#40a – Surviving a Business Crisis – Building a Million Dollar Business Part Time

By Kathy Korman Frey

You voted in the last post (Insiders post, that is, MDPT) and you’re getting what you want: THE HEAT. Below – finally- is the scoop on the behind-the-scenes crisis at #sisUdc.

I am sharing the real deal for the purposes of :

#1 Being authentic. I find it silly when people pretend everything is perfect.

#2 Learning. Crisis management is a legitimate skill. Keep it together under heat, and you just might be able to keep it together in general.


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Scenario: On October 9, 2010 I am scheduled to deliver a “groundbreaking pilot seminar” called Sisterhood of Success(R – ding!) University (#sisU) – which we now call our “Academy”. So between 50 and 80 women at the George Washington University School of Business.  Which then later turns out to be more like 125. WUSA (news station in DC) is going to be covering it. I have promised a lot to attendees.

The trouble begins at 8.21 am

8.21 am Networking is from 8.30 to 9.00. My team has been there since 7.45 am.  I run upstairs to my office to grab materials which are supposed to be waiting for me on my chair.  This is a common routine I’ve repeated with the office staff over my nine years as an adjunct  and – now – “Entrepreneur in Residence” at GW. (No, “Residence” does not mean there is now a cot in my office. I don’t think anyone really knows what it means.) So – the routine: I’ll send materials for class via email, the office prints them, they leave the papers on my chair. All good, right?

8.22 am I unlock the door to my office. The materials are sitting on my chair. Whew. I fan through the piles just two be sure. There are only two piles. There should be THREE piles.  The most important thing is missing: The participant workbook.  The workbooks are THE central part of the entire workshop. The are NOT THERE. A “freak out” starts to rise within me, I suppress it so I can think straight. In case this is not crystal clear, the entire anchor of SisU – the workbook – is MISSING.

The entire anchor of SisU – the workbook – is MISSING.

P.s. For those of you who think “Oh, just get them to write on their own paper.” This is a techy crowd. I’ve learned through experience: Laptop, yes. Blackberry or iPhone, yes. Paper, no.

8.23  am In a “pretending-I’m-not-frothing-at-the-mouth” frenzy, I call the senior secretary for the Department of Management. It’s the WEEKEND, but,  I am desperate. She never got the workbooks. She printed everything she got.  My document must have bounced. My first thought is “I’m an ID-iot!”

Triage

8.24 am I shift into some strange kind of primal business triage mode where I start quickly prioritizing and assessing what needs to be done (all the while with a horrible nervous feeling). FIRST, I run downstairs and announce to the team:

“You are going to have to hold down the fort, there is a major problem I have to deal with upstairs. Keep your phones on.”

Lesson: A team to “hold down the fort” is key.

8.25.00 am Attendees look at me expectantly as I zoom past, grab my phone, head over to the elevator bank of Funger Hall and press the “up” button. I can’t waste any minutes saying “hi.” Attendees probably think I have some kind of social anxiety disorder or something as I run around like a weird animal afraid to make eye contact.

I run around like a weird animal afraid to make eye contact.

8.25.30 am Over at the elevator banks, one attendee who has strayed from the crowd asks, “Can I do anything to help you?”  She must have seen my “inner freak-out” bubbling to the surface, and not been fooled by my “scurring rodent” routine.  I put on my best Stepford voice: “Thaaaakkknks hon, just have to run upstairs and deal with something real quick,” I say. HA! Understatement of the year.

8.26.00 am After much toe tapping and pacing, the elevator arrives. I hop on. I step in and press “3.” Nothing happens. “Is THIS how it’s gonna be?” I ask and look up at the florescent light grid. Sometimes, I seriously think WE are the rats in the maze sometimes.

8.26.30 am I step out of the broken elevator, and press “up” again. I fear ALL the elevators are broken. A bum elevator is a known occurence from time to time in Funger Hall. I feel lame when I realize, even in my 9th year teaching here as an adjunct…I have no idea where the stairs are.  Finally, a new elevator arrives. I press “3.” The doors close. With my luck, I’m going to get stuck in the elevator. Then – at least – I’d have the perfect excuse.  Ding….ding….third floor, doors open.  NEXT, time for a serious Workbook Plan B.

Time for a serious Workbook Plan B.

Copy Room in Funger 315 “No One Gets into See the Wizard.”

8.27 am I quickly walk from the elevators over to the Funger 315 (copy room is in Funger 315). I try to open the door. LOCKED. I try another entrance. LOCKED.  I mysteriously start channeling a sailor; a sailor with very bad language.

8.28 am I call the main GW number, and ask for security.

  • GWU Security: “George Washington University Security.”
  • Me: “Hi, this is Professor Frey in the School of Business. I need to get into Funger 315. It’s an “emergency.” I ‘m supposed to speak to a group at 9. Can someone please let me in my department?”
  • GWU Security: “Okay, we’ll put in the request.”
  • Me: “Does that mean they’re coming now? What does that mean time-wise?”

Please Note: I am  trying to act like a normal person when – in fact – I am getting ready to pull a full-fledged Shirley MacLaine.

  • GWU Security: “It’ll be about five, ten minutes.”

At this point, the difference between five and ten minutes feels like the hugest time swing in the world.

Me, if security doens’t show up:

Shirley MacLaine Freaks Out in “Terms of Endearment”

8.29 to 8.35 am I wait. It’s painful. Like root canal painful. Security still doesn’t show up. I wind up channeling the sailor with very bad language. Again.

I wait. It’s painful. Like root canal painful.

8.35.00 am I called security again. “Oh, it’ll be about five minutes.” I totally don’t believe them, just like I don’t believe Diamond Cab when they say they’ll have a driver at my house in “about 10 minutes.” I am going to have to enact a Plan B. A very, very lame and desperate Plan B.

8.35.30 am I grab a ream of copy paper and a stapler from my office and crouch in the hall outside of Funger 315 (where the copy room is). “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven”…I am counting out – by hand – seven pieces of plain paper and stapling them together.  “This is just pathetic,” I say to myself. I watch the door to Funger 315 , crouching with paper and stapler, looking like some weird corporate cavewoman.

I am…crouching with paper and stapler, looking like some weird corporate cavewoman.

8.40.00 am Security shows up. Hallelujah!

8.40.15 am Not so hallelujah is when the guard says, “Do you have your GW ID?” Eeek! I dont’ carry anything with me on event days. Nightmare! I start fumbling with my phone, getting ready to call someone from the department to vouch for me. This person could be “my other brother Daryl” and even as I raise my phone I am highly skeptical about security buying this.

8.40.30 am In a stroke of crisis-brilliance, perhaps the ONLY brilliance of the day, I notice a photo of me on the wall…”Oh oh! This is me!” I waive him over to a display case that has all the faculty and their pictures, I point to my picture. He nods and lets me in the office. I love you Stephanie Gresham! (Who did this display board.).

8.42 am By this time, I have 18 minutes, a lobby full of attendees, no workbooks for the attendees, and no guarantee that I can even work the copy room stuff to make this happen. I seriously feel like my reputation is on the line here. This is a social media crowd and, if I mess up, it’s going viral. I turn on the computer outside the copy room, find the password. I look at my email to see if I can print out the workbook from the bounced email file. No such luck.  Nada.

8.43 am I open PowerPoint, and realize I am going to have to make an entirely new workbook…in 10 minutes.  I try to focus on the screen in the dark office, because it’s CLOSED for the weekend, and work fast.

8.44 am I quickly type “Section 1”  on Page 1 of the workbook. I try to add a new page.  This is PowerPoint 2007.  All the computers have been upgraded. I can’t figure out how to add a new slide.  Click, click click. Pointless. Zero idea what I’m doing. And I’m pretty techy. This is very anxiety-provoking.  It seemed like everything was working against me. I thought:

“This is TOO close.  There is a VERY good chance I am going to fall flat on my face here.”

8.47 am I try to keep my brain under control and keep forging ahead. But, apparently my mouth was still moving….

  • Me: “Oh no, oh no, oh no.”
  • Security Guard: “Is everything okay?”
  • Me: “This is PowerPoint 2007. All the terminals have been upgraded. I can’t figure out how to add a new slide.”
  • Security Guard: “Oh, I can help you. I’ve done tons of PowerPoint presentations in training.” (Hallelujah plays in background).
  • Me: “Seriously, you are the best. I cannot thank you enough.”
  • Security Guard: “This is much better than a typical call of dealing with a homeless person who has wandered onto campus.”

Lesson: GW hires security guards who know PowerPoint.

8.53 am I finish the seven page workbook.

8.54 am I figure out how to send the document to the printer, left staple, 80 copies.

8.55 am “The printer is warming up.”

8.55.30 am I use the “spare time” to pull up the presentation that I am giving downstairs. Since they just upgraded all the computers to PowerPoint 2007, I better just make sure.

8.55 am Gobbeldygook!  All of the letters looked like symbols. The presentation is unreadable.

8.55 am So, at this stage, I have no workbook as I’m not sure the copier will really work, my presentation is Gobbledygook, and I am supposed to start talking in five minutes downstairs to a group of women participating in the pilot – some of whom have traveled from out of state!

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Fun enough for you yet?  

Stay tuned for Part II of this post to see how we successfully excavated ourselves from this mess, and pulled off this successful event.

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Lessons learned thus far include:

  • Crisis Management: Practice suppressing your inner “freak out” – it will help you some day.
  • Font-astrophe: THIS is why people say “Don’t use weird fonts.” My guess is Times New Roman serves up just fine no matter what your Microsoft office version.
  • Time management: Bad time management during the week prior created this pressure cooker environment. Having all materials ready WAY ahead of time is how I normally roll. But…..there was a White House Council on Women and Girls event. I launched two classes. My husband was out of town (we have two kids that cannot be raised by wolves and require human care and feeding). Was it worth it?

Note: This is part of  “Insider’s” posts recently merged with our main blog.

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