Butchershop’s Way to Create Clarity and Smiles During This Crisis
- Trevor Hubbard, CEO and Executive Creative Director
Economic volatility, client and employee concerns, closures, family routine changes—all changes that engender uncertainty. What’s needed right now, out of everything, is clarity. Clarity is a mindset. It increases joy and optimism in times like these. My company Butchershop, a 30 person brand consultancy in San Francisco, is beating failure with clarity as we work 100% remotely.
Before the shelter-in-place ordinance, Butchershop employees averaged around 30% of their time working remotely. We have clients all over the world, so we’re used to operating a virtual business in some respect, though several companies and even industries are struggling to operate like it’s still business-as-usual. Transitioning to full-time #workremote puts companies and clients in a situation where there’s a higher likelihood for things to be or to become unclear. But clarity is what will help you lead right now. My mindset has been to treat this experience as an obstacle, one that might be the greatest opportunity to be even better than before. This mindset keeps my enthusiasm and optimism high. This moment is for invention and reinvention, if you let clarity sit at the heart of it all.
Before I started my Covid-19 media block-out (there was too much information and misinformation being tossed around), I witnessed many concepts and opinions being passed off as advice. So, I wanted to share examples of real things we’re actively doing at Butchshop in the hopes that you’ll find some small points of inspiration, or ideas you can take and make your own to share with your teams, organizations, or companies. I’ve bucketed the biggest things we, as a company, have been doing to “shrink the distance” during the San Francisco shelter-in-place mandate that started on March 12, 2020.
01. Do a PreMortem immediately.
The PreMortem method is equal parts mindset and tool. If you’re unfamiliar with it, you can learn the method here. We use it to kick off every one of our projects, and get not only our crew but clients to participate. It starts by asking the most fundamental question: “What would make us fail?” This seemingly simple question is the quickest way to get insights, gauge priorities, assign roles, and generate next steps quickly and without excess. And because it prioritizes participation from everyone, it becomes the best way to hear a collective voice and not just the loudest ones in the room. Our first Monday of #workremote we gathered the entire company in a virtual all-hands meeting to do a PreMortem. It took about 5 minutes, using a #workremote slack channel for our employees to submit their 120 answers to the question “What would make our company fail right now?” We took their answers and categorized them into 5 topics: Market, Business, Clients, Optimization and Best Practices, Mental and Physical Health. Each topic was assigned to a group of 5 people who then brainstormed via video conference to generate ideas that could stand as possible solutions to our concerns. Once completed, we reviewed the ideas and put them into short, medium, and long-term goals. The short-term goals are currently being implemented. The medium and long-term are being prioritized respectively.
In a total of 2 hours, we learned so much. But what this did for us at the psychological level was help people put concerns from all the unknowns into mental buckets. Clarity began to take shape not just for individuals but for our company as a whole. Some great thinking came out of the exercise, bringing powerful ideas to the table. It was therapeutic, cathartic. It took our collective concerns and positioned us to be proactive instead of reactive. It set the tone for how we would operate in this uncertain time. We were poised to shine.
02. Create a mascot.
A few days after we closed our office for #workremote, the crew at Butchershop created feedtheline.org, a way to feed hospital workers by funding local restaurants through community donations. The idea was pitched by Brand Strategist, Lauren Miller, whose fiancé is working on the frontlines at UCSF, where the staff’s ability to get a hardy meal during work hours was becoming an issue. The entire Butchershop team jumped in to help. The website was built within a weekend and launched the following Monday. At the time I am writing this, one full week after feedtheline.org launched, the initiative has raised over $35,000.00, helping over two dozen restaurants feed over 300 healthcare professionals across eight Bay Area hospitals, delivering excess of over 3,000 meals. We’ve received overwhelming support from the community for this project, and our hope is that more hospitals raise their hand for meals, monetary contributions keep coming in, and more restaurants have an opportunity to secure revenue during shaky times.
The feeling that we could create something that everyone in our company could support and be proud of helped give more purpose to each day. It keeps our crew focused on how to be helpful toward one another, inside and outside of the office. And it proved that, even completely remote, we could test our abilities and go from an insight to an execution of a completely functional and effective organization. I think having feedtheline.org as a mascot for Butchershop made a lot of our people say to themselves “we got this.”
03. Commit to delightful occasions.
The Butchershop crew are dedicated and work really hard under normal circumstances, but removing office life from the equation can make it difficult to find a balance. A typical day at the office is full of healthy distractions, like getting up to walk around, small chit-chat, lunch walks, kitchen table conversations, procrastination tactics for reverie, tapping someone on the shoulder to walk through an idea. Working remotely should be no different. I decided to create a virtual lunch room, a 730am morning walk, and our crew came up with a weekly trivia happy hour. Injecting these small moments to break the cadence adds some fun and normalcy to the days. It’s even changing our language. People are “stopping by” the virtual lunch room, rather than calling in. I thought it was interesting.
Additionally, there’s a ton of opportunity to create inspirational moments. For example, I was feeling depleted after a lot of client work travel was cancelled or postponed. I brought my energy up by creating a custom google map and asked everyone to drop pins into places they’ve been and places we’d eventually go after this crisis. We collectively added over 600 locations around the globe. The sentiment was “We are grounded right now, but we will fly again.”
04. Surprise people in small ways.
Normally, surprises and assumptions are bad for building trust and creating value with client partners. But if you’re a CEO, sometimes it’s helpful to provide moments of surprise to your team, especially during a time like this. It can be a source of calm, a way to reset the mind. Every day after work since #workremote began, I send an email to our crew to mark the end of a good day. I recap what I did, give some shoutouts, summarize business updates with real numbers and information. I announce little things, like going on virtual walks in the morning or the lunch room video call we set up each day at noon, or updates on things our leadership is developing from the #workremote PreMortem we did, which has been useful information to come up with these little things we can do. For example, a lot of people were concerned that their homes weren’t set up for #workremote with wifi and call quality being low. So one day in my daily email, I announced that I would Venmo all employees $50 to use toward their cell phone bill or to beef up their ISP bandwidth. It wasn’t much, but I think it was a nice, simple gesture—the kind we need right now. I include information about expectations, how we as a company are addressing communication, clients, and each other. I try to keep tone light and fun, with a few inside jokes and observations or links to things that are interesting. And, although I don’t describe myself as a hysterically funny person, I like to think my notes are entertaining. But mostly, I hope that they make people feel good and stand as a little something to look forward to each day.
05. Prevent information overwhelm.
I’m sure most companies have gone through their own version of a Covid-19 information free-for-all. Employees sharing different websites, links to stories and reports, all with good intentions. This can overwhelm and contribute to negative feelings or emotional turmoil as too much data leaves us without the ability to process it or make sense of the current environment. In other words, it causes a lack of clarity. Personally, I’ve blocked out the social feeds, mainstream media, and government content at the moment. It’s too much. I’m listening to the doctors on the frontline and my local officials who offer timely updates. I’ve also made sure that our employees know they can share any and all information with myself and our office manager. I use my best judgment and discretion to filter what’s shared in my daily email. People will still tend to get information through personal social circles, but, for the most part, our employees have respected and appreciated that our company has a way to handle the spread of information.
06. Have a POV, not an opinion.
When a crisis creates uncertainty it’s more important to have a POV than an opinion. A POV is a filter for a situation, whereas an opinion is subjective and often polarizing. I have maintained a healthy distance from opinions, but have had a strong POV. My POV is our company’s POV, and it has been that we will do everything we can to protect our employees and abide by the greater community’s need for us to “shelter in place”, “social distance”, “shrink social circles”, and “stay healthy.” We want our employees to share their opinions and come to us with suggestions, and when we pass them through our POV filter it helps keep information flowing without too many negative effects.
07. Write a best practices handbook for #workremote.
Like many, we weren’t fully prepared for this situation, so we created a playbook to outline simple expectations and behaviors for our new working environments. Our Office Manager, Jess Penaflor, and Global Head of Operations, Katherine Cambouris, created a digital work remote guide before we closed our office. What I loved about it was that it wasn’t overly instructional or informative. It laid out some best practices, expectations around behavior, and some tactics for communication and project process. And it was built to adapt as we learn and see opportunity for improvement as this shelter-in-place continues. How should you mute and unmute your computer mic? What if we need to adopt a new digital tool? How do we address presentations that have mgfx, animations, or videos that don’t play well over screenshare? How do we send proofs to multiple people on our team from vendor partners? All of these questions need answers, and we keep them in one place to make helpful information easier to access and stay updated on.
08. Clients may need something different.
Butchershop was founded in frustration during the Great Recession of 2008, which inspired me to create a unique and diverse business model. We are 100% project based. And even in a recession there can be a wonderland in the market of opportunity for project based businesses. Projects don’t go away, but the goals and the needs change. In this uncertain time we have done two things with clients that establish clarity. First, we immediately reached out to all our clients to support and changes that come from business impact to prevent postponements and cancellations. We communicated how we would come to the virtual table as a partner to help figure out what to do next. Second, we gave all our clients and potential clients direct mobile phones to all leaders from the CEO (me) to our Strategy Director. Through this process we were able to flag early that we would not be able to proceed with video production for a large publicly traded company. Instead of just postponing, we spun up new creative to do the entire production remote (abiding by the shelter-in-place mandate) in a day. We pitched the idea over a phone call and the production was green lit.
09. Work on internal initiatives.
The idea of putting things on pause at Butchershop isn’t where our heads or hearts are at, nor is it for our client partners and vendor partners. Again, to me this is a mindset. The greatest challenges or obstacles we face are the greatest opportunities. Times like this encourage doing more with less, poking holes in the process, challenging organization, and punching the card on just how good we really are. If there is clarity, then you can move. We’ve heard a lot of companies tell us that they will pause on things like reorgs, campaigns, internal initiatives, transformation projects, advertising, and of course, branding. To us, this is the perfect time to do these things if you have the right mindset and approach. But if clarity is lacking, you can forget about making lemonade out of lemons. Butchershop is spending significant time on our venture projects. Our venture projects are solutions we could all be using right now, and that fact has rallied effort to get them to the finish line because we acknowledge this connection. There is more focus because we have great people, but also because we are working together better than ever. We will take advantage of this time.
10. Find a way to communicate differently.
Don’t over rotate on tools and think they’ll automatically equate “great communication.” Your team has most of what they need already. One thing we can all do is listen more. Setting up a PreMortem and generating solutions to beat failure is listening. Raising one’s hand in a video call so as not to talk over others is listening. Reading a message and responding with a slack call for a deeper conversation is listening. Listening is key, but also trying to find ways to share sentiment differently through our text. This is a time to use the hell out of emojis—it’s permissible, and adds much needed sentiment that spares people the subtext. We’ve also asked people to pay attention to their word choice as communication goes back and forth. Leaders in our company using words like ‘crazy’, ‘nuts’, ‘mayhem’, ‘overwhelmed’, or ‘fucked up’ in reference to the work or client partner situations doesn’t help anyone. It just adds drama where we need to be doing our best to prevent it. And drama does not lead to clarity.