As the owners of a small Montreal agency, discovering how to lead during COVID-19 has been a challenging but rewarding process. There is no handbook for handling a pandemic, no past experiences to play off of, no notes to refer back to. 

We have been staying true to who we are, and in doing that, have found a path forward. So what does that entail? A comfortable mix between clear and calm planning, and ensuring that every single member of the Plank team feels supported, encouraged and heard. Here’s what we did, and if it can help you – whether as a small business owner dealing with the same difficulties, or an employee fearful of the future – that brings us joy. 

We did what everyone did: We sat down and took a cold, hard look at our finances. We asked ourselves tough questions: How long can we survive if no work comes in? What financial avenues are available to help us to ride out this crisis? What government funding can we apply for? It’s important to be honest, and for those who have had to layoff employees or shut down – we truly hope these are temporary measures. We’re grateful that our doors are still open and our team intact. 

The team: In the early days, we struggled with how much information is too much. Ultimately, we decided being as transparent as possible was what our employees needed. They don’t want us to protect them from the facts, they want us to be honest with them. So that’s what we did. The situation changes weekly, but we keep our team informed every step of the way.

Like many places, we implement remote check-ins (3 times a week). We open the floor to any and all questions, and encourage dialogue. But we also make a concerted effort to reach out individually to every employee, and to speak privately. We believe this makes a difference, providing an even safer space. 

Our clients: We take the time and energy to reach out and engage with our clients. We don’t try to sell anything or talk about outstanding bills. Our goals are simple – to let them know that Plank cares about them. Are they safe? Do they need anything? Can we help? Until this health crisis passes, that is the only communication we are having with our partners. Because it’s the only one that matters.

Leadership: What does it mean to be a leader? We want to be strong and present for our team. We strive for empathy, compassion and understanding. We strive to be hopeful and deal only with what we can control. And so far, these times of trial have brought us closer to each other and to our employees. And that’s a silver lining we’ll take. It doesn’t mean that we don’t fight our own anxieties. We built this company more than 20 years ago, and want it to survive and prosper. We accept our own moments of fear, allow them to have their place, and are grateful when they pass. We seek comfort when we need it from those we love. Being honest, also means being honest with ourselves. 

Ça va bien aller (It will be OK)

COVID-19 has forced all small business owners to dig deep. These are fearful times and keeping the ship sailing during a storm like this, has been far from easy.  But we are in this together. When it passes, and it will, we will have survived, not unscathed, but survived. And when we’re ready, we’ll look back, and uncover the lessons. We hope the same for you. Stay safe. Stay strong. 

Warren Wilansky & Steve Bissonnette


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