ESOP Association Blog

Life Cycles of Crisis (From June ESOP Report)

Jim Bonham, President and CEO

If you are like me, much of the last three months has been spent thinking about how to best navigate your business, your job, and your family through the COVID-19 crisis that continues to grip the world with uncertainty and consequence. If it has been said once, it has been said a million times—these are difficult and challenging times, to be sure. But they do not need to be without direction or, even, hopefulness for the future.

The COVID pandemic is a true crisis in its most pure form—a deadly, rapidly spreading virus for which we have no known cure or readily available course of treatment to improve outcomes. But like nearly every crisis, this, too, is moving through very predictable and well-recognizable patterns. Understanding these crisis patterns and using that knowledge to prepare and position for the inevitable resolution, is a core skillset necessary for leadership in these times.

Every crisis has a pre-crisis stage—that time when events or news begin to hint or foreshadow that a problem is brewing. Sometimes, just a few are even aware or take notice. For COVID, our nation was in this stage in January and February as the disease began to spread overseas and ultimately reached our shores.

Next, the crisis builds and reaches an acute, impactful phase. It becomes known and recognized internally and externally to an organization, and mitigation of the damage takes top priority. America entered this phase on March 11 when the NBA canceled its season, the President declared a national emergency, and most businesses began to close offices and shift to a work-from-home environment, if the work allowed. 

As this phase builds it ultimately gives way to the chronic phase when the most intense, nearly fever-pitched period comes to bear. This COVID phase began in April in America. 

Often, during this time, fingers begin to be pointed and blame is assigned. This is the time that people will “put their heads down and their shoulders to the wheel” to make it through. Tough decisions are made, everything that is not essential to managing the crisis is set to the side.

But finally, after the tough decisions and hard work, when people have worked through the finger pointing and raised voices, the crisis begins to resolve. Adaptations, new ideas, and a plan for the future emerge. The storm passes and the rebuilding begins anew.


Today, as it relates to COVID-19, America and the world are somewhere in that third stage.In navigating The ESOP Association through this crisis, our Board of Directors, professional staff, and I have been focused on the core nature of what our great Association is here for: providing critical services to our membership when they need it most. 

We stepped into the breach forcefully, with aggressive federal advocacy while Congress was drafting and passing relief bills. We adapted our educational and collaboration 

programs to an online format providing dozens of crisis specific webinars, roundtables, and professionally written articles. As of today, more than 6,100 registrations for these sessions have happened in less than two months’ time. Our first webinar—related to the Paycheck Protection Program, which we successfully lobbied to include ESOPs—exceeded capacity with well over 800 individuals logging on. 

We created an entirely new section of our website, the COVID-19 Action Center, dedicated to resources to help our members navigate their businesses through COVID-19.  

And, most recently, we launched The HUB, a first of its kind online collaborative space where our members can interact with one another, learn, and gain from the deep wisdom within the ESOP community. The HUB has truly taken on a life of its own, with substantive, impactful questions and answers emerging, and new networks and communities forming regularly. 

Our largest Network of members—one related to COVID-19—has more than 13,000 members! To think that resource did not even exist just two months ago is testament to the power of this new membership tool. Moving forward, into the final stage of the crisis, The ESOP Association is firmly focused on the future and how the organization may best serve you, our members. As the summer months unfold, we will begin to lay out longer term schedules and calendars, formulating programming and its delivery in a way that adapts to the “new reality” of post-COVID-19. Plans have begun for our fall programming, and yes, even for Employee Owned 2020 in Las Vegas.

Our top priority will continue to be the health and safety of our membership and professionals. But, like your businesses—and our nation—we, too, are finding ways to plan and emerge from behind protective walls and connect so that we may all safely continue our work. 

The Association has contracts and obligations to meet, and we deeply value and appreciate every company and professional that continues to participate in our great Association.Yesterday, our Board of Directors met yet again to discuss our community of employee owned businesses, our Association, and make plans for the future. I can tell you this: There is excitement, there is vision, and this crisis will make us all stronger together. A great deal is in the works for the next six months, and it will be thrilling to be a part of it with all of you.

James J. Bonham

President and CEO

The ESOP Association