Podcast 40: What does loyalty mean in times of crisis?

What does loyalty mean in times of crisis

Welcome to a Question of Gamification. I am An Coppens, the show host for this show and the CEO and chief game changer at Gamification Nation. Today, I want to answer the question,  what does loyalty mean in times of crisis?

I will give a bit of a health warning to start with, that this will be a very personal and probably a very honest podcast episode in the sense that what we see all around us is probably the same for most of us. How we see and how we experience what is going on with Covid-19, business, family, friends, is what’s different based on all of our own previous experiences.  

The topic of loyalty is interesting because in gamification, we often design for loyalty, for consistency, for continuous support for either a company, a product or even a service offering. We often get asked to make learning sticky, which is effectively a request to train people to be loyal to training itself, but also loyal to specific pieces of content.

Now, what I’m noticing, and I wonder if it’s the same for you, is that loyalty during this time also has many more meanings. Or maybe it’s just the same, only experienced much more in your face now, than it used to be before. I think as a small business loyalty from your customers, loyalty from your suppliers and loyalty from the leaders towards the people that work for you. 

Loyalty in times of crisis?

Well, I have to say what was striking in the early weeks of this COVID19 lockdown, is that our pipeline went from a healthy pipeline of many potential projects to nearly completely gone in the space of two weeks.

The biggest companies were the first to drop the enquiry and to close the ranks.

The smaller ones led us a little bit on the long finger and you know, eventually also had to park or pause. From the existing clients, it was also interesting to see who’s being loyal and who we could turn to because as soon as we started losing pipeline, one of the steps I took was to reach out to our client base and say, look, is there anything else we can do for you?

Is there a project that you’ve been thinking about that you now have time to execute? The response to that was also interesting. Those that we worked well with, and you know, although they didn’t have immediate projects, we’re able to reach out and say, Hey, why don’t we do this? Why don’t we look at that?

And a few others rang me personally to say, “Hey, we’ll keep an eye out for something. You know, we don’t have anything right now that we can move on with but, you’re first on the list when we do.” You know, those are heartening things when everyone is feeling the pinch of lockdowns and potential closures.

We are no way near as bad as a retail store or a bar or restaurant who have to completely lockdown and many won’t make it out of this crisis.

Saying that, we didn’t actually expect to be hit as much as we are, because in reality, our business has been functioning remotely since its inception. That’s how we structured it. That’s how I wanted it to be, to have, let’s say, a digital nomad lifestyle. And you know, most of my team is the same. You know, we meet when we can in person, but we don’t have to meet on a regular basis to be effective and to deliver the services we do. So it was interesting to see that even though we are structured that way, that we are still significantly hit.

Reality check

We had eight live projects, out of the eight only two are still alive. We had, as I said, a healthy pipeline. That one completely evaporated within the space of two weeks, and we have not, so far been able to generate new business. The team, on my side, I’ve been honest with from the start.

My guys, we have a small team of seven people. Most of them are on long term freelance arrangements with us. So we’re very much tapping into the gig economy. What I could have done is say to everyone, looks like, we’re closing, closing projects and therefore thank you very much and goodbye.I really didn’t want to do that. I wanted to keep the team together. It’s a great group of guys and girls.  

I wanted to be loyal to them and to generate projects and work as hard as I could to generate projects for them. Unfortunately that’s not happening at the quick rate that I need it to happen or for them.

Unfortunately, we are losing some because they’ve had better opportunities come along, offers that give certainty. In a time where you have certainty or something, you enjoy doing. I think a lot of people are making a difficult choice of picking certainty.

For the guys that are able to stick around they have basically taken cuts and have been patient in waiting for remuneration. They have helped in, in putting together our free Covid-19 resources from the trivia quiz to the board game.

Working remotely: do we really need another framework?

One of the first things, I did when this whole lockdown started was to write a post on LinkedIn to explain how we work remotely for years to share my experience. I think about two or three weeks after, some of the others in the same industry came out with frameworks on how to work remotely. I’m like, oh, for goodness sakes, guys, really? Do we have to do that? But Hey, horses for courses, everyone’s different. 

I genuinely wanted to share how we work for people that were struggling with the transition of working remotely. I wanted to share “how to do it.” I wanted to share what we do, the tools we used and how we make things happen, what meetings we run, communication and other good stuff. 


I could feel, and I could sense that the morale in the team was sort of slipping and we were all, me included, wondering, what are we going to have to do? How is this going to affect us? The clients we do have the projects live for are going through challenges as well, what’s the certainty in them, etc.?

It was part managing my own emotions and part managing the team’s emotion. And one of the first things we did was say, what are the few things that we do that still make us feel good? To be honest, because I needed it just as much as they did.  

I asked them all to share in our Slack channels, five games they like to play to relax and feel better. Five songs and then five things to do. Most of them I have shared, I have shared those on our daily inspiration blog for the last few weeks. I didn’t renew them. I think the traffic to it was not very high anyway, but at least in the short term, it actually lifted our spirits and focused us on something positive.

Then we decided that we wanted to do something useful and good together for this crisis to help people. We have released the COVID19 free resources page, and here all of the team contributed to making a board game. The board game is free to play. You just download it’s called a planet called hope. Basically you get to redesign a new planet after, let’s say planet earth is no more, and you have to make decisions in collaboration with the other players around the table.

If you wanted to go to our planet called hope page and download it. It’s free for you to print, colour in, cut out and then play. We are working on pricing it with our printers, so that it can be for sale as an actual physical board game. Unfortunately, those we cannot offer for free because it involves expenses of print materials.

We will make it available for sale when we get pricing and information back from our printers. And when they can deliver after the lockdown is over. Those are some of the immediate things we did. The COVID19 free resources all focused us on something positive for a bit.

True colours

The other part about loyalty, that I find fascinating is that people are really starting to show their true colours and maybe not just like they always did, I guess. I don’t think that’s maybe different or disloyal, but I think what’s more clear now is that those that have been treating people with integrity, authenticity, et cetera, continue to do that.

Those that were genuinely in the business of trying to help someone. They are still trying to do that. Those that were lying persistently, not naming any particular politicians, but there are a few that that kind of hit that note. They are true to form, consistently doing the same thing they always did, AKA lying.

I find it interesting to see and notice. My Facebook feed is full of people who have been in the coaching business, in the self-development business, mentoring companies. It’s fascinating to watch. It’s like in behavioural experiment right in front of your eyes.

Very early on in this crisis, I had a very ranty post on Facebook about the fact that actually saw many sharks popping up. Overnight self-development gurus who have no track record, who have no interest in seeing you succeed. But out there to make a quick buck.

One of my points was, Be careful where you spend your money, spend it with caution, and do your due diligence on who you do business with because the ones that really have your best interest at heart, they have your best interest at heart and you will notice that through their posts, through their behaviours. In fact, I would even hazard a guess that a lot of those that really have your best interests at heart are doing their, their business at reduced rates even free of charge in some cases.

The ones that are in it for a quick book, they’re touting courses. They’ve come from, let’s say, a completely different field, let’s call it manufacturing, running bars, restaurants, running property companies, etc. into we’re online course gurus and we’re doing this, that, and the other. 

Please, please, please examine who you’re doing business with. Look at their track records. If they’ve been at courses for some years and they have a lot of good testimonials, by all means go for it. If they’re brand new, check out whether they really can add value to you because some will, some won’t.

I think a lot of people are in, are doing it for self-preservation and to have some money on the table. So you have to respect that. We are all doing what we can to do to get money in, to make sure that our loved ones are looked after. But also looking after those who belong to your team. 

Being a leader

I think as a leader in business, it’s one of the hardest time to be in business and one of the most exciting times, as well as one of the most, emotionally charged times.  I have to definitely admit, I find there are really good days and then there are really bad days.

Mentally what I’m trying to do is be as upbeat as I can for the team. Be as upbeat as I can for customers and clients, and deliver the best value we can give them.

At the same time, in our own lives as leaders, we have our own stuff going on too. I mean both my partner and my parents are all in their seventies, some with underlying conditions, some not. My partner works with live sports and obviously his company has basically put everyone on temporary unemployment or reduced employment so that they can survive because there are no live sports happening. There is uncertainty on so many levels.

It hit me really, really hard yesterday, when one of my employees who’s been with me and who’s been a star performer, and he’s one of the best graphic designers I’ve ever come across, said to me, look, I have an offer from someone that can give me the certainty I need to provide for my family. To have to say, I understand. It still makes me very emotional to think about it because he was one of the last people I would have wanted to lose. I mean, none of the others I want to lose either but some of them. I knew that they were going to go at some point and I couldn’t do much about.

To not be in a position to offer them a counteroffer or to offer them some element of certainty is challenging because, you have to accept that their life and their livelihood is important. Then at the same time you would you also want the best for your own company? Especially when they’ve been an extremely valuable asset.

What they don’t tell you about leadership in uncertainty

It’s an emotional roller coaster right now. I think we don’t see that acknowledged on most of the social media channels. I see all the positive gurus saying, Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, great opportunity, bounce back, pivots, re-invent, opportunity, opportunity. And I’m like, yeah, I’m holding on by my freaking claws to get through to the next freaking week or month or day.

And yeah, it’s a challenge. And. One of the reasons I wanted to record this as a podcast is basically to also give heart to people, who are in a similar boat to me who feel emotionally charged and who feel basically that there are amazingly good days, but there are freaking bad low days and you know, it’s okay to talk about it.

It’s, it’s actually better to talk about it than to keep it inside. As you can hear from my voice is breaking because of the emotion that I have about it. But you know, it’s, it’s finding the little things in those moments. I’m grateful to have a very loving family. I’m grateful for the people that stick with me. Those that are loyal to us in these times are the ones we’ll remember.

For some in leadership, looking at it from a purely political perspective or even a national perspective. I see some leaders coming out of this crisis looking good and looking look like somebody you can trust, look like somebody who is real, who understands, and dares to say this is not a bed of roses. This is actually hard in places, sad in places and horrible in places, but it also has opportunities. I think it’s that tempered voice that voice of reasonableness or reality that I can understand, that I resonate with. It resonates with me and I believe that honesty wins in the long run.

In my team meeting recently, I basically was as open as I could be. I said, look, here are our options as a company. This is what we have live. This is what we have in as opportunities. That could come up in the next couple of weeks. I gave pricing, I gave timelines. I gave my expectation of which ones will come true, which ones are more doubtful, etc. Then I also gave my view this is what we do have. These are our choices in relation to that. Because one of the choices was to decide to pause everything and to let everybody go.

The team actually chose not to, and they said to me, look An, you know what? Let’s continue on. We want to make it work, we don’t want to quit. This gave me heart, and actually, some of the guys wrote me personal messages on Slack after to say, look, it was great to hear that because there is actually hope. And I do believe there is a lot of hope. I mean, from a company perspective, we still have active clients, which is positive.

And we have some new enquiries, which I’ve managed to generate over the last number of weeks. They could potentially lead to something, even if they’re not a hundred per cent within our ballpark regular offering. There are still things that will make sure that we all have livelihoods and we can motor on for another few months and hopefully many years beyond that too.

Gig economy is still a mystery for governments

From a government help perspective, we don’t qualify for anything. Having a freelance team, having a remote operation is not something that governments or most funders can get their heads around. That was nothing new in some sense. I do find it ironic though, is that in times of crisis the gig economy is what you are recommended to do, but when things are good the gig economy is a bad thing.

In my view, it’s full of opportunity. It’s great when it comes to it. Most governments don’t understand it, don’t know how to work with it, and don’t know how much it gives freedom to individuals, and in other sense, freedom to companies like mine where we can scale up and scale down depending on the project needs.

The main drawback of our model is that we don’t qualify for support and that we basically will have to sell our way out of trouble. Whilst our model benefits our clients and takes away some of the pressure of me as an owner, the clients are only as loyal as there are good times, some of the team too. If we had full-time employees, I could have put everyone on temporary unemployment or furloughing or whatever the term is in your local country.

I am hopeful that, let’s say governments are starting to get their heads around these things that maybe, a universal basic income is the only way forward to actually be equitable to all where everybody gets a little bit and we all motor on. Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t. I mean, I’m not a macroeconomic expert, so I’m not in the right place to comment.

But, I do question. I do think most governments act with great intentions. Well, you’d have to think so, or at least hope so, although even as I say that, I doubt the same statement, especially what we see in the UK. But effectively, you know, the government support scheme, we fall outside of all of the pots and you know, for our business, it means that we have to sell our way out of trouble, which is nothing new. That was always the case. And we rely on the loyalty of the existing clients and potential new clients to get us there.

Can you really process things right now as a CEO?

And the resilience for me as a leader, for my team to stick his stick around and stick with it and to make it work is sort of the only thing we can do, out of no other choice.

At the same time saying that I would wish to be able to take a week where I just didn’t have to focus on any pressure or any forward-thinking forward-moving and just sit and lick my wounds, so to say. And sort of regroup because for me as a, as a CEO, that time is not there.

If I let go of now, I let go and let down seven people and that’s the harsh reality. I also let down tons of people on the client-side if I do that. There are emotions there that I do need to process. I just have to, make a point of functioning and take little moments of reflection, little moments of processing as opposed to doing it all at once.

My guess is that a lot of CEOs are in this boat. A lot of leaders are in this boat, but also a lot of people working for you are in this boat. And this is the part that’s not being mentioned is the part that’s not being said.

And I wish that there was much more of an open dialogue. I have a few truthfully, honest friends, who are brave enough to post this on their social media channels. I tinkered with this, but I also feel like that if my social media was full of people that knew me, I’d be comfortable in maybe doing that cause they’ll see the good and the bad. But because there are a lot of strangers following me, because of my knowledge shares on gamification, I also hold back and sort of do an edited version.

The people that do really know me, they know the full story. I mean, we talk more regularly now than we did in the past. So I guess there is hope in that.

Notice what you notice

One thing I think to learn and notice is to pay attention to what is happening with people around you. Those that treated you well, they will treat you well today. Those that didn’t treat you well before, continue to not treat you well now. And their behaviour is sort of highlighted in this time when they say win-win, but really they mean win-lose. Notice what you notice. They’re standing out from the crowd. Those that are in it for a quick buck, they’ll always be in it for a quick buck. It’s like the truths are really coming out to the top.

When you look at it from a high-level perspective, if you look at how nature is responding to this respite from traffic, from noise, from everything, nature is flourishing, nature is re-establishing itself.

You have animals roaming where they didn’t go before. You have nature coming back to a healthier place because of us all slowing down and staying inside. Truths are coming out all around. In my view, I can’t deny that, but there will always be naysayers either way.

Notice who is loyal and reward them for their loyalty when you can. Those who are treating you bad, look at ways of phasing them out and replacing them over time. If you have to stick with it, stick with it. If you can walk away, walk the other way.

A bed of roses

Yes, there is opportunity. I do believe that. I think every recession has proven and every crisis has proven that there is always opportunity.

But also allow yourself to be, to feel and be what you need to be right now for you to manage. Because it’s not all a bed of roses. And if you think about roses, they have thorns. They do sting at times. Maybe it is a bed of roses with the stings and the beauty and everything else coming together in one.

I wanted to post this very honest and truthful podcast, to sort of share my views as a small business owner and an individual, first and foremost that cares about the people that we work with, the people that work on my team.

The guys know that I really truly respect that. I’ve probably said it more in the last few weeks than I’ve said it before. I understand where they are coming from. Even if that message is, is a hard one to receive, I do understand where they are coming from, when they have other opportunities coming their way.

It doesn’t make me feel better about it, unless, and until I can remedy and offer something better, it is what it is. I think I’ve used that sentence more in the last number of weeks than I ever have in my lifetime.In many different contexts: COVID19 is what it is, the lockdown is what it is.

Notice what you notice. Pay attention to it because what you notice now is giving you very strong messages of where people are at for real. Those that are loyal will be loyal. Those that are good will be good. Those that act with integrity, act with integrity. Those have a framework for every problem will have a framework for every problem even if the framework is highly impractical to implement, you know, they’ll still have it. It’s funny, it’s like a reality TV show unfolding in real-time.

Here’s where I want to wrap it up and ask you to stay, stay safe, stay healthy.

Be patient with the people you’re dealing with. You don’t know what they’re going through. And if you’re worried, pick up the phone, connect with them online and check in with them because maybe it is just what they needed to hear. And maybe it’s just your voice that helps them through the next day, the next day and the next day.

Thank you for listening and, do share the podcast if you feel it can help someone. And if you have comments or questions as a result of this, please reach out. I’m on a lot of social media channels, easy to find and keep talking, stay safe and stay healthy. 


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