Archive for March, 2009

Work is like racing. You can’t always be first, but you can always strive to do your personal best.

March 27, 2009

Spring means the beginning of racing season for age group athletes. And with racing season underway, I began thinking about how racing, work and life are very similar.

In racing, there are winners…the person who comes in first and the people who come in first in their age groups. But my guess is that many people who participate in races, even if they are the last to cross the finish line, feel a sense of accomplishment and feel like a winner even if they didn’t win the race, didn’t win their age group or set a PR (personal record). They feel like a winner because they did what I call their P.B. (personal best). And isn’t that what racing, work and life are really about…doing your personal best every day?

As many people know, I’m a triathlete and marathoner. I love these sports. I compete in them because I love the journey…the people I meet while training and competing, the things I learn about others and myself and how I improve each day and each year as I strive to do my personal best. Someone I know once said to me, “I don’t know why you call it racing. You never win these races and you’re never going to win.” This comment was made by a person who thinks winning is all that matters. And if he can’t win or be first, he won’t participate. But the reality is that you can’t always win. You can’t always be first. And what a shame it would be if everyone had his attitude and refused to participate in things they weren’t sure they could win.

While we all enjoy winning, I think that winning is very personal and doesn’t always mean you came in first. I think winning is more about doing your personal best, being proud of who you are and what you have achieved.

Savor your victories…all of them and learn from each one. That’s what racing, work and life are really all about.

How you deal with a crisis speaks volumes about your business.

March 19, 2009

Businesses hit bumps in the road. But it’s how a business deals with those bumps that sets it apart. Deal with it well, and the crisis is a speed bump. It gives you a bit of a jolt, but you get over it and move on. Deal with it poorly and it can be a major detour or a complete highway shut down that puts you out of business.

Crisis media management is something I have specialized in for more than 16 years. My background in my previous career as an investigative reporter gives me a unique perspective in helping clients think about the kinds of crisis situations they might face and how to deal with them if they should arise. Good crisis communications is based on being prepared and planning ahead. No, you can’t plan or prepare for every crisis. But you can at least prepare for ones you know are more likely to effect you and/or your industry.

We’re seeing more stories in the news that require crisis media management than ever before: Enron, AIG…the list goes on. Frankly, when my firm gets calls like this, I turn these types of companies away. It’s not that we couldn’t help these types of companies or the task is too challenging. It’s that morally, I don’t want to help them. One of the best things about being the boss is that I have the luxury to pick and choose who I work with. And I have always chosen to work with clients of high integrity who choose good decisions over greed. I work with clients who work hard to earn their money and success…not get it dishonestly and at the expense of others.

With that said, even companies who operate with the highest of ethical standards face adversity that attracts media attention. How those companies respond to the media and perform under pressure says a lot about the company and its leadership.

Let me give you an example of a crisis media situation that one of our clients faced a number of years ago, and this situation is becoming more common these days. The situation was an impending bankruptcy.

I got a call from this client one afternoon saying they were trying to sell the restaurant franchise, but if the sale fell through, they would have to file for Chapter 11. The president told me he wanted me to be aware of this before anything happened so that I could help him plan for the best and worst case scenarios. That was his first really wise move. Being proactive and planning ahead for a crisis is the best strategy if you know something could be coming down the road.

I told my client that being proactive if they filed for Chapter 11 was the best strategy vs. letting the media find the court filing in their daily court rounds and being bombarded by media calls. I told him that we should alert the media that the filing was happening (if it did indeed happen) and tell them that the company’s president would be available for interviews to answer any of their questions. My client agreed that was the best course of action.

Our next step was to create the news release and talking points for our client. There were several key points we wanted to make sure reporters and their audiences understood. First, this was a Chapter 11 (a reorganization) and not a Chapter 7 (closing/liquidation). Second, that the restaurants would be open for business as usual other than a couple locations that would close later that month. Third, employees jobs were safe and so were their 401k plans. Any employee who worked at a location that was being closed would be relocated to a nearby location. Last, but not least, the company intended to pay back every penny it owed and hoped to do so in about a year and was asking vendors to be patient and stick by the company as they reorganized.

When the client realized there would be no sale and they would have to file for bankruptcy, we sent out the news release and told reporters to call me to schedule an interview with the president of the company. I think reporters truly appreciated our proactive, open and honest communication. They called and every media outlet who requested access was given an interview so they could have the story before their deadlines.

The strategy worked well and became the national strategy for this type of situation within this restaurant chain. While the news of a Chapter 11 bankruptcy is never good news, the coverage was fair and let the public know the restaurants would remain open. One reporter asked our client, “What does this mean for your restaurants tomorrow?” Our client responded (and this quote was used in one newspaper story), “We’ll be making pancakes as usual in the morning. We hope you’ll join us.”

The final chapter on this situation was that creditors did stand by the restaurant, the restaurant did come out of Chapter 11 successfully, paid back creditors and was later purchased. It continues to operate and thrive today.

How lessons from our personal lives positively impact our business lives.

March 16, 2009

After running my first marathon last year, a client asked me, “Do you really think the human body is made to run 26.2 miles?” My reply was, “It may not be made to do that, but I know the human spirit is capable of making your body and mind do that and so much more!”

Her question got me thinking about how many lessons from our personal lives can be insightful for our business lives too. So many lessons from the road, things I learn personally from running and cycling, also teach me things I can use in business.

While running a marathon, you have a lot of time to think, learn and experience a different side of life and yourself and you get to see first hand what the human spirit is truly capable of…not just yours, but many other people’s too.

In Columbus, there was a portion of the course where the front runners would go by the slower ones. I got to see for myself the beauty, grace and determination of the wheelchair and handcycle athletes. They are poetry in motion with the fastest athletes finishing in under two hours.

Not far behind them were the fastest runners, who would ultimately run the race in less than 2.5 hours for the men and under 3 hours for the women. To me, this is also an amazing tribute to the human spirit and what it can do.

The next part of the journey included learnings and insights from our Clif pace group leader, Marie. One thing Marie told us early in the race was to dedicate each mile to someone or something important to us that helped us reach this point. I thought this was a great way to pay tribute to the people and things in my life that helped me reach the starting line…and would ultimately get me to the finish line. It was also great to spend that mile thinking about those people and experiences and how they have enriched my life and the joy they have brought to me and others.

The people you meet while running a marathon is another great part of the experience. Some of the people I met included a man who decided to run the marathon to lose weight. He lost 15 pounds training for Columbus. Another guy I met around mile 20 was struggling up a hill, we tried to energize his spirit with “Good job. Keep it up. You can make it.” It’s a cheer that is common in races and it makes a difference whether you’re hearing it shouted out to you while you’re passing someone and feeling strong or you’re hearing it as you’re being passed and feeling tired. This particular guy thanked us and told us he entered this race on a bet and it was a bet he’d never make again. I’d be willing to bet when he got to the finish line he felt differently because he had done something so special, even if it hurt and was really hard. That feeling of crossing the finish line is something he will have for the rest of his life. And it’s the human spirit that got him there.

So what lessons from this experience can we all use in our work lives?

Lesson 1: No matter what your challenge…physical or other, you can overcome it and achieve great things if you put your mind and body to it.

Lesson 2: You may be born with a gift or you may not be, but the harder you work, the more successful you will be…even if that hard work may be very painful or frustrating at times, it’s worth it in the end. But you have to stick to it.

Lesson 3: Thank the people who helped you get to where you are and will help you get where you’re going. No one reaches their goals alone. There are always people there to guide you. Make sure they know how much you appreciate them and their efforts. Then reflect on all they’ve done for you and pledge to pay it forward to others.

Lesson 4: You’re never too busy to cheer others on. Cheering others success is as important as being thankful for your own.

While your human spirit may never inspire you to run a marathon, I encourage you to listen to it and embrace it. You don’t truly know what you are capable of achieving until you really push your limits. When you do, I think you’ll be surprised what you can accomplish and the impact those accomplishments can have on your life and the lives of others, both personal and professional.

As for what my human spirit has in store for me next, it’s a work in progress. And I say bring it on! I know there are many valuable lessons to be learned.


Welcome to Lessons from the Road.

March 15, 2009

Lessons from the Road is my new blog.  In this blog, I will post a variety of things I learn on the road…the road of work, the road of life and the road itself when biking and running.  I encourage you to post comments and share your lessons from the road as well.

Looking forward to the road ahead with you!

Lauren, Your Road Warrior

(The Business Courier gave me the Road Warrior title for an article I wrote regarding Lessons from the Road.  I like the title, so I’m keeping it for this blog.)