COVID-19: A Time for Immediate Action, Support and Leadership
By Stephanie Russ, Childrens Lighthouse Early Learning Schools℠
At Childrens Lighthouse Early Learning Schools℠, our best practices and leadership insights work in tandem because we know that every decision made today will impact our business tomorrow. With that in mind, our team holds itself to a certain standard when determining the proper course of action for any situation – especially a crisis situation. In such scenarios, our decision making relies on four simple steps:
- Look at the situation logically and process the realities.
- Hypothesize different scenarios.
- Lead with honesty and compassion.
- Utilize all resources.
As the leading values-based early learning school in the U.S., we have an unfaltering commitment not only to our students, but also to our franchise owners across the country and our employees. Because of this, it is critical to ensure that we are meeting the standards we have set forth and built our foundation on by providing resources that would help our owners and families weather this storm.
Taking Immediate Action
Before departing on a flight – which we will do again – passengers are instructed that if the cabin loses air pressure and the airbags deploy, they are to place the mask on themselves first before helping others. The logic is that you need to be operating from the strongest position possible in order to be the most help to others. We immediately took this approach when developing a plan to manage the COVID-19 pandemic.
Applying our decision-making process described above, we first evaluated the company’s immediate financial position. As part of our assessment, we conducted a cash flow analysis to determine our likely position in three months and six months using various revenue models. Before we even knew that financial assistance may be coming from the federal government, we scrutinized budgets and took steps to make cash last as long as possible. And finally, the owners of our company decided unanimously to forego their draw to keep more cash on hand to support the franchise system as a whole.
We also chose to proactively provide financial relief to our franchisees by cutting royalty payments in half. Overall, it was not a question of whether we made the right, best, or perfect call; reducing the royalty payment was an actionable item that would provide immediate relief to franchisees. In this situation, every business partner is sacrificing to help the next partner in the chain. Even with reduced enrollment and staffing, franchisees are paying it forward by keeping their schools open to continue to provide the essential service of childcare. Lenders are deferring payments in support as well.
Honest and Communicative Leadership
In an uncertain situation, it is natural for employees to wonder about job security and the financial health of the company. To combat this insecurity at our Franchise Support Center, we connected with every Childrens Lighthouse Franchise Company employee individually, either in person or over the phone. We did this not only to reassure our team that we were in a good financial position but to also listen to their concerns and offer help where we could. In a collaborative work environment, personal communication is key, and it only made sense to approach this unparalleled challenge together.
Childrens Lighthouse franchisees have also embraced a collaborative approach to manage the crisis. Aubree Fuentes, the owner of Childrens Lighthouse in Riverside, California, has done everything in her power to make sure her staff feels supported both at work and in life. To keep her employees safe, Fuentes limits contact with parents, enforcing the 6-foot social distancing requirement when possible. She also offers guidance for her employees – if they need help asking for rent a deferral, applying for a personal loan, etc. Overall, Fuentes does everything to keep morale up and provide a well of resources and support to her staff.
Compelled to serve as a light and bring joy to others in the darkest of times, Aspen Ricks, owner of the Kansas City area Childrens Lighthouse schools, provided free Easter baskets for families in need. To inspire and empower others to give back to the community, Aspen also hosted a food drive contest at her schools. Those who donated canned and non-perishable food items for families in need were entered to win a backpack full of goodies.
Like our peers, we are communicating more frequently with each other and our franchisees. We are enlisting the collective knowledge of our franchisees to better the whole system. In addition to providing written communication, we have a systemwide conference call at least twice a week. We are navigating this uncharted territory together, collectively sharing our experiences what has worked well and what has not. Our Franchisee Business Coaches talk to franchisees and school directors every day. We have announced that our team is accessible to franchisees 24/7, and we have franchisees that have taken advantage of that opportunity.
When handling the current crisis and all uncertain circumstances, we approach matters as we always have: process the situation, plan for different outcomes, lead with honesty and compassion, and use our resources to the fullest, even when called upon to make decisions in a short amount of time.
Stephanie Russ is the VP & General Counsel for Childrens Lighthouse Early Learning Schools℠. For more information on Childrens Lighthouse, click here.