Hurdles as possibilities

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The last two years were the equivalent of a master’s class in flexibility — lessons in staying nimble and the value of thinking outside the box. We’ve seen our families, colleagues and the people we do business with use what they had, even when not the ideal circumstances or provisions, to persevere.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine serves us with daily reminders of how quickly life can change, what resilience looks like and how fortunate we really are. Being mindful to keep things in perspective and consciously working to change my perspective is one of the most important challenges I encountered throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic fallout we’re still experiencing. And it’s a gift I truly appreciate.

Channeling perspective is the adult version of “turning a frown upside down.” But it’s more than just maintaining a sunny disposition in the face of adversity. Perspective invites us to examine obstacles to our success more deeply and re-evaluate the way we do things. Setbacks can be the impetus for positive change.

In 2022, I’m determined to flip the script on stumbling blocks and encouraging team members to adopt the same attitude in:

Our outlook: Some things are out of our control, plain and simple. So many businesses have been hugely impacted by the global shipping crisis, with spotty inventories and backordered items dominating thoughts and actions for nearly a year. We may not be able to make a ship sail more quickly, or get its contents unloaded at port more expeditiously, but is there something we can do? Feeling that some action was better than inaction, we moved ahead with securing more shipping containers at much higher prices than we were accustomed to. We did whatever we could to keep a stream of products coming in. Taking a situation that feels paralyzing and finding incremental ways to push forward is productive and empowering.

Our processes: Mistakes happen. Sales dip. How should you respond? Beyond educating or disciplining, delve into the context behind errors or missed goals. Perceived negatives are a great motivator for looking into processes to see if you can be doing things in a way that’s more effective, more efficient, or just plain easier. A challenging time for keeping inventory levels where we’d like them to be became an ideal time to launch a new web feature enabling customers to check stock online in real time. We saw an opportunity for our website to be more informative and interactive and embraced it.

Our personal interactions: Delayed shipments tend to result in unhappy, or at least impatient, customers. Rather than waiting to put out fires with frustrated clients if they called our customer service reps to complain, we sought proactive measures. Sales reps reach out to clients frequently with updates on shipping statuses and information on in-stock inventory and quick delivery alternatives when long delays are expected. We strive to keep customers informed and give value in every interaction.

The trials faced since 2020 have been amazing chances to stop, think about our core values of customer service, respect, teamwork, quality, safety, innovation and transparency and look for ways to use them to turn problems into opportunities for real growth. I invite you to do the same.

While a respite from unusual business circumstances would be welcome, I truly believe my company has seen the best results and reached new levels of creativity in innovation, transparent communication and teamwork by embracing the perspective that hurdles are possibilities. ●

J.D. Ewing is Chairman and CEO of COE Distributing

J.D. Ewing

Chairman and CEO
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