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There Are ALWAYS Positives - Even During a Pandemic

Apr 10, 2020 by Jack Stack 2 Comments

Businesses during a pandemic

There’s an unspoken rule of thumb in the news business that says, “If it bleeds; it leads.” Bad news, it seems, helps move newspapers, sell ads on TV, and generate clicks or “likes” on social media.

I can remember a different time when professional journalists and broadcasters prided themselves on taking a more balanced approach to report the news. They were careful to never be too positive—or too negative.

Things are very different today. Maybe social media has brought about this change. Now it seems that everyone’s first instinct is to look for the negative angle on an issue—especially when it relates to business.

I don't think I’ll ever forget the experience I had writing a blog for the New York Times website a decade ago where people would send me and my co-writer, Darren Dahl, the most hateful comments at 2 a.m.

It’s like they had their mind set on tearing us down as opposed to actually listening to what we were trying to say. The negativity was infectious (is it too soon to use that word?).  

Maybe that’s why it’s not a surprise these days that when something disastrous happens—like the outbreak of a murderous pandemic—you can bet you’ll mostly be hearing the negative impacts no matter what kind of device you watch or listen on. But shouldn’t we be looking at the real consequences of all this negativity?  

I’ll be the first to admit, I’m a business news junkie. I read and watch everything I can to stay informed so I can try and forecast what’s coming next. I try to see around corners by devouring data. And when bad news hits in the workplace, I’ve found the best medicine to combat fear is to respond with extreme transparency, candor, and the actual facts.

The more everyone knows, the better off we’ll all be. If you can use information to focus on your next steps and taking action, you won’t be paralyzed waiting for the next shoe to drop.

When the pandemic crisis hit our businesses, we immediately jumped into action by setting up 9:00 a.m. calls every day to communicate the message to our 1,800 associates. We wanted them all to know their safety—and the safety of our family, friends, and neighbors in the community—was (and still is) our highest priority.

These daily calls are ongoing and we use them to discuss many things about the pandemic including the financial health of the business. We want everyone to know where we stand in terms of our ability to continue to pay them while staying liquid and solvent.

In fact, we want to engage the creativity and innovative ideas of every single associate to not only help us survive this crisis but to help keep us ready for the upturn we expect to come in the future.

There’s something magical about being vulnerable. It really is incredible how people are ready and willing to step up and help during the toughest of times.

But, as we have continued to hold our calls each morning, we've come to a realization. It wasn’t enough to just focus on the bad news we needed to overcome—or to address the fears people have about whether they should get married, if they could afford their house, or if they would keep their job.

Each of the leadership team recognized we were ALL craving hearing some good news. At some point, there’s only so much negative news you can take, right?

It brought me back to the nightmare recession of 1983 when the company I worked for, International Harvester, was laying off thousands of people every single day. We should never forget how devastating it can be to lose your job; how dark your world becomes. I’ll never forget hearing about a guy who, after he was laid off, walked out into a cornfield and took his life.

Too much negativity in our lives creates a sense of isolation; of feeling alone. You close yourself off and shun the sunlight. Yet, to keep safe right now, people are literally isolating and shutting down. That means we’re pushing ourselves further and further apart during a time when we need each other the most.

That’s what got us wondering, what would happen if we flipped things around and turned the situation on its head? Would it make a difference if we started sharing some good news in those morning meetings too?

We wanted to shine a spotlight on folks who were stepping up to make a difference. We wanted a chance to tip our hats to those who were actively trying to make the world better around them—despite the crisis. It was important for us to start sharing some positive news to combat the negative.

Being positive can be just as contagious as being negative. During difficult times like these, it becomes the seed for hope. It can be easy to walk around with your head down focused on the here and now. But sometimes you need to pick your head up and think about how tomorrow might be better. So we asked people to share some positive stories we could rally around.

It was like shaking up a bottle of beer and then pulling the cap off: you couldn’t believe all the great stories people couldn’t wait to share. They just poured out. And they keep coming. It was absolutely refreshing. 

There was the story of an associate named Dustin who went into the factory on a Saturday and put up Plexiglas walls to help keep operators safe while they worked. How incredible is it that someone would go to that length to help make their workplace a safer place?

A story from another factory, we had an associate who procured a 55-gallon supply of hand sanitizer and now he’s distributing to each of our facilities.

At the same time, associates throughout our company are combing through our inventories hunting for potential personal protection equipment, or PPE, to use on the job—or to donate to our local hospitals.

We’ve seen the creativity of our people in action. They’ve come up with ways to use thermal cameras to take people’s temperatures and use UV rays in a rig that looks like the x-ray machines at airports to potentially help kill bacteria on their way into work.

Someone recognized the tremendous strain the truck drivers who deliver parts and equipment to our plants were under. With all the restaurants closed, they're limited to where they could stop and eat or take a break.

You can’t exactly drive a big rig semi through a drive-thru window. Our associates created a truck stop of their own: they gave the drivers lunches, snacks, and drinks every time they made a delivery. They even set up a portable toilet out in the parking lot for the drivers to use.

Every chance they get, the associates thank those truckers for continuing to work and tell them how much they appreciate them.

The good news didn’t stop there. We had one associate who found a way to get a discount on local food deliveries, so our people didn’t have to risk going to the supermarket.

But then, someone suggested we expand to help the people most at-risk in the neighborhoods we live and work in. How could we help those who couldn’t afford a delivery service? Great idea, right? That idea inspired many of us to think about how we could help our neighbors who couldn’t go out to shop. We wanted to figure out a way to help them too.

Full transparency (we are open-book after all), I might have had to wipe a tear or two after hearing these stories and looking around the room, I wasn’t alone.

It was incredible to see how contagious it became to talk about good things and positive news. It was also a reminder of the first Higher Law Bo Burlingham and I wrote about in our book, The Great Game of Business: “You Get What You Give.” When you give good energy—you get good energy back.

We all gain fuel from positive news; you can say we thrive on it. In fact, I just heard a story the other morning about a manager who showed up at a factory at 6:30 a.m. and found his associates dancing around their workstations. When he asked them what they were so excited about, they chimed in together: “Because we’re so happy to be working!”

People won’t forget when you’ve been good to them and when you've taken care of them. When people feel good and well cared for, they begin to have hope—which is something we seem to be lacking these days.

It’s really easy to slip right into anger or sadness when you hear something negative. I’m guilty as anyone of that. But I think we’re forgetting the good and positive acts happening around us even when the bad things seem to be overtaking.

If we put all our focus on the 1% of bad eggs, we’re not celebrating the 99% of good eggs who are out there doing amazing things and are constantly helping others.

Maybe, despite all the negativity surrounding us these days, we could take a moment...hit the pause button...and think about the good and wonderful things happening around as well. I’ll admit it isn't easy to find the silver lining all the time. But it’s worth making the effort.

If you can find one good story, that leads to another, and another, and another. Before long, you might even create a Ripple Effect of good energy. Maybe, we can reverse what the great novelist Charles Dickens wrote by saying, it might be the worst of times, but it can also be the best of times.

Keep safe—and keep positive. We’ll come out of this stronger than ever.

Change the Game features stories of real practitioners using and adapting the principles of the Great Game of Business to survive and succeed in the business world, even in challenging times like we are facing today. Click to learn more about these practitioners' stories below:

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Topics: Open-Book Management, Transparency, Contingency Planning

Jack Stack
Written by Jack Stack

Jack Stack is President and CEO of SRC Holdings Corporation, which remanufactures gasoline and diesel engines for the automotive and off-highway markets, distributes engine kits, manufactures power units and remanufactures electrical components, and conducts seminars and training programs specializing in all aspects of teaching people how to implement open-book management. He is also the author of three books, The Great Game of Business, A Stake in the Outcome, and Change The Game: Saving The American Dream By Closing The Gap Between The Haves And The Have-Nots.

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Our approach to running a company was developed to help close one of the biggest gaps in business: the gap between managers and employees. We call our open-book approach The Great Game of Business. What lies at the heart of The Game is a very simple proposition: The best, most efficient, most profitable way to operate a business is to give everybody in the company a voice in saying how the company is run and a stake in the outcome. Let us teach you how to develop a culture of ownership, where employees think, act and feel like owners.