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Don't be Part of the 25%

What are your plans for when disaster strikes? A recent article published by a small business owner in Calgary tells the tale of how she managed to not only survive this summer’s devastating flood, but come out stronger than ever.  Phoebe Fung, owner of Calgary based wine bar Vin Room has outlined 5 key leadership lessons that she learned after watching her restaurant be ravaged by a flood that affected more than 11,000 homes and hundreds of businesses.  

Firstly, PRIORITIZE SAFETY.  The destruction to Vin Room (including the annihilation of the electrical, mechanical and heating systems and extensive damage to inventory, wine cellars, storage rooms and staff areas) all occurred within a very short time period.  Within the first few hours of the flood hitting, Fung describes her restaurant as changing from a “beautiful heritage building”  to a “basement filled with flood water”.  Most of the staff were sent home as soon as it became clear that it was not to be a regular day at work, while a few remained to move valued inventory and computer systems to safety as well as locate sump pumps and generators to attempt to control the situation.  The relentless inundation, however; became far too dangerous and Fung, though instinctually wanted to salvage as much of her business as possible, realized the safety of her staff was invaluable.

Secondly, Fung states the importance of TAKING CHARGE.  Every day of inundation means more damage and essentially, more dollars lost.  When an emergency situation arises, a decisive response is required.  Fung, though a big believer in collaborative management, quickly realized the imperative necessity of a philanthropic dictator in a time of crisis.  “Someone needs to take charge, to call all the shots and to take responsibility for the crucial decisions that need to be made” stated Fung.  Adding steps and introducing new people to decision making only makes the clock tick faster and in a disaster situation, time is of essence.  Fung remained present throughout the entire process of demolition and renovation to approve all plans and make crucial decisions.  Dealing with over 50 suppliers, Fung ensured everyone was aware of her role as the leader, in order to save time, ensure authority and mostly increase morale.

Be BRAZENLY AMBITIOUS is the third lesson.  After touring the site with all her major trades, Fung insisted on cutting the estimated reconstruction time in half and everyone was up for the challenge to execute as fast as possible.  Shifts were created to ensure progress was continuously being made, trades which wouldn’t normally work alongside each other collaborated and suppliers were pressed for rush deliveries.  Fung credits the success of their goal to “strong past relationships, contracts based on a deadline and a shared common goal”.  She highlights that the majority of the trades they dealt with were also small businesses which empathized with their situation and were willing to go the extra mile.

COMMUNICATION may be one of the most important of the lessons highlighted in the article.  Keeping managers informed on progress, constant communication with suppliers and daily emails to ensure all employees that a response plan was in place allowed Fung to be the calming voice in a time of panic and disarray.  She attributes open-communication to have been vital to keeping her staff intact, having lost only one employee during the process.

Last but not least, TAKE CALCULATED RISKS.  Taking risks you wouldn’t normally is the biggest challenge for most when faced with a crisis situation.  It is crucial to trust your judgement and make the best decision possible with all information available at a particular time.  Fung believes that the snap decision to bring in sump pumps and generators while the flood waters were still pouring in is the sole reason the second floor of the building was spared damage.  Taking calculated risks when it was believed to be worthy was the key to the success of Vin Room in surviving a major disaster and coming out more excited about the future than ever.

The inundation of Southern Alberta this summer was a harsh wake-up call to many on the importance of having crisis-management and business recovery plans in place.  Fung states in her article that more than a quarter of businesses fail to reopen after a disaster.  Implementing such plans in your business will provide a roadmap to follow through adverse conditions. Essentially, they will help minimize lost revenues, build confidence in customers and within the organization, provide a competitive advantage, help mitigate risks and above all, enhance health and safety.  By applying the lessons learned through the experience of Phoebe Fung and implementing crisis-management and business recovery plans within your company, it is more likely that you will not be among that 25% of businesses who cannot recover, should disaster strike.