During the COVID-19 pandemic, The Chick-fil-A College Football Hall of Fame has fared no differently than many other business and cultural institutions throughout the country. With an average decline in attendance of 80% and decimated revenue streams, we were faced with difficult decisions including closing our doors on March 16.
From what we were sure would be just a two-week shutdown, to almost 4 months closed, we planned, replanned and then planned again. We struggled through furloughs, layoffs and even our own self-doubts. We secured Payroll Protection Program funding and generous donations while slashing budgets to survive the spring and finally opened to the public on July 1.
While the reopening wasn’t as grand as we had hoped, it was the first step back to recovery. In August, we adjusted our operation to four days a week to mitigate losses and conserve cash. Today, we are proud to remain open and viable, fulfilling our mission on many fronts and serving our guests in a safe way.
Survival wasn’t guaranteed and below are three guiding principles that helped us navigate the uncertainties and ensure a sustainable operation for the future. Principles two and three may sound familiar as I am a big fan of Admiral James Stockdale and the Stockdale Paradox.
1. People first. Whether it is the group you are able to retain or the team members that you must let go, treat them with respect and express gratitude for all their efforts. Your own discomfort doesn’t matter. Make a bad situation as good as it can possibly be for them.
2. Confront the brutal reality head-on. If you turn and face the worst that could possibly happen, you will be ready for whatever comes your way. I am pretty sure we have prepared more than a hundred operating scenarios and budget forecasts since March.
3. Don’t lose faith. Faith is not positive thinking, but rather the deep knowledge that this “season” is not forever. It’s not sitting back and waiting for things to change either. It is hard work. There is less staff to accomplish many of the same objectives and the team is likely to struggle with motivation because results are less than desirable right now. You are going to get tired, but quitting is not an option.
When the new year began, I was overjoyed to finally see 2020 in the rearview mirror. Then, I remembered the warning I see every day – “Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear.” We aren’t miraculously escaping the madness of this past year with the simple flip of a calendar page. The effects will forever be with us, as they should be. Our organization is stronger and tougher than we were twelve short months ago and we will put that hard-earned strength and resilience as well as the lessons learned to work for us long after this pandemic has passed.