When the first Covid-related shutdowns began in March 2019, site leaders throughout Wyndham Destinations were faced with new challenges of how to support, engage, and guide their teams through unfamiliar circumstances. Jonathan Topolosky, Project Director of Sales & Marketing at Clearwater Beach, is one of many who rose to the challenge, creatively adapting to help his team members thrive and grow even as business temporarily slowed. His energy, commitment, and enthusiasm in caring for his coworkers are a true demonstration of what it means to Adventure Together through all of the unexpected twists and turns life brings.
1. How did you communicate with your team members during crisis?
I made the decision right away to be fully transparent and set realistic expectations for both the best and worst case scenarios. My intent was to instill a sense of acceptance in the situation without causing panic. I felt it was important that my team hear a message that was both honest and authentic. I kept telling myself that if I remained calm and confident about us getting through this together, the team would feel the same way. I made it clear that there was much uncertainty ahead, but that as soon as information was shared with me, I would share it with them.
2. I heard that you also created a team Facebook group with the rule that nothing negative was allowed to be shared. Tell me about that.
We created the group as soon as the shutdown began because we knew some associates might lose access to their company email during furlough. It started as a way for us to share positive messages, pictures and videos with each other, but it evolved as quarantine continued to include a mix of company updates, free online classes, and helpful information on topics like how to file for unemployment. We also celebrated birthdays and welcomed five new team members’ babies into the world. These moments gave us something to celebrate together, and overall, the group really helped our Operations and Sales & Marketing teams grow closer while we were physically apart. Even though Clearwater Beach reopened in May 2020, the group is still very active. Our team members seem to respond better to Facebook posts than company emails, so the plan is for it to remain a solid form of communication within our team culture.
3. How did you keep your team members inspired and engaged while many of them were furloughed?
During the shutdown, I was worried about team members starting to lose hope, so I implemented a voluntary “#ALLINTOGETHER” Zoom call with a special guest speaker each week. Members of the call never knew who the guest speaker would be until they signed on, but our lineup included people and topics such as:
- Desmond Clark, retired NFL super star
Mindset and Preparation During the “Off” Season
Awareness & Discussion of Systematic Racism in America
- Jason Gamel, CEO of ARDA
Industry Updates & What to Expect When We Return
- Ben Gay, author of the famous sales book, The Closers
Salesmanship and How to Overcome Obstacles in Any Sales Environment
- Dr. Jen Welter, the first female coach of the NFL
Women in Leadership & Overcoming Obstacles
- Wyndham Destinations’ Executive Leaders
Company Updates, Return-to-Work Protocols, and Cross-Regional Knowledge Sharing
My goal was to keep to keep everyone feeling connected and inspired. I’d ask the speaker questions about what they were going through at the moment and what advice they had to share with us. Then our team members had the opportunity to ask their own questions. Each week, our attendance grew until it eventually included associates not just in Clearwater Beach, but from all around the company.
4. Were there any other ways that you encouraged growth during a time when everything felt stagnant?
I lead a discussion with my leadership team each week by sharing various online video trainings on topics like authentic communication or leading through a crisis. Everyone has something to learn in these areas, so it helped keep our meetings fresh and educational. In addition, I enrolled and completed the Executive Leadership Certificate Program at eCornell and the Negotiation Mastery Certificate Program at Harvard Business School. Taking back knowledge from these programs and sharing them with my team in real-time was invaluable to our growth and success.
During the shutdown I was asked to head up a virtual sales team by Pat Burk, Senior Vice President of Sales, so it was also an opportunity for our face-to-face sales reps to learn new skills in telesales – fast! Fortunately, we were given all the guidance and support we could ask for from Dana Peterson, our Senior Vice President of Telesales, along with his entire telesales leadership team and all of the behind-the-scenes heroes in IT and Operations.
Looking back on the experience Steve Pinta, Director of Sales, who was instrumental in our success, says, “We learned a lot from this experience and it kept us all sharp. We got so good at it, we ended keeping the team intact after our sales office reopened and still have it successfully running to this day.”
5. What do you think is the most important lesson that you’ve learned from this experience?
By far the most important lesson I learned was to reach out to people who know more than I do when I’m thrust into situations where I don’t have all the answers. I partnered with more leaders across the company in three months of quarantine than I have in my entire career, and it paid off. This experience has allowed me to expand my network and forge even deeper relationships with coworkers across the company. I grew tremendously during this time as a leader and am thankful for that opportunity. The greatest challenges will either make you or break you; it’s all about how you approach it. As author Ryan Holiday would say, “The obstacle is the way.”