Leading in uncertain times is every leader’s hot water. Today, Jesse Cole and his special guest, wife, and Director of Fun at Savannah Bananas, Emily Cole, show us how real leaders thrive in any situation thrown at them. They share the behind the scenes with their team in trying to stay needed by their fans and clients. They talk about what they experimented with, what strategies they came up to spread optimism to people, and what they are doing to lift each other up during the pandemic. Their office may have been shut down, but their drive to understand the now versus the future is making their team stronger. Follow along with Jesse and Emily to learn how you, too, can bring efficiency and leadership to the next level.
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Leading In Uncertain Times With Jesse And Emily Cole
I’m sitting with my wife, Emily, in our kitchen during the shutdown. It’s been weeks since we’ve shut down our office because of the Coronavirus pandemic. We want to share what’s happened behind the scenes with our team, the things that we’ve tried out, the things that we are testing and experimenting with and how we’re trying to lead during these uncertain times. Emily’s been here for the whole journey when we first came to Savannah. You could read some previous episodes where we talk about some of the things that we’ve learned over the years. Emily, I want to start from the beginning and share what we’ve gone through in this process. I woke up in the middle of the night at 3:00 in the morning and I was surprised to see you pacing around the living room. It reminded me of when we went through struggles a few years ago. Emily, welcome to this challenging, difficult and interesting time of a show. Go into what was going on in your mind and what you’ve been thinking about.
We are not strangers to difficult times, to needing to scrape by, to running out of money, and to starting businesses. It’s okay. I don’t think we’re as scared as some people expect because we always think, “Let’s bootstrap this. Let’s make this work.” When either of us is ever up pacing in the middle of the night journaling or whatever, it’s to get our thoughts out and to figure out how we can move forward. Neither of us sits back and dwell. What all leaders need to do is not sit and feel sorry for ourselves or have pity parties, but get creative and figure it out. None of us knew this was coming. Nobody thought that they were going to be hit with something like this. We’re not the only ones who’ve been hit. We want to be great examples and leaders. We are not experts by any means but we do want to continue to lead our people the right way because eventually, they are going to go through something in their lifetime when they are bosses and leaders. You and I are constantly striving to be those role models for people. We’re constantly trying to get creative.
We talked about the fun, the craziness and all the wild things that we do at the ballpark. That’s who we are and that’s our brand. It came to a point where I remember when we heard that the President had met with all the different commissioners of the major sports teams and said, “We hope to get sports back going in the fall.” It was the first time that we looked and was like, “We only play in the summer. Our entire business is built on two months of fans, two months of revenue. Whether that’s supporting fifteen full-time employees or 150 part-time. We were both like, “What do we do?” I want to go through the steps that we did to lead starting with our team, going into our approach with our fans and our customers, and then what we’re doing short-term and then also focusing on the future. Let’s go back and talk about the first day when we heard about it and we shut down the office. We made a decision to shut down our office well before Savannah shut down their offices.
That was a unique thing because we shut down voluntarily earlier than we were told we needed to. I remember our president saying it was sad because we are all leaving on such short notice, but it wasn’t sad that we thought this was going to go on for months. We did have everyone clean up their desk areas because we didn’t want anyone to leave snacks on their desk for a couple of weeks. We thought that was going to be the extent of this is just, “We’ll do some calls and work from home for a little bit, but then we’ll get back into the swing of things by April or May. We’ll still have our staff orientations or our players will still get here.”
It was so far out of the realm of possibility that this was going to go into our season time. When we shut down voluntarily, it was just, “Take home some books and whatever files you’re working on,” and that will be it. Even then, the magnitude hadn’t hit us yet. Since then, it has come to, “You’re going to be home for a month, two months. The President of the United States is talking to the commissioners saying there can’t be sports.” We’ve definitely gone far outside of what we originally thought. We’re at this point of rallying together with our team from afar and trying to get creative and figure out, “We are not going to be back together. What does that look like?”
Let’s go into it a little bit. The first thing we did was we met, me, you and our president, Jared. We were walking the warning tracks and said, “We’re going to shut down, but how do we keep everyone connected?” That was the first thing. We are such a group that spends so much time together. I would say in the office, we don’t necessarily work all eight hours a day. We’re talking, hanging out, and having fun. As Jared approached the group, he said, “Here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to have lunch together every day on a Zoom call. We’re going to talk every day. We’re going to continue our book report. We’re going to keep talking. We’re going to keep coming up with ideas. We’re going to have an Ideapalooza on Zoom. We’re going to have a happy hour.” All of those decisions were made within the first 24 hours that we were going to continue.
They were all strategic. The idea was to keep people feeling they’re engaged with other people. That’s something that’s gone through my mind a lot. How do we keep people mentally stable? You and I are both health freaks but we’re aware of what working out, being outside and being social does for a being. That was one of our main concerns. How do we make sure that these people don’t go home? We have a unique situation that all of our staff are under 30. They’re all Millennials. Most of them are not married or have kids. I’m envisioning these kids going home and living in their apartment by themselves and going crazy. Our first thought was, “How do we keep them healthy as individuals?”
We are going to have lunch together every day. As silly as that sounds, when our president said, “I want to have lunch together every day,” you and I were all in on that because breaking bread together, talking and having fun is healthy. We’ve taken it a step further. We do happy hours on Fridays. We encouraged everybody to work together via phone calls and Zoom calls rather than texting or emailing because that’s unpersonal. We wanted them to see each other’s faces and joke around. Caring for your people as humans first are such a healthy way to approach this. They need to do things for your business and continue working, but they’re humans first and they’re scared. They’re going to want to see their friends and coworkers every day.[bctt tweet=”Leaders should come back to the simple idea of serving the people and leading them in a good way.” username=””]
The first step we did for our team was over-communicate. We started communicating what’s going on, where do we stand, and what we are doing, even though we didn’t know all the answers. The next thing is we had one-on-ones with everyone. That took three days. I remember vividly the person who’s been with us almost since the beginning. In the end, she said, “I’m thankful for you, guys,” and she got emotional. I remember it was a moment where I was like, “Wow.” As people started seeing their friends and peers lose their jobs, we felt that responsibility. As a leader, you have a responsibility for your people. The over-communicating with one-on-ones was great, then it was 1 or 2 days after we shut down we gave everyone thank you notes. Everyone took home thank you notes. We said, “Let’s over-communicate with our fans. Let’s keep talking to them.” You wrote thank you notes for almost two days. Tell us about those.
Before we were leaving the office, we were thinking to ourselves, “We’re going to be out for a couple of weeks. How can we make this positive?” Jesse and I are probably on the too far side of positive and optimistic, to a fault sometimes. We’re like, “How can we make this great? How can we make this fun?” We sent everybody home with thank you notes. We have specific Banana-logoed thank you notes. We were like, “Stay in touch with fans, talk to people, and keep everybody happy.” When we came home, I was thinking about writing to our fans. As we always say, our biggest fans are our people. My responsibility at that time was to remind them that even though I was not in the office with them, we were thinking about them. That’s all it was. They’re writing handwritten notes to their customers, their clients, and their fans. I was doing it to our people.
You wrote to our people, but who else did you write to?
Our interns’ parents. That is something that our president, Jared and you, Jesse started years ago. It’s powerful, especially in this climate where people are uncertain about their jobs. It is reaching out to people’s parents. We have all Millennials. We have these young people whose parents are surely at home worrying about them. Letting them know that we have them and we’re taking care of them can go a long way. If anybody has young employees or team members, that is a way to resonate with the parents and build some trust and some loyalty with those people.
You wrote to the significant others as well. You wrote a lot of thank you notes, but it was nothing to the outside. It was all internal. I remember I was giving a speech in Vancouver. We were trying to work on the language and you heard me say, “Care for the people that your people care about.” That’s something that you lived. You wrote to everyone and everyone was texting you back about how much it meant. It was a simple gesture. I was talking with Brian Scudamore and you’ll hear him doing a bonus episode for 1-800-GOT-JUNK?. He was like, “We have 250 franchise partners. I spent two days and reached out to every single one.” As a leader, we want to think always about the outside. We started internally first and that’s the key. We always said, “Love your customers more than you love your product, but love your team, love your people even more than you love your customers.” I saw that firsthand with you.
You’ve done that too with the phone calls and how much has that impacted people. You call them to check in and 45 minutes later, they’re crying on the other end of the phone call opening up to you about things that their family is going through or whatever. It proves that people want to talk to somebody. They want to have that human connection. For us, being the leaders that can be there, writing that note or calling them is important.
It’s a great lesson from one of the first episodes ever of this, from Aaron Walker, who’s been a mentor of mine from afar. I remember we were both listening to him like, “Wow.” Call people just to call. How many times when someone’s calling you like, “What do they want? What are they asking for?” We call because we need something. We’re not just calling to call. I started doing that and asking, “How are you? How are you doing?” I want to get into the Zoom calls a little bit. Everyone talks about how we make the calls not mundane and not boring. We’re still learning this. I know one thing we’ve done is we’ve started some calls with national anthems. We’re a baseball team, so why wouldn’t we? We’ll get into the symbolism of that and a few other things that we’ve done. What are we thankful for? What’s one word that describes how you’re feeling? That was interesting. When we did that with our group, the words were unbelievably inspirational. Everyone was hungry, inspired, and healthy. There were many good positive words. We had some fun outfits that we’ve worn.
We celebrated birthdays.
I’ve heard from some other groups that have had pajama days, bring your family to workday, which is every day now because your family is already there. There have been some other fun ways to add some excitement to the calls. The national anthems, I’ve sung and I can’t sing at all. That’s been huge. A real pivotal moment for us was about two weeks into it. I opened up about where we were and the first few weeks we weren’t sure exactly what was happening. With anything, we knew a few years ago when we were out of money. We had to sell our house and empty our savings account. We knew that we were going to have a season. We knew that we were going to be able to come out of this hopefully.
In the first two weeks, we weren’t sure what was going to happen. As it went on, sports keep canceling. I was like, “We got to be completely open with the group.” I heard this from Pat Lencioni. He talked on a great podcast, Learning Leader with Ryan Hawk, about you’ve got to have a rallying cry or a rallying call for the team. You’ve got to be clear about that. What is everyone working towards? It might have been two weeks into it that I started the Zoom call after singing the national anthem, which was terrible singing. What happened was I said, “These are the brutal facts. From a financial standpoint, this is where we are. We have reserves until so-and-so. We’re not sure when the season is going to start. We believe there’s going to be an opening day, but we’re not sure when it’s going to start. What can we all do?”
I said, “What is our mission? Who are we as a company? We are fans first, entertain always. That has not changed at all. Forget what your job description was. Forget about what you’ve done in the past. We are all producers, entertainers, and people that are going to serve our fans. What that means is everyone is contributing ideas and experiences on social media to serve our fans.” I watched everyone get excited. What I learned from listening to different podcasts is that you have to paint a picture. For the leaders, they’re painting a picture of what it will be like when you return. For a lot of us, we don’t necessarily know when that will be, but what will it be?
I remember I was painting the picture of what opening night will look like. The opening night at our stadium has always been exciting, 4,000 fans. It’s going to be different this opening night. All of a sudden, people are going to be lined up hours in advance. They’re going to run into the ballpark. It’s going to be louder than you’ve ever seen. People go into their seats smiling, seeing people they haven’t seen in over a year. Right before the game, we’re going to have the ambulances come out from the outfield. Numerous ambulances in a whole long line. As soon as it gets behind the home plate, all the nurses and doctors are going to come out of the ambulances.
They’re going to line in the field and we’re going to sing the national anthem. Not just one person, but the entire stadium singing the national anthem. That’s going to be louder than any national anthem you ever imagined. The nurses will be lined up with the players and it’s going to be a deafening round of applause at the end. That’s a me-moment that you’re going to tell your great grandkids about. By painting that picture and when we sing the national anthem, I hope everyone visualizes that moment. That became a moment of us where it was supposed to be hope because there’s little hope out there. It’s like, “When will our business come back? Are we going to be back? Are we going to survive this?”
What I’ve told the staff and what we talk about is there will be an opening day. We’re not sure when it will be but there is going to be an opening day. It’s going to be something that we’re all going to be pumped to be a part of and tell everyone about it. At that moment, everyone was like, “What can I do? Where can I be a part of?” That’s where we transferred into thinking about how we can serve our fans. That was probably a pivotal moment. From your side, what did you see? What did you feel from that moment for the team?
The visualization is key. Everybody wants a leader to lead them. A lot of people are looking for the answers but they know that times are uncertain. Being transparent and saying, “We don’t have all of the answers but visualize this with me. We will make this happen at some point. I can’t tell you an exact date but I’ll be there with you. Everything that we can work on is going to impact that.” You then brought it back to reality. What can we do? What content can we put out that is going to lead to this opening night? How do we get more hope in the community? How do we get more followers on our social media platforms so that when it does come time to be able to entertain these people in person again, which is what we do, that is the main part of our business is entertaining people in person. When we do get back to that, it will be even better because of the entertainment we’re putting out there digitally.[bctt tweet=”Caring for your people as humans first is such a healthy way to approach this uncertain time.” username=””]
That was the first step for our team. Next, we said, “What are we doing?” We hosted an Ideapalooza. For the readers, Ideapalooza had been a huge part of our culture. We’ve had them always in person. We’ve never done one on a Zoom call. Ideas are everything and right now, ideas are even more valuable. On top of that is the implementation. We said, “We’re going to have a specific Ideapalooza on how we can entertain our fans, bring joy, happiness, and smiles to them on social media.” I remember it was a Friday Happy Hour as well. We got the whole group together. We had maybe 30 or 40 ideas and we decided to do about 25 of them.
Usually, our Ideapalooza is a format where we have a “yes,” a “needs work,” and a “maybe,” and 25 in there were yes. Everyone was contributing ideas, whether it’s to do trivia, new music videos, Bananas replay. There were many ideas and we took it. Everyone was fired up and everyone knew where we wanted to go. That was the approach. We said, “Let’s do it. How quickly can we start implementing?” A lot of times, ideas get slowed down because people think too much about them without actually doing. An idea to implementation was key for us. Now that we had all these ideas, we said, “How quickly can we get them done?”
I remember you were watching. It was a Friday that we had the idea of dancing with myself. Our director of entertainment, Trevor said, “Why don’t we do a dancing with myself video?” We reached out to all the different players and staff that weekend. We have the deadline to get it in by Monday, and by Wednesday, the video was out. It’s a fully produced video. It got over 50,000 views because we said, “We’re going to do this.” The key to that is you have to have a deadline. I said, “We’re going to do it and move the deadline up.” Steve Jobs used to do this. They’d say, “We can’t have the computer done until next January.” He’s like, “Perfect, let’s have it done by July.” It’s crazy but you find a way to get it done. That was key. From that standpoint, what did you see that worked well?
The deadline helps but also collectively, we as a group now have one focus moving forward. When we were in the office doing our daily lives, going about our own business, we were all running different departments and all of a sudden, we had our rallying cry. We were sitting at home all thinking about this one focus, which was putting out content for our fans that were going to make them happy. It seemed like we moved fast. We moved and we produced that video in five days from idea to posting. I don’t think it wasn’t that fast because our entire team was focused on it and we were all working on it. When collectively a group is clear on what their goal is moving forward, five days is not that long for something like that. That has helped us collectively as a team to work together because we’re all striving for the same things. We have branched off a little bit and everyone is starting to own their content pieces, which has been great, but we’re all still collectively working towards the same thing.
Part of the mindset too for us is to serve and oversell. We often talk about, “We never want to sell our fans,” but we still have opportunities to join the priority list. We still have opportunities to buy merchandise. It’s still out there. We went all-in on this and we said, “We’re not going to put any messages out of anything for people to buy stuff.” We even had our priority list. Our single game tickets were going to go on sale. Our group, we didn’t even know about it. They sent an email to them, “Would you like us to push this to all?” We had 4,000 people on the list. They took a poll and the majority said, “Yes, we’d like us to hold off.” We listened to them and I was blown away. Instead of acting, they said, “Let’s talk to our fans.” That was cool, to serve and oversell, and then listen carefully and respond creatively. How cool was it to hear the Oreo cookies and milk story?
I love that story. Berry, our vice president, saw a post from one of our members jokingly saying, “Do you think Walmart would deliver Oreos and milk?” That was her post. He immediately saw that, screenshotted it, and sent it to Matt, one of our other team members who he knew lived nearby this woman. Matt went and picked up the Oreos and milk, dropped it off on her front steps and ran. Berry texted her and said, “Open your mailbox,” and on the little mailbox attached to her house was Oreos and milk. Being creative and deliver for our fans is trained in them and they produced on that one. That was cool.
It’s such a great opportunity now to listen. There are many people on the internet, on social media, to see what they’re saying and see how we can serve them. If they have a favorite meal they want, can you have DoorDash deliver it? There are all those different things. Our group is seeing that it’s special. I want to talk about some of the things that work and that didn’t work. This is marketing done differently. The show is Business Done Differently. Our marketing done differently is what we put out as content. The biggest thing that we focus differently than anything else was engagement. We’ve always in the past said, “Let’s put out something cool. If they like it, they’ll share it.” We said, “How do we get them engaged?”
I looked at the stats on Facebook. We’re up to over 200% in customer engagement. How do we do that? We figured out how we can do things on social that would get them involved. One of the big examples was we had music trivia. We had 650 comments on the first one. You play songs and you’d get them to say what it is. The other thing is to find the differences where we post pictures and we take things away. How can you get people to chime in? One of the things is most companies post something to share what they’re doing. How can you post something to ask questions and ask for involvement?
Our company is Fans First. Our staff started thinking like this, “What can we do?” The culmination of this was our first ever fan music video, which came out of an idea that got shifted. I said, “Let’s do the Happy meet video because it’s fun. The whole staff was like, “Jesse, that’s so ten years ago.” I’m like, “It’s still a fun and happy song. I didn’t push this and Berry, the vice president goes, “Let’s do Hey Baby.” Hey Baby is the famous song that we do at our ballpark. It’s a ritual. Let’s send that. We sent out an email to our fans and we got a ton of submissions of our fans at their house dancing.
They’re doing the dance that they do at the ballpark normally. We said, “Send in a clip of you doing the dance that you would normally do at the ballpark at your house.”
They were doing it and it was awesome. Within five days, Ben, our videographer turned it around and got a ton of engagement, and our fans loved it. You have all these people, your fans, make them famous and the superstar instead of all about you. I’ve learned so much about this from Jeff Henderson’s Know What You’re For. We’re for our fans. You’re for your fans. Highlight them, make it about them. Don’t make it about yourself. Now more than ever, that’s what we’ve done and we haven’t sold anything. We’ve been all about sharing it. What else have you noticed from a fan approach?
It’s been cool to engage with them. We’ve tried to think about what those people are doing in their houses. Me being a mom, I am much more in touch with the fact that people are home with their kids and it’s impossible to do multiple things. I was proud of our attention and marketing guru, Kara, when she came up with the coloring book sheets for moms to print off and give their kids. They were Banana-themed and things that kids would normally like to see at the ballpark. We’re trying to empathize with certain demographics and think about what they are going through in their daily lives and then do something that caters to them. The mom thing is the first thing that comes to my mind, but we do have a lot of different demographics that we’ve tried to touch.
We experiment. We’re opening a lot of new platforms. We’re working on Twitch, we’re playing video games and we’re starting TikTok. We’re thinking of all these new options. We might as well test them, experiment and try new shows. The experimentation has been huge. You have nothing to lose. What we’re teaching our people is to try it. That’s been huge for us. What we’ve seen is that finally, we said, “Let’s try something.” Our fans love our Slippery Bananas. Our director of operations said at the end of all those Happy Hours, “What if we bought it up and did a drive-through?” We’re like, “Can we do that?” He’s like, “Yeah.” All of a sudden we put it out and we had it on a Thursday at 4:00. The first car showed up at 3:00 and we sold out within an hour. It was wild because it was literally an idea. It didn’t feel like selling because we were bringing something up to our fans and they responded to us.
We’ve been asked for that over the years numerous times. That didn’t feel salesy because a lot of people have been asking for it anyway. We said, “Here it is. You’ve asked for it.” They came and they got it. To be honest, we’ve been talking about putting out content and doing the right thing for fans, but at the end of the day, sometimes the conversation about money has to be had. That can segue us into some of the financial discussions that we’ve had to have. Making this Slippery Banana and selling hundreds of jars is not a huge money swing for us, but that did start getting our wheels spinning at up.
To go big picture first and break it down there, first, you get to know, what do you want to be known for? This is going to be a test of your leadership, the test of your company. When people look back at this, what do you want to be known for? For us, it’s fans first, entertain always. We want to be serving and always serving, starting with serving our team and serving our customers. A lot of people will get focused on themselves, focused on how they can bring in revenue, how they can do all this and save the company. We didn’t start there and we’ll never be there. We also have to be good leaders and take care of our people. There’s the living in the now versus the living in the future.
I would say the first three weeks, we were focused on serving our people and serving our team. As this continues to go on and we’re dipping into our cash reserves and everything we have, we’ve got to start being strong and great leaders from a business sense. The first thing in many business leaders who are doing this, you’ve got to look financially, what are those opportunities? What are those cash situations? First, what are those opportunities to save and cut? I’ve been blown away and it’s been an unbelievable lesson for our team. I remember when we first started in Gastonia, Savannah, we called for every single discount and deal we could get because we didn’t have any money. What we did is we called every single vendor, every single monthly payment from the subscriptions that we have and online stuff, utilities from our phone bill to everything. We talked to everybody and then what happened is every single group worked with us because we’ve been a great customer over the years. Everyone said, “We’ll waive this payment. We’ll waive this. We’ll defer this. We’ll discount this.” The lesson is always to ask.[bctt tweet=”A company’s biggest fans are its people.” username=””]
You’ve taught us up in the beginning. What’s the worst that could happen? If they say no, we move on. Somebody else will give us a discount or a break on this month’s bill. Would I say 90% of the people?
Every single one has either deferred or given us a deal. It’s 100%. What we did is we involved not only our president, but we also involved our ticket experience director who’s moving into finance. We’re trying to give everyone that lesson to teach that. You should always bootstrap. You should always try to be strategic. That was the first thing living in the now. Short-term revenue, what other things? The Slippery Banana became a nice thing for us. We’re going to test some other things, not just to try to bring in revenue, but also to do something that our fans want that adds value. You have to look at some short-term revenue things. That’s one thing for us. How do you do a drive-through? What are those other things that you have assets that people have asked for that you maybe never experimented with before?
This isn’t something that we started now, but thankfully we are diversified a little bit in that we sell merchandise online every single day of the year. Although the majority of our business is during those summer months at our ballpark, it is helpful that we are continuing to sell merchandise online to people all over the world. Those orders are still coming in. It’s nice to be diversified a little bit.
What can you test that can lead to a bigger test? For instance, the Slippery Banana now is leading to conversations about distributing on a larger scale because we tested our fans’ demand. They lined up and they left a quarantine shelter in place to drive through and get our Slippery Banana an hour early before it opens to prove it. That shows something. What are those other tests that we’re doing? Other things we’re looking at is subscriptions. We’re looking at the idea of offering Bananas in a way that you’ve never seen it before, content, access and seeing if we can draw fans out. We’re going to start looking into those moves. That’s the difference of living in the now versus all in the future. What can you test now that will help you later in the future? That’s what we’re diving into more.
To point on that, we have included the entire team. When we came up with the, “We’re all going to produce content now.” This is a conversation we had with everybody. We were transparent and they know we do not focus on money. We focus on impact in our company, but sometimes we all need to get together and think about how we can save a little bit in our own department or get creative and sell something in our department to help the team. That’s super healthy that everybody understands where we are from a health standpoint, from a monetary standpoint, and what we need to survive. Nobody is worried about their jobs, but everyone wants the company to stay thriving. It’s been great to be able to be open and have those conversations and give them the opportunity as these young employees at a team to have some skin in the game and to be able to come up with these big plans. It’s been cool to see them grow in that area.
Overall, I want to come back to some of the things that we’ve learned over the last month and where we’re going. First, play offense over defense. Many people get into protection and survival mode. What would it look like to thrive during this time? Ask that question instead of survive. Number two, you’ve got to give more to your team. At this time, it’s from a communication standpoint and you’ve got to build the trust. We didn’t mention this but it’s an idea that you had. Not only the thank you notes, but also the groceries.
That was fun. Jesse and I went grocery shopping and one of the things that every team, every business out there can do is get to know their people outside of the business. We have a database of everyone’s address, but then everyone’s favorite foods, drinks, meals, and places to get lunch. We know a lot about their personal preferences. Jesse and I went grocery shopping and we spent a couple of hours specifically picking out items for each of our team members. We had so much fun and knew that we were serving them in a way. If Jesse is involved, it’s going to be a joke. A lot of the food items that people got were jokes, but we also did some serious things too that would help them with the groceries for a little while because we knew groceries are a hot topic.
Nobody wants to go to the grocery store and it’s something that everybody needs. We had a lot of fun going grocery shopping for them. We spent an afternoon packaging up their groceries, leaving them on their front steps, ringing the doorbell and bolting. It was cool to see them all come together and send us videos of what they got. We also included a challenge. We wanted to make it fun and interactive. We challenged each of them to make a meal with the items that they were given. Some of the items were ridiculous, like frozen plantains. We wrote a specific individualized poem for each person telling them how much they mean to us, and how some of the items in their grocery bags made us smile and think of them. It was heartfelt but it was also fun, which is everything that we’re about. As leaders, we are still figuring this out. We are by no means experts, but we come back to the simple idea of serving them and leading them in a good way. This was a fun way for us to show that.
It wasn’t outrageously expensive. We were able to do it and it was well worth it. Number one, you look back at this, give more to your team. How do we over-communicate with them, tell them where we are and give to them? Most companies back off and try to take things away. You see that furloughs and you see lowering the salaries. Number two, give more to your customers or your fans. It doesn’t have to be spending money. We haven’t been spending more money, but we’re spending more time putting out content for them. You want to build that trust. When this all clears, you want them to remember you for what you gave them during this time. That’s key.
In building trust with your people and your fans, are you there for them? Not only that, are you being honest? Are you being vulnerable? Are you being real? I did a post. I didn’t show up the way I should have showed up for one of our lunch calls and I shared it because I didn’t have the energy I should have had. We need to be there more. That’s important for us to do that. Another big idea here and the thing that we’re talking about is this idea to implementation. I haven’t shown this much, but the idea of shut up and ship it. It sounds negative, but the idea is like, “Just put it out there.”
We have an almost two-year-old, so we try not to say, “Shut up.”
We try not to use the negative language but the idea is to just put it out. Whether it’s a new podcast, whether it’s a new show, put it out. That’s where we learn, doing the learning. The idea of implementation is huge for us. Overall, it’s a point that we all want to look back on and say we were proud of what we did during this time and it starts from the leadership. That vulnerability of sharing, “This is where we are guys and we’re scared a little bit, but this is what we’re going to do.” Having a plan and getting everyone to rally together has been huge. There’s still complete uncertainty about the season and what’s going to happen but I know what’s happened with our team is they’re closer together. We’re all working more together. We’re more fans first, entertain always than we’ve ever been. As a whole, this will only make us a better company once we get out of this. Emily, what else would you share for some people that are leading during this time from what you’ve seen? Are there any other suggestions or advice that you would give?
One of the things that we haven’t touched on and that I’m proud of is our internship program is supposed to be starting. That’s another example of it might not look the way that you thought something was going to look, but that doesn’t mean that you have to throw it away. Our internship program, our interns are supposed to come in the middle of May and stay with us for the summer, but our commitment to them when we hire them is that we’re going to mentor them. They’re trying to figure out which avenue to go down in the sports or the marketing world or the events space. Our commitment is, “We’re going to be here and we’re going to teach you and we’re going to mentor you.”
This is a great time to teach. These kids are hungry. They’re sitting at home. They got kicked out of college months before they were ready and they are yearning. They’re thirsty to learn. I’m excited about programs that we’re taking digital. We are including them in our Zoom calls and we’re teaching them the real-world stuff. These guys are going to have many more things. They’re all 20, 22 years old. They’re going to go through things in their life that they’re not planning on. I hope that the outcome here is that they’re learning to navigate, they’re learning to pivot, and we can be mentors in that sense. I love the idea of taking something that didn’t look how you’re planning on it but having it maybe turn into something better.
As we move forward, the key is how do we look now as leaders, not for ROI, Return on Investment, but Return on Purpose. Even for these interns that are coming on board, we’re giving them something, an experience that is different, unique, that are a part of challenges. We’re not saying, “We’ll see what happens.” “This is what’s going on. We need your help.” As leaders, we need to ask for help. We asked for whole help from our team and when we look back on this to look like, “Was that worth the investment?” Think about the return on purpose. What I mean by that is how we are giving them the meaning of what they’re doing and showing them the bigger picture.
Whenever our fans are on social media and they’re saying, “You guys put a smile on my face. Thank you for what you’re doing. Thank you for putting this out.” We share that with our team. I hope that opening night comes and that we’re all standing out there and we’re looking around like, “We made it. We did this.” As always a few years ago when people didn’t think the Savannah Bananas would survive and get to that opening night, we’re going to get to this opening night. It’s maybe at a different time. As a leader, you want to look back and say, “I respect and I admire the person that was leading and they stood up for what was right.” That’s our people and our fans and we’re taking care of them. We’ll leave it at that. I’m going to give some other bonus episodes with other leaders sharing what they’re doing during this time. It’s a time now that we need to share more. The more you share, the more you care and the more we connect, the better. Hopefully, everyone can connect. Reach out if you have questions or thoughts. I appreciate you reading and appreciate all the support.
- Emily Cole
- Aaron Walker – previous episode
- Pat Lencioni – Learning Leader episode
- Know What You’re For
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