Retail Observer

January 2021

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Page 43 of 67

RETAILOBSERVER.COM JANUARY 2021 44 I t's hard to imagine a year like 2020 as anything more than the "what's Plan B?" year. Each time we thought we knew how to deal with all of the daily, sometimes devastating, changes of the ways that the Covid-19 pandemic was impacting our lives at work and at home, it turned out to be something different the following day. In truth, many of us feel like we are on Plan Z, rounding the bend to begin the alphabet again. At the beginning of March 2020, I flew home from a client trip to Texas. As usual, I was focused on my work, my ordinary life of a (mostly) traveling consultant and coach, I didn't have much time for tuning into the news of the day, and frankly, had chosen not to tune in because I'd grown so tired of the negative rhetoric no matter the season or shape of things. Because I do the work I do – working with leaders, teams, groups, companies – to create high-trust/high-performance cultures, I try to practice what I preach: take care about what information you digest, practice thoughtful kindness, verify your facts, believe in possibility, be willing to be surprised by something wonderful. I didn't know, boarding the plane from Dallas, that Seattle was the current epicenter of the virus with the outbreak inside a senior facility just north of where I live. I had carried my customary baggie with hand sanitizer, a paper mask, and cough drops in my bag on the plane because, you know, people have germs, and I've been on more than one flight with someone sniffling and hacking in the seat behind me. Within ten days, my calendar for the next six weeks had emptied. As in, totally open, free days of no calls or trips or commitments. When I look back on that phenomenon now, I imagine I was in shock since my work always teeters on the edge of worshipping at the church of busy- ness and trying to do what I suggest to leaders: make time, take care of yourself, don't overdo it. But here in the U.S. we are really, really good at that life, insomuch as we think it's normal, we think it's okay, so that things like play dates and me-time and self-care have to be scheduled into our lives. I had scheduled these things into my life as some way of measuring my own success about how I was doing. For several weeks, like everyone else, I tried to adjust to the waves of not knowing: was this going away in two weeks? Would I ever work again? What about all the retailers and restaurant workers? Would my family be safe? I was washing my groceries on the front door step before bringing them into the house, hosting front porch Happy Hour with my neighbors whom I knew, but I didn't really know. Wrapped in blankets, I sat on the porch and they on the sidewalk trying to figure out what was going on in our community and in our world. We began cooking food and leaving it on each other's doorsteps with texts: Curry out front! I made scones! Paella! I had to switch up my walking routes and discovered a neighbor with a cute speckled pig just four blocks from my urban home. A pig! We have a neighborhood pig named Wally? They closed the major bridge connecting West Seattle to the main downtown and other areas of the city: West Seattle – Never Leaving Even If We Could signs popped up in yards, where in a couple of months kids would draw hearts and daisies and LOVE in sidewalk chalk, wandering out there during their breaks from home schooling. Over the months, I began adapting, working with clients again, pushing myself to reimagine how I could provide value, support and counsel to my clients, even if I couldn't be physically present with them. All the ways I had said no way to teaching interpersonal skills or leadership language or creating high trust by using technology as the medium had to shift. All the ways I said, we can't use video, or digital classrooms, or distance media to build teams or impact trust had to change. I rallied up a Plan B just about every day, as did my clients, and here we are, continuing. No matter what, we are changed from this. Going back to normal is a misnomer, as we all know, but it feels important to ask ourselves some really important questions about what we know, what we've learned, and what we promise ourselves about how we carry on. If anything, we've been forced to reckon with the real truth that the only thing we can do is be fully, utterly present with what is: now I'm making connections with my clients on Zoom, and nothing else. Now I'm taking care to wear my mask and wash my hands, and I don't forget. Now I notice the tree outside my home office window is covered with small black birds who will make their way south for the winter soon. Now I notice that what matters most isn't whether I have a Plan B, but knowing that I will. Thank you so much to all of my Retail Observer readers over these past ten years, and especially to Moe and Eliana who have invited my voice into this space for all that time. I'll be taking a hiatus for the next six months, and look forward to meeting you at the next Plan B. PLAN B: WHEN THINGS DON'T GO AS EXPECTED (A personal essay) Libby Wagner Culture Coach RO Libby Wagner, author of The Influencing Option: The Art of Building a Profit Culture in Business, works with clients to help them create and sustain profit cultures.

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