Connie Chesner of Armored

We Spoke to Connie Chesner of Armored on How to Rebuild in the Post COVID Economy

As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Connie Chesner.

Connie Chesner is a master at resiliency and human motivation with 25+ years in psychology and qualitative market research in both B2B and B2C spaces and across categories. Her work in qualitative market research has spanned a wide variety of projects from voice-of-customer, re branding, package design, market motivation trends, brand and feature preferences, and more. She’s been an international media expert, keynote speaker at conferences such as Loyalty 360, a professor, and has run projects to launch and reform multi-national brands and shift customer decisions for millions of dollars in products/services.

Today she weaves that deep understanding into guiding organizations to the strategic insights they need to make stronger decisions and people to stronger leadership and fulfillment. Her diverse background in research, training, and mentoring allows her to connect a deep understanding of how people make decisions with innovative qualitative research designs that get results. She believes that qualitative insights provide the vital “why behind the what” of quantitative insights, empowering more targeted decisions, actions, and training.

She has successfully founded three businesses and worked within corporations and agencies, allowing a diverse understanding of how individuals and organizations motivate, build trust, maintain, and grow. In her current role, she is Co-Founder of the Armored family of brands, on a mission to advance businesses and individuals through their professional (Armored Team Building), market (Armored Research), and personal (Armored Self Defense) development. Learn more at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/conniechesner/

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I was excited when you reached out, so the pleasure is mine to spend time and share thoughts with you and your readers. When I share my backstory with folks, I like to say that from far away, its trajectory somewhat resembles the flight of a bumblebee, with many twists and turns, but that throughout my amazing career path runs a true and steady line of passion for helping others to achieve greater levels of development in themselves, their careers, and their business goals.

When you mix together that passion with a deep-seated curiosity for the world, you get a life spent getting to know people and projects deeply. I grew up in an entrepreneurial family. My father was a Master General Contractor and owned a construction corporation specializing in custom homes and commercial construction with my mother running the back office and finances. From a young age, I watched what it took to manage all the complexities of a business and gained an appreciation for the layers of knowledge needed to meet customer needs from concept to design and construction to maintenance. Throughout my career, I’ve taken those same concepts and ideals and applied them, except instead of building houses, I focus on building people.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

When I was first starting out, I was just getting my feet under me with my first communication consulting firm and working as an adjunct instructor at Wake Forest University. My Master’s thesis, focusing on how companies should respond to internet rumors, was getting a tremendous amount of media attention, so I was fielding interview requests from across the world.

I received a blank email one day from what appeared to be a military address. No subject, no body, just a blank email from an unknown sender. At first I ignored it, but something in my gut wouldn’t let me leave it alone. For some reason, I decided to send a note back, something that would be nearly unheard of today!

That email exchange led to one of the largest contracts my first consulting firm would sign and the opportunity to work with the Air Force. I can’t tell you why I replied to a blank email from an odd address, but I often think about that moment and the opportunity I would have missed out on if I had not sent a polite response.

To this day, I give credence to my gut instincts in decisions that are a bit risky and it continues to pay off.

Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?

Oh my, I’m a bit of a book addict, so that’s a dangerous question! If I had to choose one book that I believe has helped me in a deep way, it would likely be the biography of Lopez Lomong, the Olympic runner. It’s a quick read, highly engaging, and shares his first-person experiences being torn from his family, living in Sudan refugee camps, and miraculously finding his way to America.

As an ethnographic and qualitative researcher, the story serves as a powerful reminder to me of the enduring power of perspective and personal experience in how each person views and engages the world around them. He tells the story of the first time he went to McDonald’s and the stark contrast between a meal there and the meager scraps he’d survived on for so long in refugee camps. For him, it was a story of culture shock; for me, it served as a lesson to always remain true to really immersing in the perspective of the market as I design market research and theme insights.

Running for My Life: One Lost Boy’s Journey from the Killing Fields of Sudan to the Olympic Games by Lopez Lomong

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?

The question you asked earlier about my backstory relates deeply here. That line of passion for helping others to achieve greater levels of development in themselves, their careers, and their business goals that I shared runs throughout my personal career, also leads our companies.

Our purpose at Armored is to advance businesses and individuals through their professional Armored Team Building, market Armored Research, and personal Armored Self Defense development, guiding them to higher levels of self-awareness, relationships, and sense of their OWN purpose. How that is embodied, evolves based on what each client needs and, right now, is evolving based on the massive shifts the market is seeing due to Covid-19.

A strong part of remaining true to our purpose also lies in knowing our talents and strengths and allowing them to shine. As I shared, my background is steeped in all facets of communication and motivation research. I’m a soup-to-nuts provider in the worlds of training, qualitative market research, professional development and more. This means that I’m ideally suited to lead the charge in those areas with clients and it’s where I feel most at home. My business partner, Travis Cook, brings an extensive 25+ year career in the world of martial arts to our perspective and services. His passion emerges in bridging the intellectual content to physical drills and manifestation through our work in hands-on professional development sessions and spearheading our programs within our martial arts school, Armored Self Defense.

We strive to walk in our purpose, with the latest manifestation of this coming in our realization that not only were markets and motivations shifting rapidly, but that most business owners and industries didn’t know where to begin to look forward. The result is a 26-page white paper that puts clear thought processes in place and inspires deeper thinking for leaders across industries, available for free via our web portal. We titled it “America on Pause: 5 Major Shifts in Market Motivation to Watch For, “ as we want leaders to realize, this is not an ending, but a pause, and as things open up, there is fresh work to be done. Here is a link to the web portal, we encourage anyone reading to click over and request a copy so we can rise together as business owners and leaders: https://www.armoredteambuilding.com/americaonpause2020

Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?

I’ve often been accused of approaching challenges in a way that connects otherwise disparate concepts together in new manners. It’s a concept I have come to call “transferable knowledge.” It really opens your mind and eyes to connections and pathways you wouldn’t see otherwise. I’d say that, blended with a healthy dose of respecting setbacks, but focusing forward power my passion.

Related to this, I have two verses that I keep in my planner so they stay top of mind:

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1

“If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of what can be, for the eye, whichever young and ardent, sees the possible. Pleasure disappoints, possibility NEVER.” -Kierkegaard

Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

Like just about everyone else, the impact of the pandemic was swift and far reaching in my personal and family life. I live by myself and had built my work life to have me out of the house more than I was home. This kept me social and productive at the same time. Without local family, and with all visits and plans cancelled, I found myself more isolated than I expected. I’m naturally a homebody when not working, so this wasn’t all that impact for the first week or so, but as time wore on I longed for a change of scenery, human contact, and outright missed my family. To mitigate, we added some Face time calls and a few friends lined up for socially distant walks together. Nothing earth shattering, but enough to sustain as we waited for the world to open up once more.

Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

Oh wow, it’s been a roller coaster to say the least! A core element of our model for a good deal of our business is based in hands-on and group settings. Interfacing with every client, customer, and contact to adjust for those professional development and class sessions has been an adventure. Travis has taken the lead in shifting our class services to a virtual environment, while still providing superior customer service and interaction to keep students engaged. I’ve focused on driving forward our Armored Research division, fostering awareness and distributing our insights to contacts who can harness them and put them to immediate use. The reception of both has been incredible.

Our professional development division, Armored Team Building, has faced a unique set of challenges. Our work is based in research on how body movement and activities related to self defense change the chemical releases in our brains, making professional development concepts more “sticky” and useful to our clients and their teams. Without face-to-face group settings, this was a hurdle we had to noodle around to develop a solution we were proud to provide. To that end, we will hold our first integrated virtual professional development sessions with a client out of our immediate geography in a few weeks. That means we will lean on my expertise in designing their professional development training/mind share elements and Travis will lean on his expertise in manifesting those through physical drills that can be experienced in a virtual environment. It’s a formula we have utilized well in face-to-face settings for years, with phenomenal success, so the virtual adjustment will be interesting to explore. Check back and we’ll share how it goes!

Beyond this, the uncertainty that’s rampant in the market has driven many of their decisions and have made it nearly impossible to forecast. Our market research division, Armored Research, has been a saving grace as it is an area in which we can truly and deeply help businesses, even from a distance. Although I have a 25+ year career in qualitative market research, we had not focused on growing this division until January of 2020. That meant that we had to both BUILD market awareness and momentum and uncover the best ways to SERVE in a highly anxious time. The whitepaper I mentioned earlier has been a vehicle for both of these needs, with the bonus of allowing us to help others get their bearings and to focus forward.

Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the corona virus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?

Everyone’s world is built on relationships and they are being tested in new ways during the pandemic. It’s easy to become hyper-focused on the immediate and for weeks to feel like months as we all process and adjust. The truth is, that kind of focus can lead to a heightened state of urgency and anxiety that is sometimes tough to escape.

Two areas of advice I’d like to offer:

1. Give a little grace.

One of my guiding principles that I offer to others regularly is the concept of grace. While often used in a religious context, grace is most simply defined as “courteous goodwill.” When we extend a little grace to ourselves, others, and situations, we find that we focus on the positive a little bit more and build a cushion in which we allow all those areas to have a little more humanity added back in. A phrase I developed for this is: Don’t confuse a moment for a monument. Grace allows us a touch of perspective to see the difference.

2. Lean into elder wisdom.

The other way that I like to gain perspective is to spend time in conversation with those who have much more life experience than myself. Even in times of distancing, we have ways to connect and talk, hear stories and ask questions. Older generations have seen more economic downturns and health scares than we have, they have watched our world get rocked and adjust, they know the feeling of hunger and strife in ways we cannot.

I noticed early on in the pandemic that there was a backlash against older Americans on social media for the way they ignored guidelines and rules, were calm where others were anxious, and seemed to take much of this in stride. That distinct energy difference fascinated me, I wondered how they could be so calm at a time when the news was saying they were the most at risk! But then I chatted with a few of them and discovered that it wasn’t that they were not worried at all, but it was more that they had placed the current situation in perspective. That made all the difference in how I framed things.

Obviously, we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?

For me, the idea of how and what opportunity will emerge relates to what I shared just a moment ago about leaning into the wisdom of our elders. Talk with some of them about what emerged after crisis in other times and you quickly learn that some of the most powerful innovations and return to core values were motivated and possible because major changes in markets created space for fresh opportunities. They will tell you that culture changed, what they valued changed, and that rippled out to allow for new products, services, and values.

The white paper and our research in “America on Pause,” that I mentioned a little earlier has shown that we will see at least five major shifts in how markets will be motivated to purchase and engage. Those include:

  • a need for increased trust and reciprocal loyalty,
  • renewed appreciation for credibility and expertise,
  • a desire for purposeful diversion (activities that do more than distract and provide added value),
  • focus on safety/control (in both physical/sanitation and psychological/emotional areas), and
  • a redefining and deepened understanding of freedom

Every single one of these areas is ripe with opportunity for leaders to step forward and realign to meet these desires. Think about it for a moment, how could you innovate if you realized that business models have been upended to a large degree? And how could you enhance that innovation through aligning with the core motivators I just mentioned? The pandemic showed us the true meaning of the Harry Truman quote, “Imperfect action is better than perfect inaction.” Use this to open your mind to what you can do to make an impact post-Covid.

How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?

I think perhaps this is the most important question floating around right now, even moreso than how business will change; how will WE CHANGE, or more appropriately, how have we changed already? The interesting thing about cultural change is that it happens without much conscious awareness, we look around one day and realize things shifted, but have trouble pinpointing the exact moment when that began. With the pandemic, we have a marker of sorts, but the changes have been ongoing and varied.

And don’t get me started on the farce that is the phrase “new normal” so early in the timeline. We may be conditioned to instantaneous gratification in so many ways, but ‘normal’ takes time and testing. Anyone who has experienced profound grief before knows how raw it feels for an extended time, and how caustic the question “have you found your new normal yet?” can feel. The same is true here. We need time to process, heal, and find our way into new habits. That journey is collective, yet individual for the entire nation. There is no ‘new normal’ yet, only a battered old one and the possibility to craft fresh possibilities moving forward.

Perhaps the most interesting thing during the pandemic has been that change has occurred in isolation and communities which, post-Covid, may no longer interact in quite the same way again. Many are seeing more of their family, neighbors, and immediate community than they have in years. What they are learning and feeling, seeing and sensing in those environments is changing them. It will be quite interesting when they emerge and intermingle once again with their co-workers and social groups, the public and more. What will stay? How will they interact and value differently? Only time will tell.

If I had to pick one area from our research that I thought would be most evident in terms of changing how we behave, act, or live, it would be how we define ‘purposeful diversion.’ The pandemic shocked us out of our hectic movement-oriented lifestyle, and we turned to board games and jigsaw puzzles, bike rides and neighborhood walks, socially-distanced block parties and small gifts of kindness.

Even children who were formerly glued to their tablets found pleasure in the outdoors as school time fatigued them on electronics. I’ve seen a group of boys near a green way trail that connects to my neighborhood. They have their bikes and they ride like kids did when I was younger, challenging each other to ride down hills quickly, racing and laughing, and turning piles of mulch left by the city at the end of an old lot, into obstacles and tricking grounds. If I showed you a picture of them, you might mistake it for the 1980s. What they are learning and experiencing, that won’t go away. Parts of it will carry forward. You can’t go from deep, rich, interactions back to shallow and stilted ones and feel satisfied. I, for one, am glad for the change.

Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?

Since this started, we have been leaning into the relationships and networks of trust that we fostered through our networking and client base over our years of service. Our focus has been on lifting their load through educating them and offering a helping hand of insights and direction, creating value and relevance. As I shared earlier, our vision and passion is laced with inherent curiosity and a desire to help others to rise above in different manners. This has been our baseline of culture and so these acts and extensions will continue into a Post-Covid world.

In Armored Team Building, our professional development division, we will continue to adjust and innovate hand-in-hand with clients to meet their development needs, while respecting their concerns. As we operate with a focus on relationships over transactions, this means that we have the opportunity to help them build and recover, connect and serve their markets and teams in powerful manners.

In a similar manner, our work at Armored Research is uniquely positioned to add to the conversation and insights which businesses need in order to make strong strategic decisions. Our mission with this division is to engage in conversations and relationships where we can add deep value through custom qualitative research insights that get to the drivers behind market behaviors. We love asking “why” and peeling back the curtain to see the engine of emotions, motivations, and other factors that drive decisions, and seeing brands and companies thrive once they understand those core market elements.

Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?

Remember that the world is built on relationships, and relationships are founded in reciprocal trust. You learned a lot about yourself, your business, your workers, supply chains, and industry over the past eight weeks or so. You’ve been able to spot the strengths and gaps better than ever.

Sit back, look to what you learned, and use that to make a plan moving forward. We produced the report I mentioned a few times and it looks at how markets have changed and shifted due to the pandemic, so use the links and request a free copy to get started, but that is only part of the equation — you have changed too. Get focused on understanding your business strategy moving forward and on gaining quality market insights that go deep. I’m biased because I specialize in helping companies do those two things incredibly well, yet I’ve seen the power that happens when they are harnessed effectively. The passion that drove me to lead in this business, is the same one that wants to see others succeed. Rising tides raise all ships, unless you are ignoring the hole in your hull.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond imagination. It is our light more than our darkness which scares us. We ask ourselves — who are we to be brilliant, beautiful, talented, and fabulous. But honestly, who are you to not be so?

You are a child of God, small games do not work in this world. For those around us to feel peace, it is not example to make ourselves small. We were born to express the glory of God that lives in us. It is not in some of us, it is in all of us. While we allow our light to shine, we unconsciously give permission for others to do the same.” — Marianne Williamson, from A Return To Love, 1996

This quote, by Marianne Williamson, reminds me of two things: (1) I must remember to express all the light that lives within me because it is needed by this world and (2) no matter how prolific I may be, my work will often be misunderstood and misattributed when it reaches the public and although I must guard against this, I must also accept that much of it is beyond my control.

Note: The quote is regularly credited to Nelson Mandela, and even though it is clearly from a book Marianne Williamson wrote in 1996, he has continued to be given attribution in movies, books, speeches, and more.

How can our readers further follow your work?

America on Pause web portal (for the free report I mentioned): https://www.armoredteambuilding.com/americaonpause2020

Armored Team Building homepage (for our innovative work in professional development): https://www.armoredteambuilding.com/

Armored Team Building Linked In: https://www.linkedin.com/company/armored-team-building/

Armored Research (for our work in market research/insights): https://www.armoredteambuilding.com/research

Armored Research Linked In: https://www.linkedin.com/showcase/armored-research/

My personal Linked In (I welcome connect requests if a note is attached): https://www.linkedin.com/in/conniechesner/