How you respond in a crisis can show your true colours.

We all have our bad moments. Those moments when we regret that the bedroom window was open the night we had a big argument with our partner. Those moments when we lost our cool at our kids at the playground and embarrassed them – and ourselves – in front of their friends. Those moments when you may have given a driver passing by a chosen gesture when they cut you off.

We’ve all been there.

And it’s in those dark moments when you might really show the world what’s bubbling underneath the surface. The fire that lies within. The impatience that’s ready to blow. The tears that are ready to flow.

Thankfully, all is not lost in these times, if you have another, brighter, more positive reputation to fall back on.  Your neighbour may chuckle and just think you’re having a bad night. The friends at the playground will secretly confess they have lost their patience with their kids too from time to time. And that driver who cut you off? Well, he deserved it. Truly.

Reputation in business works much the same way.

If you make a public mistake in business, how you respond, and how quickly you can bounce back from that mistake largely depends on the reputation you had before the blunder.

Sir Winston Churchill may have said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” And while that sounds good in theory, it’s rare the organization that actually plans how they will instinctively respond in times of crisis. Detailed crisis communications plans aside, the truth lies in the off-hand remarks of an organization’s leaders (remember BP’s Tony Hayward who reactively said, “I’d like my life back” when questioned about the Macondo oil spill? A misguided moment from a man no doubt exhausted from the maelstrom of media attention.)

Then we have the prolonged crisis situations where organizations have time to thoughtfully respond and support those in need. Looking locally we have the Fort McMurray fires of 2016 which forced the largest wildfire evacuation in Alberta’s history, we have the Alberta floods of 2013 described in retrospect as the worst in Alberta’s history and resulting in 32 states of local emergency being declared, and of course, now we have the world pandemic of COVID-19 currently still playing out around the world.

Those on the public frontlines can “misspeak” and potentially create controversies that can potentially damage reputations forever. Think Donald Trump with too many examples of having “misspoke” to mention; think of our own Prime Minister Trudeau as he fumbled through “speaking moistly” – an unfortunate turn of phrase which is actually quite accurate, albeit cringe-worthy; and what about our public officers of health, given daily opportunities to mess up – or rise up – depending on the day.

All this to say there is an opportunity to fall in these moments – or, more importantly, to RISE.

Opportunities abound to build your reputation or to lose it. Unquantifiable at the best of times, organizational reputations are the stuff of public relations campaigns the world over. And now, there is no need for a campaign. You can build your reputation from your heart, and many businesses are taking the opportunity to do just that.

Now, more than ever is the time to build your reputation from your heart.Click To Tweet

Now is the time, for you as a business owner, as an employee, or as a human, to show us what you’re made of. What do you feel called to do, be, or support during these times? Where do you find yourself naturally called to serve?

This is what I asked my business coaching clients when this crisis first started. Clients who were afraid to sell their services because it felt, well, icky to sell now. But what if it wasn’t selling?

People only feel sold to when they don’t want what you’re selling. If you fill a real or perceived need that they have, it isn’t selling, it’s serving.

Similarly, what if you put your regular business aside during these times to serve where you feel most called?

Or to offer a new service or product that you weren’t offering before? By finding new ways to serve your clients, you are demonstrating that you are in touch with what’s happening, that you are nimble in times of crisis, and can pivot to meet current needs.

All of these are reputation-building moves.

Where do you feel called to serve during this time of crisis?Click To Tweet

Let’s look at the drapery company in Calgary, Normandeau Window Coverings, whose owner lost her mother near the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis and who decided to start making and distributing facemasks for free. Rose-Ann Normandeau decided she wanted to do something positive, not because she was thinking of building her business reputation, but because she felt called to help in this way. And, I can guarantee you that the next time I need drapes I’ll be calling them because I love to support small businesses with big hearts.

And how about Tablée des Chefs in Montreal? With restaurant kitchens standing idle during this time, this organization launched a project to mobilize the food industry to produce more than 1.6 million meals and feed people in need during (and after) the COVID-19 crisis.

Brown Bagging 4 Calgary Kids in Calgary is also doing something similar and pop-ups, like our friends at the Haysboro Community Association mobilized Julie Van Rosenthal and Rouge Restaurant to make and serve food for the hungry during this time. There is a need all over the world to fuel hungry children who used to rely on school brown bag programs.

Small businesses and everyday people with big hearts are shining through in this crisis.

And one more local story – Mandy Stobo of Bad Portraits, Emma May of Sophie Grace Designs and Sarah Elder-Chamanara of Madame Premier, teamed up to celebrate our Medical Officer of Health Heroes, Alberta’s Dr. Deena Hinshaw, British Columbia’s Dr. Bonnie Henry and Canada’s Dr. Theresa Tam.  Why? Because Mandy Stobo loves to draw our local heroes and these entrepreneurs saw an opportunity to raise money for food bank-based charities across Canada, raising almost $30,000 with this initiative alone.

All of these businesses and the people behind them are showing us what they’re made of. They are showing us where they feel called to serve during this time of prolonged crisis and are putting their regular businesses aside to find room to offer support in a different way.

There are countless more examples of local business heroes (and ‘she’roes) who are rising up to serve during this time.

And the beautiful side benefit of their desire to rise up? Customers will remember their true hearts and they’ll have a reputation built on their true colours that will shine through.

The reputations of businesses are built and lost during times of crisis.Click To Tweet

If you feel called to serve right now – either through your business, through your organization, or through yourself – and you have the capacity to do it, then now is the time to act. Your true values will shine through, you’ll be able to focus on a cause greater than yourself and heck, you’ll build your reputation in a way that will be remembered for good.  And we all like to support small businesses with big hearts.

To your success, in business, in your career, and in life,

Susan Elford

Thirsty for more small business heroes serving in this time of COVID Crises? Check out these Five Calgary Businesses Building Creative PR Campaigns Around COVID-19. Then Subscribe to my newsletter. It’s filled with leadership and business resources for professional women and business builders, just like you.

Personal Balance Equation Workbook ABOUT SUSAN ELFORD

Susan Elford is a PR Strategist & Leadership Coach who especially loves to work with people who want it all: a fulfilling career or business while living a balanced life. Susan helps her clients get real about their strengths and celebrate and promote them so they get more of what they want: success at work; success in business & success in life.

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