Just Say It: This Stinks! The First Step Toward COVID-19 Business Recovery

Eric Groves from Alignable

May 8th, 2020

I admit I softened the last word a tad by saying: “Stinks.” In this interview, Steph Roy McCallum, founder of the Courageous Leadership Project, shares that one of the first steps on the path to recovery is allowing yourself and others to express how much the disaster has impacted you.  

While there will be longing to return to the “Old Normal,” according to Steph, there really is no going back. But there are ways you can bring forward the elements of the “Old Normal” that matter most and make them foundational elements of your “New Normal.” 

In our discussion, we cover:

  • How recovery requires a grassroots community level effort
  • Why small business owners take a lead role in disaster recovery
  • How you can help yourself and others get through tough times and on to better days

I hope you enjoy our discussion, and I invite you to share how this situation really “stinks” from your perspective along with your personal aspirations for your new normal in the comment section below. We’ll call it: “Vent and Inspire!”

What Business Owners Should Know About Recovery 

Eric Groves:
As our thoughts shift from survival to recovery from the coronavirus outbreak, it turns out there’s a lot we can borrow from the frameworks developed for natural disaster recoveries

While the actual physical impact differs, the long road to recovery ultimately depends on how we and our communities come together to define and drive towards our new normal. 

Hi, I’m Eric Groves, co-founder and CEO of Alignable. I’m excited to be joined by Steph Roy McCallum, who is the founder of the Courageous Leadership Project. Steph is a leadership consultant who’s worked across five continents on projects where they try to solve really big problems. 

She’s seen firsthand the efforts needed to recover from a variety of natural disasters and I’m thrilled to have her here today to share her insights with all of you. First off, welcome, Steph, and thanks so much for joining me here today.

Steph Roy McCallum:
Oh, thanks so much, Eric. I’m really glad to be here.

Eric Groves:
I really appreciate it. You said good stuff, fascinating background in working with individuals and communities, recovering from natural disasters and solving huge problems. 

While our circumstances today differ somewhat from recovering from a hurricane or an earthquake or a fire, the key learnings from these situations can certainly be applied as our members search for ways back from the coronavirus impact. 

I was wondering if you might start off by just sharing a few thoughts about what should business owners really know about what it takes to recover from disasters in general.

Steph Roy McCallum:
Well, it’s a great question. I guess I want to start with I’m not an expert in economic recovery, see what pick global pandemic, so I’ll just start there.

Eric Groves:
Nobody is.

1. Accept That There Will Be A New Normal

Steph Roy McCallum:
Nobody is, that’s right. But, my work is in the space of really tough conversations and helping people find a way forward. 

And so, I think the very first thing, first lesson I think that we can reach to in natural disaster and community recovery to that is that there is no normal and there’s no going back to normal. 

There’s no going back in life. There is only moving forward.

So that I think that if you’re holding on to this belief that this will end and then everything will return to the same, it won’t. It will be different going forward. There’s no going back in life. There is only moving forward. 

So, it becomes a new normal. I think that in disaster recovery, there are loads of impacts.

Steph Roy McCallum:
For example, similar impacts that we’re having right now are disconnection and isolation, and people needing to learn or re-learn how to come together and ask for the help that they need. 

But, the key, I think, to recovery, how communities recover the best in natural disaster is when they come together and define and create what new normal looks like. 

In this case, that would be maybe the geographic community or the sector that you work in, the business community or all of the above, just coming together to say, “Hey, what do we want our new normal to be and how we move the systems back?”

Related Content9 Uplifting Stories of Community Support

Eric Groves:
As we think about that new normal for our communities and ourselves, it was for business owners looking to recover and find that new normal for our business while finding a path to financial stability and maximizing our success. 

How do we think about it in terms of what do we hold on to and what are the things we should be willing to let go of to create that new normal for ourselves?

Find support for recovery and reopening in our coronavirus resource center

2. Define and Create Your New Normal


Steph Roy McCallum:

Wow, it’s such a good question. I think the challenge of an opportunity is that it’s strips you to your essence, but the opportunity of a disaster is that it allows you to redefine yourself and recreate yourself. 

I think that in a business perspective means going back to what matters most to you in terms of the things that bring you joy, what has brought you financial security in the past, what are the things that you’re most passionate about. 

Or, think about what are the things that have the biggest positive impact with your customers. And then, go for the positives and focus your energy there. Because as you move forward in recovery to this disaster, you can’t do everything, so you need to pick the things you can do and focus on those. 

Ideally, they will be the things with the biggest return and the things that, I don’t know, sustain your business and connect to why you started your business in the first place.

Steph Roy McCallum:
I think that really it’s about adapting to the new normal and reinventing yourself, but also your business model. Say, if you’re in business and you deliver a particular project, well, how do you still meet the needs of your customers or your consumers and why they came to you in the first place? 

Maybe you need to change how you were doing things, adapt, and that sometimes you’re going to have to give up some of the things you used to do that you consider part of your normal practice and focus on the stuff that you can do because you won’t be able to do everything. 

All of these things are lessons in disaster recovery, right? 

  • One step at a time
  • Ask for help
  • Focus on what’s most important
  • Focus on the positive, the things that have the most positive impact

One step at a time, ask for help, focus on what’s most important, and then focus on the positive, the things that have the most positive impact.

Eric Groves:
Great advice. As we think about, as a business owner, trying to shift our business, the great news I guess is that small business owners are so innovative to begin with, that they’re used to trying to or leverage adversity to find new paths to opportunity. 

I think that if anybody can really pull this off, it’s a small business owner working with their community. That brings me into the next topic.

When you compare and contrast the people that have been most successful from the ones that haven’t, in terms of what their communities did right after the disaster that set them up for success, what was it that you saw along the way that really made a difference in how one community really rose right from the ashes and another really suffered and struggled to come back?

3. Come Together With Your Community


Steph Roy McCallum:

By and large, it comes down to human connection. It comes down to a community pulling together, having conversations together, seeking to reconnect with each other, to network with each other, to even just find each other again because we’re human beings first and business owners second.

We’re human beings first and business owners second.

And so, it’s our ability, I think, to connect with each other and to support each other, and then in the supporting of each other, to have those conversations as a community about:

  • What does the future look like?
  • What role do I play in it?
  • What role do you play in it?
  • What are all the different perspectives about what that future looks like?

Because if we are coming from a place of uncertainty where what we thought the world was going to be like, it’s not the world we’re walking forward into, then we need all the diversity of perspectives rather than just holding tightly to your own view. You need to see what others need and what others want.

Related content: What Does a Crisis Make Possible For You?

Steph Roy McCallum:
I think it’s not just what support do you need, but what support can you offer as well? Those things are crucial in our ability to recover and to rebound. It goes to resilience, right? Even the word resilience, it brings to mind an image of elasticity. 

How do you bounce back? 

So, bouncing back requires support and flexibility and connection. I think you also need to really recognize a lot of the communities that I’ve worked with, recognize that this is a marathon, not a sprint. That it takes longer to recover than it did for the disaster to make things fall apart. It requires more effort. At times, it might bring you down and cut you off at your knees.

Related discussion: How do you lean on your network during tough times?

Eric Groves:
That’s a great point. How do you, as a community or as an individual, really deal with those moments where you get down or you sense the negativity of the community and you really need to find a way to turn it around? 

Are there any tricks to the trade in terms of how to really start those brave conversations and make people feel good in the process?

4. Talk About How Hard It Is

Steph Roy McCallum:
Yeah. Well, the thing I think that is the best trick to doing that is counterintuitive. 

Oftentimes, if we want people to think about positive things and we try and gloss over the hard stuff and point them towards the positive, but actually I think when we stop resisting that this moment or this time that we’re in or this situation totally sucks, then we invite people to talk about how they’ve been impacted and how hard it is and how they’ve just had a really crappy day or really crappy couple of weeks.

Invite people to talk about how they’ve been impacted and how hard it is.

 Once you share that, the resistance in it disappears. And then, you can move forward.

Steph Roy McCallum:
When people vent, you can support them in, all right, so this is how we’re feeling or this is what’s happened to us. So now, what? How do we move forward? 

I think it goes to the greatest innovations often come from the toughest crisis situations, right? You don’t have any more choices, so you’ve got to reinvent, you’ve got to be creative. That only comes if you acknowledge the pain and the challenge of where you are right now.

Eric Groves:
What great insight. I think the combination of all those things that you wove together was just fantastic for our members. 

As they think about trying to come back in their own business, recognizing that it’s only through the diversity of the community and really the collective ideas of everyone, that you can really figure out what the path is to success because everybody has a little piece of the solution in them. 

Only by coming together as a community can you really find that new normal that is going to make it great for everyone. But at the same time, being willing to just stand up and go, “You know, guys, this really sucks.” 

Get other people to share the pain that they’re in because it’s only through understanding their pain can you find the opportunities to move forward.

Eric Groves:
I thank you so much for joining me here today. I know our members are going to just get a ton of both motivating insights from you and also maybe get a little bit of adrenaline going to connect with other people in their community and really reach out and reach out to people that you may not have been interacting with before because you got to bring everybody into this community in order to be successful. 

So, thank you so much. We will include a link over to Steph’s Alignable profile for anybody that loves to learn more about the Courageous Leadership Project or connect with Steph directly. Thank you, Steph.

Steph Roy McCallum:
Oh, you bet.

Eric Groves:
Thank you to everybody who’s listening. On behalf of everyone at Alignable, we hope you all stay safe and stay small business throughout. Thanks again.

Steph Roy McCallum:
All right, take care.

Stay #SmallBusinessStrong

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