Life lessons in crisis

Resilience. Stamina. Strength. Hope.  These are words I remember when I think back to 9/11. It was a horrible day filled with resilience, stamina, strength, and hope. I do not ever remember fear. There was no time for fear. That emotion never entered my mind nor the minds of others making their way uptown from Wall Street that day. Old, young, disabled, rich, poor, or destitute, the playing field on that day was leveled. We no longer wore labels. Color, race, and religion did not matter as we all walked the streets together. New Yorkers came together with water, food and clothing. It was the generosity of the NY community on that day that will always be front of mind, and the resilience that followed reminds us all that we can come back.


I thought about that day and the weeks that followed as I maneuvered through the challenge of this last year. Although not the same circumstances, my behavior and that of my colleagues, family, clients, and friends remains resilient and their stamina, although challenged, remains strong.


The difference today from almost twenty years ago, is fear.  This year we felt afraid.  This year we felt anxious.  This year we felt alone. It has been thirteen months since the pandemic forced the world to shut down and that anxiety and fear remains. Our government gave businesses Band-Aids.  Many businesses embraced those Band-Aids:  PPP1, PPP2, EIDL, grants and gifts.  Most businesses made decisions to change their business models, tighten their belts, and make changes that should have been made regardless of the pandemic.  It was not easy.  The path forwards most days was murky at best, but many businesses are stronger today as a result. They were able to challenge and embrace the changes forced upon them, adapt, and reinvent. The fear and anxiety are still here but we are beginning to feel hope. 


I challenge you to take some time to evaluate the last thirteen months.  Were you profitable despite the pandemic?  What changes did you make that you continue to embrace? Some of the changes that we see businesses continue to embrace include:


  1. Financial cushion.  A reserve of 3 months expenses is not enough. The minimum should be 6 months.
  2. Staffing.  We found out we can do more with less.  Understanding capacity and embracing productivity is the key to long-term profitability.
  3. Retention of customers.  Know what your customers need today. It has probably changed since the pandemic. Embrace the changes and support them. This may have an immediate effect on your profitability but will bring long-term rewards.
  4. Retention of staff. Have a strategy that embraces flexibility with accountability. The work will still be the same, but many people found they were more productive when allowed some flexibility in their schedules.
  5. Adaptation to new technology.  Meetings and calls over Zoom, Google Meet and Microsoft Teams became the norm changing the way we do business today.
  6. Mediocrity no longer works.  How you measure success will ensure high performance.
  7. Understanding that having a strategy balanced with culture and strong financial reporting is the only path forward.


Only time will tell what the next thirteen months will bring and I encourage you to not forget the lessons learned in the previous thirteen.  Keep them close and remember you are resilient; and you have the strength and stamina to continue to thrive.  Replace fear with gratitude and embrace the knowledge that anything is possible.

Mentoring for a Purpose

The world has changed and with it, so has the workplace, and how we manage and train staff.  Gone are the old days (circa 1985 working for a CPA firm) where cut and run was the norm.  We have evolved from 1985 and the pandemic has made us more aware and creative.  The culture of the organization is the key to the success of any employee related program.

The question really is, what do we, as small business owners, do to attract and retain great people?  Establishing a strong mentoring program is an excellent start.  Mentorship can work in many ways.  It is not a one size fits all proposition.  It is not a program that business owners can say they support without backing it up with something they honestly believe in.  Awareness and a willingness to embrace the program starting from the top is integral for the program to be successful for everyone. 

There is no one size fits all solution to developing a mentorship program that works.  Mentors can be used to open an opportunity to help others build self-esteem and confidence in their role, whether it’s due to a promotion, or just something another employee is struggling with. Mentorship at its very core is the sharing the gift of knowledge or an experience with another individual.  It should not be felt like it is an obligation by the mentor or mentee.  If that is the case, then one or the other is not quite ready to participate.

A mentorship program can be formal or casual or a combination of both.  Bill Danaher is the Director of Staff and Process at CEFO Advisors.  He suggests that employees should reach out to mentors under any of the four situations:

1) You “earned” a promotion but are being held back. Let us say you are highly effective in your role and your manager agrees, but they indicated to you that you need to improve in one select area. Perhaps you need to improve your presentation skills or get your reports issued in a timelier manner, and until you strengthen these skills, they will not recommend you for a promotion. Why not tackle that area and go after that promotion?

2) You notice a skill area that needs improvement. Maybe you recognize areas you would like to get better at. For example, my son works as a portfolio analyst at Fidelity. Early in his career he made a presentation at work which he was extremely nervous about and did not do well at. He recognized a weak area that needed improvement, so he signed up for public speaking with Toastmasters (they typically assign mentors). He stayed with Toastmasters for over 2 years and earned a Competent Communicator certificate. As a result, he was recently able to successfully complete a 20-minute virtual presentation to 800 colleagues. Think about it like this: you are either getting better or “treading water” and if you do not improve your skills constantly then you are falling behind your peers.

3) One of your peers points out an area where you need to improve. We all have “blind spots” in our careers. Those are areas you thought you had an acceptable level of skill, but others recognize immediately that you need improvement. For example, you are told that your relationship building skills lack diplomacy or a coworker says your time management skills need to improve. You may have always thought you were both diplomatic and efficient, so this feedback really surprises you, but you know that perhaps you should listen. Once someone points out a legitimate “blind spot” it is on you to address it.

4) Learn from the best. Have you ever seen that world class athletes have a strong support system? For example, major league baseball players have hitting coaches, strength coaches, mental skills coaches and so on. Pro golfers typically have a swing coach and sports psychologist. If these elite athletes at the top echelon of their profession rely on coaching to master their craft, then why not you? Don’t you want to master your craft? Perhaps one of the reasons they are world class is because of all the coaching they receive.

Consider signing up with a mentor that has demonstrated skills in the areas you want to improve in. Yes, it takes a bit of humility and willingness to try some new approaches. Change is hard; it is uncomfortable to learn new ways of doing things. But over time the results are worth so much more than the effort you put in. So, go for it! Build your confidence, build self-awareness, love your job, get a promotion and feel fulfilled at a job you love!

If statistics are your thing, here are a few (1):

  • 71% of Fortune 500companies have mentoring programs.
  • 94% of employees said they would stay at a company longer if they were offered opportunities to learn and grow.
  • 67% of businesses reported an increase in productivity due to mentoring.
  • 55% of businesses felt that mentoring had a positive impact on their profits.
  • Mentoring programs boosted minority representation at the management level from 9% to 24%.
  • Top reasons for millennials wanting to quit their jobs are ‘Not enough opportunities to advance’ and 35% and ‘Lack of learning and development opportunities’ at 28%.
  • 71% of people with a mentor say their company provides them with good opportunities to advance in their career, compared with 47% of those without a mentor.
  • More than 4 in 10 workers who don’t have a mentor say they’ve considered quitting their job in the past three months.
  • 87% of mentors and mentees feel empowered by their mentoring relationships and have developed greater confidence.

I have several local mentors that I call upon on a regular basis.  Bonny Boice, who is an Executive Coach, Theresa Agresta, Founder of Culture Talk and Denise Horan of Integrated Management Sales Consulting are several of the women who have become my mentors.  Trust me, they are total game changers!

(1)The Importance of Mentoring in the Workplace, November 20, 2019 by Nicola Cronin