On The Level: Keson and SOLA: What can we learn from the Covid Pandemic and other “Luck Events”

On The Level: Keson and SOLA: What can we learn from the Covid Pandemic and other “Luck Events”

“If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all.”  Albert “B.B.” King, Born Under a Bad Sign

When I landed at O’Hare on August 9th and went to collect my bags, I automatically sanitized my hands at the newly installed, complementary hand-sanitizing station. One pump of the clear, cool gel into my hands, and as I spread it around, I swore under my mask. This sanitizing station was part of the reason our Keson directors of Customer Service and Operations were almost ready to punch someone in the throat. At that time, we had been out of 5-pound chalk for 42 days. Hundreds of orders could not be shipped because we could not make “5-pound Chalk.” We couldn’t make it because we could not get the bottles to fill with chalk. The demand for these bottles had gone bananas. Every current and foreseeable bottle of this style was being filled with hand sanitizer. Chalk would have to wait. Our distributors would have to wait. The masons we supplied who were ready to continue their jobs would have to wait and it was driving all of us nuts. Big changes were afoot. And we were all learning how to deal with them. 

I am reminded of a story my father told me about a fellow who went over Niagara Falls in a barrel. When the reporters and lifeguards pulled him from the pool at the bottom of the falls, they asked him to describe the experience. “Well, the first part, up in the river approaching the falls, that was great! It was peaceful and calm. I could hear birds chirping and I enjoyed the sunlight pouring down out of a beautiful blue sky. That last part, just a minute ago, when you all pulled me from the cool, calm water at the base of the falls, that was beautiful! I could hear your cheers and feel the mist of The Falls gently caress my face. It was that middle part, the transition, that scared the heck out of me.”

With this pandemic, we are in the transition. We can recall the world of 12 months ago, the start of 2020, when Covid was still “over there” and not an issue. The birds were chirping and the sunlight, streaming. We can imagine a world where it’s “over” and we are cheering. But that’s not where we are. We are still in the tumultuous transition before we come bobbing up in the relatively peaceful pool of a post-Covid world. There are things we can do to prepare for that world, things we should do.

This pandemic is what Jim Collins was referring to as a “Luck Event.” Such an event has two elements: 1. It is outside of our control, and 2. It has the potential to greatly impact our businesses. In his book, Great by Choice, (especially, chapter 7, Return on Luck), Mr. Collins gives us some suggestions on how to deal with Luck Events. Covid-19 and all that has come along with it is, are being dealt with by you, me, and thousands of others in amazing, innovative, and surprising ways. 

There is no way any of us would have chosen the events of 2020 or the impact of those events. As much as I love my home and my family, I would not have designed 2020 in which I would spend entire weeks and even a couple of months at home rather than in our manufacturing facility. As a management team at Keson, we would never have said “You know we spend an awful lot on sales travel. For 2020, let’s cut 90% of it.” As an industry, we would not have agreed to host fewer than two-thirds of our trade events in person. And yet, when we look back on 2020 we will see that we made a series of decisions that resulted in all of these things and others. It’s time to start learning from the choices we made and the choices we and others made. 

I suggest the following: start having conversations with everyone in your organization and with others in the industries that support ours. Ask for help. 

What did you do differently in 2020? How was it helpful to you? To the business? 

If you knew it was coming, what would you have done differently? 

Are there things we can do differently with our business because of what we’ve learned?

Take a systematic approach to the questions. We all recognize there are differences. 

How we get products at the jobsite, 

how we get products from our distributors, 

what we consider to be important, to be critical has likely changed. 

What are the top 5 most important lessons we learned? 

Where did we unexpectedly save money? Spend it? 

What were the real challenges?

What did you do differently in 2020 than you did in 2019? 

What benefits have come out of this?

One example of a benefit we would not have chosen, but since we were forced to, we are now going to have it as part of our standard operating procedure: 30 min. Sales and marketing updates via video conference, every other week. I bet that everyone in your organization knows how to use a video meeting platform. 

I suspect things your sales force thought would be impossible, would never work, would not be effective, are very different today than they were in January of 2019.

We are incredibly adaptive, and we are in a new normal. In 12 months, there will be another “new” normal, and another and another. One of the keys is figuring out how to take advantage of the lessons each Luck Event has to teach us, what “best practices” we can nick from others in our industry, what techniques and approaches we can repurpose from other companies in other industries. These are amazing times. What are you going to do with them? 

We are excited to be able to go into more depth with you in a webinar format in April. Join us then and I will do a deep dive into some of the techniques we use at Keson and SOLA.  

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