“Lynn, we have a problem.”
I’m occasionally on the receiving end of this news from Ryan — which I’ve actually come to expect given the unique nature of our business. We deliver over 75 live events annually, which means Ryan is on the road over 200 days a year. A lot can go sideways — flights canceled or delayed, bad weather. It happens.
On Feb. 24, while Ryan was standing in a long line at the Minneapolis Government Center renewing his passport, a “problem” hit his inbox.
That’s usually about the time the “problem” hits my inbox. He forwarded a message from Delta with the subject line “Urgent Information About Your Trip.”
I don’t know who deals with big problems at your company, but at Ryan Estis & Associates, I am officially the Chief Problem Solver.
On Feb 24, 2016, at 9:39 AM, Ryan Estis wrote:
This is brutal… I’d rather go tmrw… I’m at the passport office now… In the meantime, can you look at morning flights just to see…
Sent from my iPhone
A thousand flights were cancelled, including his mid-day flight into Chicago O’Hare. He was tentatively re-booked, but when I looked at the weather forecast, I knew his odds of arriving in Chicago at all were slim. Our problem: He was the featured keynote speaker at a trade association conference the following day.
It was time to hustle.
Team REA started taking action. Emily started researching alternate flight plans and rental car options. I called Ryan to keep him motivated for the tough travel day I knew was coming.
“Remember our mantra, Ryan? Be humble — it isn’t about you! Stay hungry — how bad do you want to be there tomorrow? Always hustle — we need to do whatever it takes to get you to Chicago!”
We needed to focus on showing up for a client that had 500 paying attendees expecting a keynote presentation from Ryan. He needed to focus! Our canceled flight wasn’t their problem. If there was any way to get him to Chicago, as far as I was concerned, he was going. That is hustle!
I kept the client updated and within the hour, we had a game plan:
On Feb 24, 2016, at 10:42 AM, Ryan Estis wrote:
I am working on all of this.
Not great odds on these later flights getting in. Tons of cancellations because of weather. And I am not going to get stuck in Atlanta.
So, here is what we are doing to do.
I am renting a car and driving to Chicago this afternoon.
Let the Bureau know my flight was canceled and I am driving…so they are in the loop. Everything should be fine. I should be there no later than 9 pm.
I love when a good Plan B comes together with all of us working to make things happen. Ryan set out around noon and I asked him to stay in touch so I could keep our client in the loop on his arrival. He called me around 3:30.
Lynn: “So, are you in Lacrosse yet?”
Ryan: “Lacrosse? No, I don’t think so.”
Lynn: “Really? You should have at least seen signs for Lacrosse by now … where are you?”
Ryan: “In Iowa somewhere, I think.”
Ryan hadn’t realized his iPhone was directing him straight south instead of east (the direction to Chicago from Minneapolis). After much swearing (at a very loud volume), he pulled over to find out that his phone had picked up the address of the Westin in Topeka, KS instead of the Westin in Chicago.
After a few tense minutes, we successfully re-routed him east with an additional 5 and a half hours left to drive (hey, it was still light outside!).
Over the course of the next several hours, I kept both the client and our speaker bureau partner in the loop (via email and text) on his cross-country progress. He texted me at refueling points while Emily re-worked the transportation and flights for the following day.
At 9:15 p.m. (and 8 and a half hours in the car), I received the arrival text: “I made it!”
“Problems” happen. All the time. We’ve learned to anticipate problems and use them as opportunities. We navigate the challenge to our advantage. Of course, when a bad situation beyond our control does arise, it’s natural to simply react and let personal feelings or emotions take over. That usually means missing the big opportunity. Typically it’s not the problem, but how we resolve it, that the client remembers.
If Ryan had an on-time arrival and delivered a great keynote, he would have met the client’s expectations. A nearly 10-hour drive through a blizzard to deliver a killer keynote is the kind of extra effort that clients never forget!
We could have taken the easy road: Call the client and tell them Ryan couldn’t make the keynote due to weather and a canceled flight. He wouldn’t have been the only speaker no-show at the event and everyone would have understood. However, missing that meeting also would have meant missing the opportunity to make a meaningful impact.
Following that keynote, we got a note from one of the attendees, Melissa, who had recently experienced a pretty significant life transition, and the keynote clearly resonated with her:
You spoke after a couple others did. I paid attention to the other presentations, but yours hit home. It had me in tears. I was so unhappy and I really didn’t understand the magnitude until I heard the story of Lilly in terminal D. I wanted to be able to impact lives like she did. I so admire what you do, Ryan. What you do is so important. I will be forever grateful to have connected with you at just the right time in my life. Thank you. Your 9 hour drive mattered to me!
Showing up matters. It certainly did for Melissa.
When problems come up, it helps to work with a team that holds each other accountable to focus on the client and the best possible outcome for the business. The “Chicago Blizzard Fiasco” turned into a funny little story and one very thrilled client partner. That’s what counts.
Works every time!