By Wendy Winn, PT, OCS
On March 15, 2020, the trajectory of my life was altered. Not by me directly, but by the COVID-19 pandemic. I could go on for days about the positive and negative effects of Covid on business, how Covid has affected Custom Performance (our NYC physical therapy business) and how I changed personally.
Lesson: Stand in the face of fear and “fake-believe”
My personal leadership style is democratic, meaning I want input from our team. During the scariest time of our business decision making there was neither, no guide book nor could I rely on my staff to guide me. I had to “feel the fear and do it anyway,” taking every decision day by day, and know that I was ultimately responsible.
What we did: The management team held daily meetings, where we came together and made choices based on that day’s challenges. But at the end of the day, I had to stick my neck out, make the tough calls, and convince myself to believe, as their leader, even when I didn’t.
Lesson: It’s OK to grieve a dream.
In 2021, I attended a women’s retreat hosted by The Network of Women. The retreat was hosted at a home that belonged to a woman who had lost her husband, and she spoke freely about grief. Throughout the weekend, it became clear to me that I was grieving as a result of COVID. I was grieving the dream.
Grieving a dream was a new concept for me, but made total sense. I had a vision of Custom Performance, and the team did too. We had big plans that were now all different.
What we did: At this retreat, I met Cait Donovan, a burnout coach. She & I worked together to craft a program for both myself and our team. The team program was called a “fun-eral,” so that we could celebrate the death of our former dreams and move on to our new goals.
Lesson: When times are tough, your people will rise.
I believe nothing brings people together like a crisis or need. In the days, months and years following March 2020, our team has stepped up for the business in unimaginable ways. After our last payroll in March of 2020, our entire staff had to be laid off. (This is one of the hardest decisions I have ever made, but we had no choice.) In doing this, I suspected some staff might quit out of necessity. What happened instead was the whole team banding together to volunteer their time and work to engage with clients virtually. The amount of coming together was amazing.
In addition to the challenges each staff member personally faced, much of our staff are women. According to Mckinsey, “In the COVID-19 era, women across all sectors have shouldered more household responsibilities, and more women report feelings of burnout. These problems can be more acute for women in healthcare, who have fewer opportunities to work remotely and report feeling greater pressure to prioritize work over family. In spite of these challenges, healthcare continues to outperform other sectors in the representation of women, who make up more than two-thirds of entry-level employees and 53 percent of employees in roles at the senior-manager level or above, which is 18 percentage points higher than the average across all sectors.” Our staff not only shouldered the business, but also shouldered their personal lives.
What we did: to thank our staff for their loyalty and unwavering commitment to Custom, we implemented unlimited PTO. While we didn’t have the cash flow to support raises or monetary compensation, we wanted to thank them by offering time off.
Lesson: When you are forced to change, you think outside of the box
Physical therapy is a hands-on process and requires close contact. How on earth could we practice PT without touching people?
What we did: Just like everyone else, we went virtual! This concept, prior to March 17, 2020, seemed out of the realm of possibility for us. The Swiss School of Business Research states, in regard to pandemic effects on small business, “It pushed the fast-forward button on digital access.” We still offer virtual sessions today.
By Wendy Winn, PT, OCS