February 28, 2020 was the tipping point. We had a corporate group with 200 rooms scheduled to arrive at our hotels on March 1. With just two days’ notice, they cancelled all air travel, hotel rooms, and arrangements for an annual meeting of hundreds of people as a precautionary measure due to the COVID-19 outbreak. It was not yet a pandemic, but from that point on it has been like dominoes of groups cancelling their March, April, May, and June events. These conferences and meetings took months and sometimes years for my team to contract at our ten hotels. Then, in a matter of three weeks, cancelled.

How does a Controller, leading a sales organization in the hotel industry, respond to this and all the other issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic? How do we respond to stay-at-home orders, furloughs, and an environment where travel, meetings, and events are not happening, along with uncertainty as to when things will change? 

[Read “Some Thoughts from Analyzers Now Working for Home”]

Controllers Thrive in Dynamic Environments, But They Must Learn to “Pause”

As a Controller, I embrace change. In fact, I love a dynamic environment where I can take on challenges and solve new issues. COVID-19 presents an entire set of challenges unlike any I have faced. When previous dramatic change events happened, such as September 11, 2001, there was more of a clear sense of when things would return to “normal,” which allowed for transition and planning for new beginnings. Not so with COVID-19. We have no idea when or how things will transition.

The key, as a Controller, in managing myself and my team through this change involves pressing the “pause” button. My natural tendency is to make quick decisions, where I rely on my experience and gut. While this can apply to some things in this environment, the significant unknown factors require me to slow down and rely on a lot of outside, expert information so I can make a more informed plan for moving ahead. We Controllers are forward thinkers and will help lead the way to a new and better future. We want to and need to be involved in looking to what comes next. So be sure you take full advantage of tapping into your Controllers for their ideas, as the new world moving forward may look much different than it did before.

This challenge also led to the worst day in my career, which was when I had to lay off, even temporarily, a group of strong sales performers. I understood the business need but having to do that put me into a tension-reaction situation. 

Typically, the first level of tension-reaction for a Controller is to take over and command. However, for me, it was deeper than first level, which caused me to withdraw so I had to take time to recharge. Remember that Controllers, who can be perceived sometimes as impersonal or aloof, care about others as much as anyone—even though they may not always show it. Thank goodness I have a lot of Stabilizer in me from years of being a parent and a leader. Tapping into my Stabilizer strengths has been critical during this time of sensitive communication.

[Read “Surviving Remote Work as a Persuader”]

How to Best Communicate with a Controller During a Crisis

To help successfully work with a Controller through this time, there are a few things to be aware of. We like results. We need to drive and generate positive outcomes in order to thrive and do our best work. For most businesses, the results that were defined through goal setting, budgeting, or other metrics have changed in the current environment. The Controller style needs to understand what that change is. If the leaders have not determined the new measurement or focus, due to uncertainty, then the next best thing is to break it down. Define what success looks like today (or this week) and involve us in that discussion so we will buy in and make it happen.

We also like to be moving onward, sometimes so quickly that we do not take the time to listen to others (which is one of our blind spots). Once we have a good idea of what needs to be done, we want action—and that doesn’t require all the details. We need Analyzers and Stabilizers (“left of midline” styles) to help keep us aligned with our team and its operations, ensuring that the details still get addressed. In a work-from-home (WFH) environment, it is important to have checks and balances with a Controller to make sure they continue to use the systems and processes that are in place to document work and keep track of communication.

We are task-focused, meaning our natural comfort zone is working on an enterprise or project, and we may lose connection with people in the WFH environment. It is not that I don’t want to talk to people or that I don’t care about them. Rather, I get lost in the task and what needs to be done to achieve results. But I love it when others reach out to me, especially when they text or email me to find out when it would be a good time to connect. If I get a call when I am in the middle of a project, I usually find it is very difficult to fully put aside what I am working on to provide my undivided attention. 

So, when you reach out to your Controllers working from home, send a quick text or chat asking, “Do you have time to jump on a call?” This is the best way to get us at a time where we will fully engage with you. I love the people I work with and care about what happens to them. Connecting and being able to help them through action and brainstorming is especially important during this time.

[Read “People Skills Programs You Can Do in Your Own Living Room“]

Don’t Boss Them Around

Finally, remember in the WFH environment: communicating clearly about everything, including requests and expectations with Controllers, is more important than ever. And really this goes for any style. Without that face-to-face interaction, we need to be hyper-focused on our messages delivered through other WFH mechanisms.

When communicating or making a request of a Controller, remember to provide some brief context that includes the “what” and “why” behind what you are asking. Since we do not like being mandated to do anything, a request in the form of a question will always work better. For instance, “Please contact the army bases out of the New York area to see if they need accommodations” would be more effective as “We have heard that the Army is bringing in over 1000 medical personnel to work at Javitz center, which is only four blocks from our hotel. What do you think about reaching out to see what they need in the way of accommodations?” As a Controller, the second example involves me and allows me to build upon the request, rather than leaving the impression that I am being “told” what to do.

Eventually, large gatherings and events will slowly begin to return to our lives. We will get through this and be in better days. . . and Controllers, working in collaboration with all other Behavior Styles, will be there to help lead the way!

3 Responses

  1. Excellent examples and applications to our today world. Thank you for sharing, and hang in there!!

  2. Well done Sharon! You’re right, folks will return to traveling as soon as it’s safe to do so. The idea generating that Controllers can lead during this time will be essential when we turn that corner!