By Teresa M. Siles
It’s no secret that COVID-19 has impacted businesses of all stripes. While some have shuttered nearly overnight, others are struggling to stay afloat and shifting markets, offerings and communication strategies amid the biggest crisis and the toughest economy of our lifetimes. As our region continues to re-open and the promise of recovery provides hope, “now open” signs only scratch the surface of recovery, as the implications to businesses could last for decades.
Companies that will be successful long term will do so by demonstrating their purpose and values, adopting flexible and agile approaches, and recognizing the impacts of COVID-19 on the psyche of their employees, customers and consumers.
Consumers, already distrustful of business, have been on a trajectory to align with — and buy products from — companies and brands they believe share their world view. While panic shopping may have put this level of discernment on the back burner for some categories, in the not too distant future, a day of reckoning could be on the horizon for businesses.
From their ability to provide and meet demands during the crisis, to how well organizations protect their employees from illness, and what they do — or don’t do — to help could be called into question. Having clearly defined and demonstrated values and purpose can help build trust now and in the future.
Values are principles that guide decision making, and while there are many ways to think about purpose, the easiest way to digest it is this: purpose is about expressing and demonstrating a greater reason for being beyond making a buck. It’s about defining your end benefit to people or society, and serving not only shareholders, employees, customers or consumers but the community or world at large.
Companies across the globe — from international brands like Patagonia to traditionally shareholder-driven organizations like the Business Roundtable to local organizations like the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce — have adopted purpose-driven approaches. And while purpose and values go a long way, they are only one piece of the puzzle.
Flexibility, agility and an innovator’s mindset are in order to be resilient for the long haul. Whether rethinking manufacturing processes, work-from-home strategies, the products and services provided or your marketing messages and mix, swift adaptation is critical to withstand recent shocks and adapt to new norms and mindsets. For many organizations, it may mean rethinking strategic plans to focus both on the short and long term and allowing for change along the way.
This approach — which some call “agile planning” — includes developing frameworks and tools to account for a variety of different future scenarios. Flexible and empowered teams, processes for informed decision making and continuous means of evaluation and improvement are key. And while our businesses adapt, so too are our teams, customers, consumers and other stakeholders.
Those who lived through the Great Depression were later known to collect everything from rubber bands to jars knowing they could be reused. People living through the current crisis facing shortages and anxiety will likely have their own crosses to bear. Conflicting accounts early on about the severity of the crisis, real and projected shortfalls of the healthcare system’s ability to withstand an influx of sick patients, and widely disparate guidelines issued by leaders and different agencies at the international, federal, state, and local government levels may have long-lasting impacts on who and what information people trust.
What’s more, changing family economics and dynamics; the death of the American dream for many small business; changing meaning and formats of work and the isolating effects of physical distancing can also have a long-term destabilizing effect. Millennials who lived through the 9/11 attacks along with the 2008 and 2009 recession are now living through yet another life-changing, and potentially horizon-limiting event. While the specifics of how these traumas will manifest themselves in behavior are not yet known, the effects will be significant, long term and worthy of our attention.
While some impacts can be hard to articulate, others — like long-term economic consequences — will be easier to showcase, as this is the most shocking recession we’ve seen with economic impacts likely to exceed the impact of the disease itself.
It’s unlikely our world will return to its previous “normal” any time soon or at all. Instead, we’re operating in a new environment where prioritizing purpose, agility and mindfulness of how the crisis is impacting those around us will result in something all businesses strive for: resiliency.
Teresa M. Siles is president and partner of Nuffer, Smith, Tucker, a San Diego-based public relations and strategic planning firm.
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