Sunday Message From Ben: It's a marathon, not a sprint

It is not the strongest that survives, nor the most intelligent; it is the one that is most adaptable to change. – Charles Darwin


The last time I wrote was Memorial Day, the beginning of summer (Read May 25). Back then I wrote that this is a marathon, not a sprint, but I was personally sprinting and got tired. I needed a break to spend some weekends with my family during the summer. With school starting and your encouragement, I am excited to pick back up the pen again. Going forward, I will approach this like a marathon by writing less frequently, but consistently. We are in this together!

Like you, I am nervous and frustrated. The lockdown order this week seems like another unnecessary overreaction, not addressing the root of our Covid-19 community spread, and causing lots of collateral damage on impacted employers. Like many of you, I can struggle some days to find a positive mindset and “can-do approach” to our challenges. When I look too broadly at our community challenges, I feel despair. And then I have to come back and focus on what I can do.

Today, in this letter I’ll start by looking at those broader community challenges. I’ll then shift to what we can directly control, what ProService is doing, and point to a few resources that might help you. It is a marathon, and while we are all tired of the challenges, we must stay focused, accept the change, and focus on what we control to adapt to survive.

A Look Back at the Summer: We have entered a much more critical period of this COVID-induced crisis.

The summer seemed like a strange lull. Things almost seemed normal. I wrote back then that it was a calm before the storm. There was a lot of Federal government cash flowing. Everyone had PPP money or unemployment benefits, and we tried to go back to normal.

We – our State and City governments, schools, and business community – needed to use that “borrowed time” to prepare for harder days, but we failed at that. The Federal and State governments continue a course of limited engagement, poor communication, and halting action. We still have no clarity on how our State decisions are made regarding closing or opening our economy, or what conditions are necessary for tourism reopening. Many decisions seem to be made through only a Covid-19 lens, without seeming to take other community wellbeing needs into consideration. Even relatively simple things that are within our full control, like implementing test and trace, managing our interisland freight transportation, or overseeing interisland travel, have been handled reactively and communicated poorly. Said simply, Hawaii deserves better, and we need to say so.

What I am most concerned about is that we underestimate the fiscal squeeze that our State is about to go through. PPP funds are running out, landlords are squeezing tenants, and the federal unemployment stimulus spigot is petering out. While we expect something to be turned back on, when, what and how are unknown. The combined benefits of federal stimulus to businesses through PPP and other programs, and to individuals through stimulus checks and enhanced unemployment, flushed a lot of cash into the economy and made things seem bearable for the summer. The flow of funds into Hawaii is quickly dwindling. The situation is much more ominous now. More businesses are being boarded up and will close permanently, and we will see a ramp in the knock-on consequences: homelessness, crime, migration out of the State. It’s way more than just Covid-19, and we are already seeing the signs of these problems all around us. By writing about it, I hope to get people talking about it and ultimately improve our actions. Much is at stake right now.

Shifting back to the focus on each employer

All of the above means it’s going to be a really hard next few months. Surviving is still thriving. To survive, as Darwin says, we must adapt. The first challenge is to find your customer opportunities and understand where you can make a margin. Then, once that’s clear, how will you change your business process, your marketing, your positioning, to best capture the opportunity. In addition, trends in online shopping, remote work, outsourcing, and cloud computing have all accelerated. It can be dizzying, but now is the opportunity to prioritize and assess how you will adapt, learn, and survive. ProService is here to help you through these challenges managing and adapting your workforce, controlling costs, and supporting your employees.

This change is hard. It is hard to maintain the marathon of change and adaptation where the goal of surviving doesn’t feel like a win. The joke is twice the work for half the revenue. So the question is, can you find it within you? Can you use the quiet of a Sunday afternoon to step out of the fray, see and accept things as they are, craft your approach, and then tap the strength and courage you didn’t know you had to make it happen starting next week? That’s what it takes right now. It’s hard, but you have reserves of strength. You have it within you!

This is what we are finding at ProService too. We are reforecasting, updating our plan, recommunicating, clarifying accountability, and driving improvement. The next leg of our marathon is beginning now, which is how we better care for each other, so that we can better care for our clients. We kicked it off at an all-company Zoom meeting yesterday. Ultimately, it’s all about service to our clients and the community, but for us to do that, we’ve got to take care of our people, our Prohana!

To show our care, we started by saying thank you to each other. Our employees have gone above and beyond. We have executed well, and I’m so proud of our team, particularly as I “see” the challenges employees endure to work successfully from home. I also want to thank you, our clients, for each note of appreciation you’ve shared. Thank you.

Here are a few of the other things we are doing which don’t cost much, but will help support our people. I hope there are a few ideas you can use.

  1. Don’t ignore the brutal facts – in fact, go hunting for them! We ask for employee feedback regularly, and we are doing this even more now. The sad reality is we can’t check-in by walking around the office, so we must do so with surveys and zoom calls. Taking time in our weekly meetings and one on ones to mine for the hardships and being vulnerable about these challenges, makes it safe, allows for discovery, and allows for us to connect through our trials. When we focus on this, we “see” our team, and find our staff in need of different types of support. Seeing is the first step.
  2. Embrace employee input, even when you might need to say “no”. Create safe places for ideas on how to support each other. Don’t be afraid of saying, we can’t afford that or we can’t do this. Instead, seek to find ideas you can do. Many don’t cost anything! For a few ideas, check out our employee engagement playbook too!
  3. Make the unseen challenges seen. Be curious to learn and feel this new reality for employees. Until last month, we didn’t fully understand how challenging jobs had become. We are beginning to see this now by doing deep dives into “a day in the life”. In this, we explore and document everything our employees have to do, and how they have to do it, to create a complete picture of the various challenges first hand. By doing so we gain empathy and can begin to find ways to help. You can do this and your managers can help you do this too! All it takes is curiosity and empathy, and doing so will probably lead to win-win opportunities to make things better for both employees and clients.
  4. Revisit and clarify the story for your employees. Covid-19 interrupted the story of our year, and we now are reconnecting the story. We are committed to not letting Covid-19 define us, but instead to chart a path forward that gives a vision, a plan, and ultimately, hope, despite Covid-19. We give them transparency, straight talk, and then seek to have everyone help row the boat together. We win together. You have to tell the story of the business to your staff, and tell it often. The narrative matters more than ever.
  5. Connect the dots between company success, client success, and employee success. It is fundamental that caring for our employees is critical to caring for our clients, and making things easier for our clients enables client success. It is important that everyone understands these connections. If our employee is struggling emotionally, it’s more challenging for them to provide great advice and service. None of these things exists alone. They all interconnect. We all have a responsibility to overcome our personal adversity to excel at work AND we have a responsibility to see and support our peers with their challenges. Only by committing to both can we possibly hope to succeed.

The challenges of today are daunting for Hawaii employers, but with focus and determination, there is a path through. More pivots are necessary so plan for it, and don’t lose sight of how you communicate with and care for your employees. If you bring them along with you and are there to support each other, you can go far together. Your teamwork is more crucial now than ever. Consider today how you will connect with, support and engage your people this week. A hard thing to find right now is hope, and while hope is not a strategy, finding hope is fundamental. Find it and share it with your employees.

With Aloha,

Ben Godsey

President & CEO