The time is always right to do what is right. – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
There’s a saying you’ve probably heard over the years repeated many times in different ways. It goes something like this: a person’s true character is revealed during a time of crisis or great stress.
Well, the same goes for a business. During a rough period, a business will either fall apart or flourish based on the strength of the company culture and brand.
We’re seeing that philosophy put to the test like never before right now as a global pandemic sweeps through nations and forces the public and private sectors alike to make once-unthinkable changes. Companies across America (and around the world) are adapting their workforce and business model to accommodate for “social distancing” orders, quarantines and other health protocols put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19. Business owners and leadership teams are bracing for an unprecedented rupture in the global supply chain and the resulting economic damage that are sure to follow, and they are getting creative in an effort to reinforce, and even strengthen, their company culture in the midst of Coronavirus.
You should be doing the same.
Here’s how you can strengthen your company culture in the midst of Coronavirus:
1. Show Leadership & Loyalty To Your Employees & Stakeholders
A business is only as strong as its employees’ loyalty and faith in the company culture. If you look at the most successful and innovative companies, you’ll notice they all have legions of almost fanatically loyal employees who devote their lives to the company. This is the result of years, sometimes decades, of passionately building the narrative of a shared mission.
But if we’re being completely transparent, it also has a lot to do with the employees feeling provided for when it comes to income, healthcare, retirement savings, family leave, etc. Coronavirus has “flipped the script”, and put many companies in a position where it is their loyalty to their employees that is now clearly on display.
Do they care enough about their employees’ health to shut down operations (or switch to remote working) while there is a risk of spreading the infection? Do they care enough about retaining the talent pool they’ve developed that they are willing to cover their employees’ salaries or offer paid time off? All of these things play into whether your team’s perception of your company culture is strengthened or harmed in the midst of the Coronavirus crisis.
Not only are your employees watching for your answers to these questions but so are all your stakeholders: investors, customers, and suppliers.
How a company treats its employees during a historical moment like the COVID-19 crisis speaks volumes about its values, culture, and even its future. In fact, billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban stated that the manner in which companies take care of their employees and stakeholders during this time “is going to define their brand[s] for decades.”
Trader Joe’s, which received an incredible sales burst during the panic buying of the first few weeks, at first promised their employees additional paid sick time to encourage them to stay home. Two weeks later, after an employee petition demanded hazard pay, the TJs corporate office took it a step further and announced a bonus pool that would divide up some of the profits from the sales frenzy and pay it out to employees.
Marriott, part of another hemorrhaging industry–lodging–announced it would cease share buybacks and cash dividends and would reduce senior executive salaries to try and avoid laying off workers. Walmart, which employs more workers than any other business in the private sector, launched its emergency employee leave program.
Meanwhile, in the entertainment industry, Netflix announced a $100 million relief fund for cast and crew members furloughed by movie and television productions postponed by the virus.
These are the good stories. Unfortunately, there are just as many companies not looking out for their employees this way, and they will surely have a difficult time retaining their employees and moving past the current circumstances.
2. Adapt To Change & Pivot Your Business Model When Necessary
Most CEOs know the importance of change management strategies, including having contingency plans in the event of a worst-case scenario that requires your business to lean into different products or services. You can prepare for this with tools like “scenario mapping,” in which you envision these worst-case scenarios and then reverse engineer backward and study “redundancies, cost-cutting and predictive mapping.”
The most straightforward example of companies pivoting their business models on a dime in the Coronavirus era is in the food and drink industry. Suddenly unable to host dine-in customers, the vast majority of restaurants have shifted instead to food delivery, curbside pickup, and drive-thru only. The restaurant industry may lose a staggering $225 billion in the next three months, so the companies that adapt and find new revenue streams will learn valuable lessons about survival, and be better equipped to recover quickly once the crisis passes.
As a response to the COVID-19 outbreak in China, Pizza Hut and KFC pivoted to contactless delivery, and other pizza chains quickly followed suit. A small brewery, Resident Culture Brewing Company, did something similar and closed down their taproom and events venue and switched to direct-to-consumer canned beer.
Being able to pivot, adapt, and adjust your business model isn’t just about revenue, it’s also a value in your company culture. By instilling flexibility into your entire organization, you will strengthen your company culture, ensuring that your entire team is willing, and fully prepared, to stand with your company in the midst of future crises like Coronavirus. Every employee of your company–from the C-Suite Executives to the hourly receptionist and everyone in between–will be ready and able to change for the sake of the company’s survival.
Here are a couple other aspects of your company culture you should focus on growing during this time:
- Transparency and communication – Convey job security by thoroughly laying out policies for sick/caregiver leave, PTO/other paid leave and more. Be patient and understanding as employees navigate “shelter-in-place” mandates while working from home with kids in the house. In addition to valuing your employees’ physical health, take an interest in their mental health as well.
- Diversity and inclusion– During pandemics, especially ones this internationally transformative, xenophobia and racism always rear their ugly heads. The Congressional Coronavirus Stimulus Bill mentions diversity and inclusion dozens of times, including a section entitled, “Improving Corporate Governance Through Diversity” that aims to “ensure that corporate boards reflect the diversity and perspectives of the communities and consumers impacted by the hardships due to the coronavirus disease.” Additionally, studies show that organizations with inclusive cultures are six times more likely to be innovative and responsive to change. Suffice it to say, diversity and inclusion are more important than ever when building your company culture in the midst of a pandemic like Coronavirus.
There are countless business values we could discuss that are required to strengthen a company culture in the midst of a global crisis like Coronavirus. At the end of the day, though, it really just boils down to doing the right thing. Do right by your employees, stakeholders, and customers. Practicing loyalty, leadership, and “conscious capitalism” now will bolster your brand for years to come.