The Pivot

Author and executive coach Jennifer Powers shares what to do when “shift” happens.

The Pivot

September 2021   minute read

By: Bruce Horovitz

Few things are harder for any c-store owner than the pivot.

The air conditioner stops working on the hottest day of the year. The freezer stops operating right after you get a new delivery of ice cream. Your most dependable shift worker gets sick. A savvy competitor opens down the street.

The real issue isn’t about what happens. It’s about how you react to what happens. That is the essence of the message that nationally recognized motivational speaker Jennifer Powers will offer to NACS Show attendees, October 5-8, at the McCormick Place Convention Center in Chicago.

Powers’ speech comes at a moment of great change. The convenience and fuel retailing industry is under constant pressure to pivot to healthier foods, reduce sales of tobacco products and install electric vehicle charging stations. Then there’s the competitive pressure to improve technologies and to modernize with more contemporary formats. Change is a constant not just in the c-store industry but in all industries, and Powers knows this firsthand.

“Change is something that happens to every business every day—without exception,” said Powers, who has authored three books on change, including Oh, Shift, and Good Shift. “Your ability to personally deal with change will help you deal with anything that comes your way professionally.”

Pandemic Pivot

Powers learned this very difficult lesson firsthand. “During COVID-19, I had to do a serious pivot,” she said. For years, 90% of her business had been giving in-person motivational speeches and in-person training, coaching and mentoring of more than 2,000 coaches worldwide. She is a master certified coach—accredited by the International Coaching Federation. But along came the pandemic, and all of her person-to-person speaking and coaching engagements suddenly came to an instant halt. What to do?

“It was a real ‘oh shift’ moment for me,” she said. “I had to immediately pivot to digital delivery and virtual engagement and a whole sector of business that I’d never considered before.”

Instead of throwing in the towel, she posed this critical question to herself, just as you should when your c-store comes to a pivotal point of change: What is the opportunity here?

Within three months she went from doing less than 10% of her business online to more than 90%.

“It was a shift show,” she said. “It was an opportunity I’d have never found if I hadn’t asked the question.”

She had to instantly learn so many new things. Like how to improve lighting for online sessions, how to improve internet connections and how to market and promote a now-digital business that had been an in-person business for so many years.

Your ability to personally deal with change will help you deal with anything that comes your way professionally.

“It seemed like a hot mess, but I’m so grateful now that the change happened,” she said.

That’s because she not only survived—she thrived. She added an entirely new digital niche to her business where she’s now coaching other coaches and credentialing them online. As a result, she said, she is earning more now than she did before she made the big pivot. “That would never have happened if I hadn’t been forced to look outside of what I’d been doing,” she said.

You’re in Control

Similarly, c-store owners have far more control over their lives—and their businesses—than they think they do, she said. “When change happens, you may feel like you don’t have control, but you do—in the way that you react to the change,” she said.

The first and best way to exhibit that control is in the words you utter when unexpected change occurs. Some c-store owners are probably tempted to say things like: “This is a nightmare.”

Well, it probably will be a nightmare if that’s how you react to the change. But what if, instead, staff and co-workers heard you say, “This is a growth opportunity.” How we speak about something can impact how we and others will feel about it—and how we will react to it, and, yes, what the ultimate result will be to that change, she said.

Why is change so difficult for so many business owners?

In part because owners too often feel like victims of change. They typically forget they have total power to choose how they respond to the change. So, it’s not uncommon for a business owner facing an unexpected change to ask out loud: “Why did this happen to me?” said Powers. But things don’t happen to you or against you, said Powers. “They simply happen,” Powers said. So, it’s how you react to the change—which is completely within your control—that will determine the outcome.

“We are so busy being victims of change that we forget we have choice in how we react,” she said. “How we react will determine our reality.”

For clarity: The moment after something happens you do have control by virtue of your reaction. “If you choose your reactions thoughtfully, you choose your reality,” she said.

Power in the Shift

So, what, exactly, should a c-store owner do at the moment of unexpected change?

The first and most important thing to do is to ask yourself good questions about what opportunity this change offers you and your business. But asking the question only gets you halfway there. “The shift won’t happen until you answer the question,” she said.

Powers asks her clients questions to help them discover the positive and find the power in the shift. “I teach them self-coaching techniques to get more control over their reality.”

But she doesn’t expect every NACS Show attendee will walk out of her motivational speech as a true believer. “I always tell my audience that they can take my advice and use it—or take it and leave it at the door on the way out,” she said. “You can choose to use anything—or not. That’s how much power you have. It’s your life experience. I’m just here to offer ways to think differently and therefore have different results. My audience can experience their power of choice in just listening to my message.”

In the end, she said, it’s up to c-store owners to model the behavior they want to see from their employees. “If the leader isn’t modeling the behavior they want to see and taking more control of their reactions, they can’t expect their employees to do it,” Powers said.

If you can be supportive of your workers, everything else will take care of itself.

So, great leaders need to embrace the trickle-down effect, and that includes reaching out to team members with good questions, Powers said. If an employee, for example, is asking for a schedule change, you need to be willing to ask good questions and hold space for their response and ultimately listen and respond with compassion.

In the end, it’s all about good communication.

“Successful teams communicate with consistency and with honesty,” Powers said. Too often, communication in the workplace is poor because of an overriding fear of not wanting to cause problems.

Great teams, she said, have clear accountability systems where the team itself has accountability, and the team members also each hold themselves accountable. The key to good communication is to not just tell the team what to do but to involve them in the planning so that you’re extracting ideas from them, and they see it’s not just coming from the top down. “If you extract from them, you get way more buy-in,” she said.

Employees want to feel valued. Business leaders can tremendously influence employee attitude—and even retention rates—by constantly offering opportunities for employee growth and by making efforts that not only support the business but also support the individual workers, said Powers. “If you can be supportive of your workers, everything else will take care of itself,” she said.

There always will be unexpected chaos that interrupts the workplace. What matters most is how you respond to that chaos. Instead of wishing it wasn’t there, find a way for the chaos to work for you. “You can react by being a salmon swimming against the current or you can be a leaf flowing with it,” she said.

Also, she cautions convenience retailers not be lulled by the often false hopes of digital technologies or social media. If you’re an independent c-store owner who owns just a store or two, it’s almost always more beneficial to devote your personal energy into serving every customer like they’re royalty rather than investing large amounts of time and money into digital messaging.

Most of your customers are not looking to see what you’re doing on Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat, she said. Instead, she said, they want to know if you acknowledge them when they walk into your store. They want to see that the store is clean. They want to feel as if someone cares.

Powers has had this experience at a local c-store she frequently visits near her Portland, Oregon, home. What matters, she said, is that the clerk always greets her with a big smile. “And he knows exactly what I want to buy.” She sometimes buys gluten-free beer at the store, and he recently greeted her with a remorseful explanation about why the store was out of her brand.

His title may be store clerk, but she said he treats her more like he’s the manager or owner. “He makes me feel special,” she said.

So should you.

Bruce Horovitz

Bruce Horovitz

Bruce Horovitz is a freelance journalist and national media training consultant. Contact him at [email protected]