opening, we went over the new procedures. We role-played to get the hang of the new protocols. All the stations and PPE materials were set up and ready to go. Then the doors opened and we fell apart. It was a totally different ballgame. The customers were very receptive to the temperature scans and the mask, hand-sanitizing and then gloving up. It was the staff that fell apart.”
Tracey’s experience is typical of many, doing their best to balance concerns over COVID-19 with the need for a financial restart. She had carefully prepared, following state and federal safety guidelines. She conferred with industry peers to glean best practices. Her staff worked well as a team preparing, practicing and role-playing their new protocols.
Change is Hard
“It was like buying a new pair of shoes that are just right when you try them on at the store, but after an hour you’ve kicked them off under your desk. They looked great at the store – they just didn’t feel right when you put them in motion.”
Going live was different than anyone anticipated. Tracey and her team got some really important things wrong.
“We stumbled with remembering our new procedures …We missed a few keyboard cleans and phone disinfects. At one point we allowed more than the maximum six customers in the store. The staff was on edge, frustrated that we weren’t nailing it when we were so well-prepared.
In speaking with others who are early to experience re-opening, I learned that many businesses had more customers than anticipated the first day. “They came in packs which unnerved the sales team,” as Tracey reported. The second and third days were slower after the euphoria of freedom from isolation wore off. It gave her team some time to regroup.
Stop. Reflect. Refocus.
Don’t be surprised if you experience the same thing (if you haven’t already). It is only natural that operating in a new environment, attempting to create new habits and awareness, takes time. It takes time, practice, and reinforcement to get into a new groove.
What are the important things leaders can do now? Lead by example and encourage a culture of observation and improvement. Demonstrate that it’s everybody’s job to help each other get into a new rhythm. Here are some tips to reduce mistakes and lessen stress levels.
Create a culture of observation
Debrief customer interactions as quickly possible (preferably after each customer but at the end of day 1, at least)
Set clear goals
How will you know when the new way of doing things has become habit?
Reinforce and retrain
– Review procedures daily before opening or at start of each shift
Conduct daily self-assessments
Have each employee (including and especially you) complete a checklist at the end of the day assessing how consistently they met each significant standard (hand washing, sanitizing areas, monitoring customer count in store, informing customers of protocols, proper use of PPE, etc.). Refer to your pre-opening checklists and trainings for the items to be assessed. Have them score their behavior in each area on a scale such as 1 to 5 and total their score for the day. If you’re concerned they won’t be candid, have each person assess someone else on the team.
Appoint a safety captain to manage the culture, reinforcement and self-assessments. This should be someone who can motivate AND correct without killing morale.
Focus on the goal
Ask “How are we doing on our goal to make the new routines habits?
Reinforce and retrain (again)
Hold weekly meetings to review self-assessment scores and trends. Celebrate success. Brainstorm improvements. Revisit training.
Emphasize the importance of safety from the top down. Give formal and informal recognition of what’s going right as often as possible. Create incentives for improvement (either team or individual).
“After a few days now we are starting to get into the rhythm of things. We are definitely having an easier time following all the required measures and it is starting to feel more natural.
Change is stressful always, and this is an especially stressful time for everyone. Take compliance seriously while doing what you can to make things light and fun. Help your team and co-workers relax more and stress less. Relaxed people perform better.
If you’re still working on your pre-opening plan, developing safety protocols and procedures, refer to our recent article for resources, “So Your Governor Says You Can Open, Now What?”.