Leading in a crisis

In the last couple of weeks we have experienced a chaotic situation due to the Covid-19. The coronavirus, besides spreading in a ridiculous paste, has also arisen panic among our communities.

From the 8/03 to the 21/03 I was part of one of the most dramatic scenes in retail history. The fear of going into work started to increase from all members of staff in my store, and even though I was responsible for keeping the business going as usual, I also felt responsible for the well-being of my team.

At the start of week 11 (starting from the 8/03) we all knew it was a complicated situation, but personally I believe we didn’t really feel how serious this was until half way through the week. I started to receive phone calls twice a day everyday from my area team asking how the team was, if there was any sickness and how we were coping through the stress.

Day by day the visitors in store decreased up to 8% and we were feeling the impact not only through the poor daily monetary result, but by not having much to do during the day as customers weren’t coming in. That created such a huge stress in me, but I kept it going and walked in every day with my head up, mouth full of smiles and jokes to keep the positive attitude in store. Through that, I realised that even though everybody was scared, they were happy to be at work and grateful they could one more day, be productive and support our little business together.

I was so impressed by my team’s efforts and attitude. Week 11 was getting to an end and by then I had no sickness at all. I was working the exact same way even though at this point the visitors counter had dropped a drastically 32%. I gave my people ownership during those weeks, where we worked to improve the visual standards of the store and all together achieved a 45% refit for all departments.
Day by day it was getting harder and harder to have no answers for my employees. They kept asking if we were not going to close and what would the situation look like in couple of days or even weeks. Personally it was hard as I was scared too, due to my current situation at home living with a 70 year old. But then again, I was the pillar of this store and I had to keep strong until knowing exactly what was going to happen to us.
When receiving calls from the area team, they couldn’t believe what was happening in store. They couldn’t believe we were the only store to have 0% sickness and there was no intention of striking coming from the sales advisors, as the situation was quite the opposite in many other places.

Week 12 came about, and unfortunately some cases started to show. By Tuesday (17/03) three of our colleagues had members of their family showing the symptoms of the Covid-19. It was very sad to receive those phone calls, but nevertheless, we still had to keep trading. By Thursday we had very few employees by closing time and in proportion we had 45% less customers walking through the store and we weren’t even making money to pay for our electricity. However, I am so proud to say that my remaining team of the last few days were impressive! They worked with a positive mindset, kept driving goals forward even though it was so hard to achieve results, they kept pushing and supporting each other to do the best they could.

Friday the 20th at 9pm I received a message asking to connect to a conference call, and from the next morning we were officially closed.

Now, this entire experience made me reflect so much about leadership and about how sensitive people can actually be. During these last weeks, closing my eyes to the panic and pretending that everything was going to be fine was a very hard task. However, only the thought of having to close the store did scare me a lot at the beginning as that store represents most of my life and I adore it so much. Of course I understand its for a very delicate cause.

But the fact that I had my team driven and strong during this period made me reflect on myself and my leadership style. How much more could I influence such a great team?

Well, for now reflections are all I will have until the situation changes in our country and.. the world.

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