Leaving the Guinness Storehouse the evening we closed our doors to the public felt strange. Although not as strange as when I called in a few days later, on St Patrick’s Day no less, to find dust sheets on all the product in our recently refurbished shop, empty fridges in the coffee shops, and our newly extended Gravity Bar as pristine as the day the builders handed it over – all lacking the one element that makes our experience truly special, the people.
I had many fears, not only for our own business, but also for the suppliers who have supported our business throughout our 20 years. Companies with whom our relationship far exceeds the boundaries of a transaction. These are partners led by great people, many of whom I’ve celebrated with on joyous occasions like birthdays and weddings. Now we faced more difficult conversations discussing their considerable challenges. In times of hardship, I have always endeavoured to support those who support us, but this time we were all affected.
Over the first weekend of the government restrictions, my mind raced with the scenarios, the permutations, the devastation that loomed. I went for a long walk (so long I had to leave my little dog Daisy at home!), and returned to have a call with my team who were all working hard on shutting down the business and working out the next steps. I listened with pride as they answered the questions I had before I needed to ask them – a lovely moment of positivity.
As the situation has gone on I’ve learnt to hold onto positives like these as best I can. I penned a personal email to each of our partners, and the replies were full of gratitude and emotion. I underestimated the effect a simple act would have on people I hold in such high esteem. In all the communications I receive, our visitors rarely comment on the building, but they always comment on the team. I believe the values that an organisation prides itself on should shape its thinking – that’s why looking after our people is at the forefront of our guiding principles.
In my 40 years of leadership, I have prioritised team communication as essential in preparing a business to not only survive a crisis, but also thrive post crisis. Such crises have included 9/11, the Gulf War while working in the Middle East, SARS and recession, however never before for the teams I’ve been privileged to lead has the issue been so close to home. That has perhaps been the great differentiator with this pandemic.
With this in mind, I was keen to keep the team updated as much as possible. During moments of crisis, information instils confidence, silence breeds panic. It was however a delicate balance – I wanted to share everything with my team but also needed to be mindful of the sensitivities of a large PLC and that any communication we made must be ready for widespread distribution.
We also had a parallel process to manage with regards to our finances. We put an immediate suspension on all non-essential spend. We of course honoured spend still owed to our partners. We then trawled the P&L line by line to identify where costs could be abolished, deferred or reduced.
Our wider team have been exceptional in their response to the situation, and all our communications have been received and responded to with positive sentiment. For some light relief our brand ambassadors at the Roe & Co distillery organised a fun and memorable virtual cocktail making workshop for our colleagues, and our team of beer specialists from the Guinness Open Gate Brewery curated a programme of Guinness history, facts and tastings, in their humorous and engaging style. The highlight of my week, these sessions remind me of the magic of visitor experiences and how truly blessed I am to have been a part of this industry for 20 years.
We are now in the midst of creating a fabulous reopening plan that is energising and exciting. We will all have to conduct business differently in the new world of social distancing. We must not lose our warm, smiling, authentic welcome whilst we refrain from handshaking and being close to our visitors. More emphasis will be placed on body language with a greater focus on crowd efficiency and visitor flow. I believe that we have finally got our heads around the ‘new normal’ and that we will reopen and learn to deal with it and flourish.