What Have Small Business Owners Learned from the COVID-19 Pandemic? – Joseph Michelli

The pandemic has taught many of us the value of resilience through adversity, especially in business. Joseph Michelli, CEO of The Michelli Experience and New York Times best-selling author has released his latest book, Stronger Through Adversity, and he joins us today to discuss key takeaways from the book.

Transcription:

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Joseph, thank you so much for taking the time out of your schedule to join us once again on the show.

Joseph Michelli:
Are you kidding me, Jim? I just got the book in my hand and I said, “Who do I want to spend time with to talk about this first?” So you’re first in line. People are getting first in line for vaccines. You’re first in line for the book.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
I love it. Well, we are so happy to be first in line and I can’t wait to get the book in my hands and read it. I know that it’s going to be another page turner, as they say. So thank you so much for joining us. But what can readers take away?

Joseph Michelli:
So I asked that very question to 140 leaders who are in the book. And I think that the key lessons that we got was this was a year for compassion. It was a year for empathy, but that didn’t mean that you weren’t holding people accountable. Compassion was very much in vogue and we needed to understand the emotional state of people, but we also needed to make sure that we were encouraging people to have impact, because quite frankly, people felt smaller in 2020 in terms of the ability to have impact compared to what they might’ve done in 2019, or what I hope they’ll do in 2021.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah. That’s exactly right. When you say impact, drill down on that a little bit more.

Joseph Michelli:
Well, I think first and foremost, our worlds shrunk, we got into our houses. We weren’t colliding with people in offices and a lot of settings. Beyond that, I think really from a human perspective, we were trying to make sense of how to just survive, and survival in a Maslowian sense is so primary that, how do we move up to do more than just survive? How do we thrive? How do we live our purpose? Because if you didn’t have a clarity of what your purpose was, it wasn’t going to be something you were going to figure out in the middle of this crisis.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah, that’s for sure. We should mention also, I know it’s on the screen here, Stronger Through Adversity is the book. Tell us about some of the few common lessons learned.

Joseph Michelli:
Yeah. So from Microsoft to Marriott, to Jim, as a leader who I had the good fortune of including, the lessons learned for me fundamentally were about listening. Listening at a different level. I think we think we listen in regular conversation, but quite often we listen enough to basically get the gist of what someone is saying and then we jump in with our own thoughts and ideas. This was a year where people not only listened more and more, but they also listened to the emotional drivers beneath the words. I think not only that, but then they had to communicate an honest lullaby. They had to be able to say, “Look, this is not going to be pretty. It’s not going to be easy. I don’t want to give you false hope, but I want to give you hope.” And from every industry, leaders were about trying to create realistic hope in a time when so much was out of control.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah, for sure. Do you think leaders of organizations big and small also learned a little something about themselves having gone through this?

Joseph Michelli:
Oh my goodness. So many things. One of the biggest surprises for me as I was talking to leaders was how much introspection they were doing, how vulnerable they were appearing. I was asking leaders about what were the mistakes they made and they were rattling them off. They were talking more about their personal lives. They were encouraging people to talk to them more about their personal lives. They weren’t communicating business from the boardroom. They were literally communicating business from their bedrooms. And I think that created a different kind of intimacy, a different kind of vulnerability, and a different kind of transparency.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Sure, sure. What is the consensus now among leaders now that we’re talking about a vaccine that’s out right now and everyone’s obviously getting in line to get it, the world, is it changing back? Do you think that it will ever go back to the way it was prior to COVID and what are leaders looking to do when things do go back to, I guess, semi-normal?

Joseph Michelli:
Well, I think it’s kind of like 9/11, right? Immediately after 9/11, no airplanes were in the air for a while. It was completely different. Then we imposed some security measures that are still here. They didn’t go away. That is a permanent fixture that happened from 9/11, though planes went back into the air at levels. They were not flying a couple of weeks after 9/11. This is going to take maybe a different run ramp to return to levels of normalcy. But my hunch is that there’ll be things about our world that will be forever changed. We will go for contactless pay. We will go for curbside delivery. We will have technologies to make our lives easier. That’ll all still be there. Video conferencing will be in vogue. Collaboration software will be in play, but I think we will be wanting to sit next to people. We will want to be shaking hands again someday and hugging people and acknowledging the humanity, knee to knee.

Joseph Michelli:
So if anything, there’s probably a pent up desire to return to some of the face-to-face stuff that we haven’t been doing. But boy, I’m not going to just jump on a plane and go for a day meeting to New York like I used to. I’m going to do that meeting via virtual, and then when it’s time for a two day workshop, I’m going to be in New York with that group of people.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right. Will we see some new industries come out of this what we’ve gone through in 2020? Are there some big business opportunities out there, do you think?

Joseph Michelli:
Historically, anytime we’ve had a huge valley, there has been innovation and rallies. I mean, let’s just take Zoom technology. It’s just a platform, a company. Look at what’s emerged from video conferencing alone, and I think you’re going to see an increased number of technological companies that are coming out to create ease of doing business and to make it so that we don’t have to put ourself in any undue or harm’s way to get things done when we can do it more efficiently or without that unnecessary contact.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
It seems as though customers that are of companies seem to be much more appreciative of the companies that are willing to make a delivery to their home or to help them longer on the phone or on the computer or things, especially during this COVID time. Have you found that to be the case where they’re… And they show their appreciation by returning to that retailer or that company to do more business with. Have you heard that and [inaudible 00:06:49].

Joseph Michelli:
Absolutely. Because what’s happening here is the organization is saying, “We’ve got to stop doing it the way we’ve always done it because the consumer can’t interface with us the way they’ve always interfaced with us. How can we make their lives safer and simpler?” And if you, every day, got up and said those two questions, how do we make the life of our people, be they customers or employees, safer and simpler, then you’re a leader. I really do believe that. And I think that many organizations didn’t have safer all that conscious in their organization. Now it is a filter that all decision making has to be made through, and it’ll continue, even with the vaccine until we hit herd immunity. And then I think they’re still be some lingering fears. As much as this invisible thing has been circulating around our society and then we put this shot in our arm, there’s still that psychological variable to overcome, to make sure that this worked against that out there. And so I believe safety is going to be of utmost importance for the foreseeable future.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah, no question about it. And that has to do with the hospitality business in a big way, which I know you know a lot about there. You’ve covered some of the best companies out there. What’s your take on the hospitality industry? There’s so many people that are nervous about hotels and the hotel industry as a whole. And of course, certainly the restaurant industry too, but what’s your take on that? Do you think we’ll lose some hotel chains out there? I mean, so many people are so nervous about this.

Joseph Michelli:
Well, bottom line, I think we’re all in the hospitality business, no matter what sector we’re in. I think we’re always trying to elevate the human condition, whether that’s an online experience or it’s an experience in a brick and mortar, but for the traditional industries like hotels, or even the rest of the travel industry, airlines, this is a point where they’re very close. A lot of them are really close. Without the right level of government subsidies, it’s going to be hard for these people to lope along.

Joseph Michelli:
You’re seeing it, Disney World of all places, the magnitude of furloughs that took place. So, I think they’ve adjusted and tried to come up with other revenue streams. Disney certainly shifted a lot to their online streaming service, but even so, there’s only so long you can go where your burn rate is greater than your revenue rate. So, who knows how long they’ll go, but I think many will bounce back when we start as consumers having the confidence we need to re-engage them in their physical environments.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Right, right. A lot of people said that we’re going to see a huge spike when everyone is finally vaccinated, albeit well in to the summer or maybe even the beginning of Q3. But they think that there will be a spike out there of people, kind of a celebratory thing, where people say, “Okay, we’re good. Let’s go travel. Let’s go spend money. Let’s do what we wanted to do in 2020, but didn’t get done.” Do you see that coming?

Joseph Michelli:
Oh, there’s so much pent up demand right now for so many things. I was just thinking the other day, how much I’d love to see a Broadway show right now, how incredibly special that would be. So, of course we have to get the vaccinations and they have to open them up again. And then will I be the first to go? Probably yes for the shot and probably not for the theater. And I think you’ll see a whole bunch of people who just can’t wait and there’ll be in the doors, and then there’ll be a steady trickle of people who will get around to that in its time.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right, that’s right. Joseph Michelli, CEO of The Michelli Experience customer experience expert, New York Times bestselling author and author of the latest book, Stronger Through Adversity. You can see it right here on the screen. Run, don’t walk.

Joseph Michelli:
And I’m throwing my actual physical copy.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
He has got it in his hand as well. This, folks, makes an-

Joseph Michelli:
I’m throwing it to you.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
And I’m catching it. This makes an absolute great gift, not just for yourself, but for someone for the holidays. I highly recommend it. Do yourself a favor, get the book, get a few of them because they’re good. So Joseph never lets us down. And I want to thank you so much for all your contribution to our show each month. Thanks so much.


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