Purpose At Work: How Brands Lead With Their Purpose To Combat the Coronavirus

Fears over the coronavirus are impacting businesses, employees and consumers around the world. While these are difficult times, the global economy will continue. Now more than ever, brands must put their purpose to work to employee and consumer confidence.

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Many responsible businesses are shutting their doors to support social distancing. Retailers like Apple, Patagonia and Urban Outfitters are closing up shop for over a week. Lululemon will stop offering yoga classes and SoulCycle is limiting occupancy to 50 percent capacity.

On the other hand, some companies are staying open. This is especially concerning in the grocery and food service industries. Most low-wage workers can’t pay their bills if they don’t work. At the same time, many employers don’t offer paid sick leave. This not only puts employees in a tough situation, it endangers the public.

In response to the pandemic, the government implemented a temporary policy that will provide employees in some industries up to 10 days of paid sick leave if they contract coronavirus.

While this is a step in the right direction, it doesn’t solve the systemic problem or end immediate risk. Research conducted by The Shift Project, published in the New York Times, sheds light on which companies are stepping up to the plate and those that are aren’t. American staples like McDonald’s and Subway don’t compensate employees for sick leave. Chick-fil-A, Outback Steakhouse, Wegmans, Kroger, Giant Eagle and Cheesecake factory follow the same policy. To the contrary, Darden Restaurants — owner of Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouse and other chains — recently implemented paid sick leave in response to the virus. Starbucks put “catastrophe pay” in place. The plan will compensate at risk employees for coronavirus-related time off. Costco and In-and-Out also have long standing sick leave policies.

The takeaway here is that businesses should focus on the long-term health of their stakeholders over short term financial gains. While there is an ethical imperative to this, there are also financial repercussions. For example, Chipotle claims to offer employees up to three days of sick leave. Yet, many workers say they aren’t able to take it. The State of New York sued the franchise after it fired an employee who tried executing the company policy.

Although there are many hardships associated with this devastating epidemic, there are some key takeaways on how companies need to keep their message in line with their purpose.

Top Lessons For Brands During The Coronavirus Pandemic

1. Put people and health first

Citizens are overwhelmed. The coronavirus is one of the most jarring events many people have ever lived through. Consumers are looking for business leaders to focus on the greater good, rather than business for business sake.

Jack Ma, co-founder of Alibaba, will donate half a million coronavirus testing units to the U.S. He is also contributing a million face masks to the country and another two million across Europe. “We can’t beat this virus unless we eliminate boundaries to resources and share our know-how and hard-earned lessons,” the Chinese entrepreneur announced on Twitter.

The lesson here is that this disaster requires collaboration and an acknowledgement of humanity. It is not something that is only affecting the economy, it is affecting the lives and psyche of global civilization.

2. Inspire confidence not fear:

The news and lifestyle changes taking place can feel like a twisted sci-fi movie. There’s a lot of fear and uncertainty going within the collective consciousness. Businesses that show people a glimpse of inspiration and hope will be elevated as leaders.

A group of entrepreneurs created the Coronavirus Generosity Challenge, shared via #generositychallenge. The initiative offers businesses that want to give back an opportunity to showcase their generosity in these hard times. For example, Zoom, the video conference company will now permanently make its services free for K through 12 schools. Clearview Social is giving its proprietary social media software to nonprofits working in the catastrophe space.

The learning here is that true leaders provide people with hope and inspire others to do the same. Think about how your company can foster confidence in your community.

3. Retool to maintain operations:

Businesses that leverage their know-how and resources to create the most good build their reputation and ensure their cultural relevance.

LVMH, which produces scents for luxury brands like Christian Dior and Guerlain, is pivoting its operations in three factories to manufacture hand sanitizer. The company plans to donate the disinfectant to French and European hospitals.

Ultimately, by pivoting operations LVMH not only helps fill the sanitizer shortage, it also keeps employees working, showcases its ingenuity and builds its brand image.

4. Plan for an extended disruption:

No one knows how long it will take to get the virus under control or how long everyone will need to practice social distancing. We do know that there is a high degree of uncertainty and that we need robust plans to continue business under this new reality.

Make sure that you have a clear communications strategy in place. Primarily, this means addressing your staff, investors and customers. It’s OK not to have all the answers but step up to the plate and talk about the most pressing questions. This could mean addressing things like, “Will I still have a job next month? Given current forecasts, what are the chances of us meeting quarterly or annual targets? How are you ensuring sanitation at your facilities?”

Many companies are turning to remote work to keep the gears turning. Cisco is offering businesses free use of its Webex service to help brands transition.

Authenticity, frequent communication and new ways of working are essential to operating during these times.

5. Support all stakeholder including employees, investors, consumers and your communities:

Celebrity chef José Andrés is re-purposing restaurants in his ThinkFoodGroup to act as Community Kitchens. In association with his hunger-relief nonprofit, World Central Kitchen, they are serving food to those in need. ThinkFoodGroup is also ensuring that employees receive two weeks of pay, after which the organization will reassess how to proceed.

Some of Andrés restaurants like Beefsteak will still offer delivery service and others in California, Nevada and Florida will continue to serve in store for now.

By making the best of the situation, Andrés is leveraging his business as a force for good. At the same time, he is gaining word of mouth advertising and earning consumer and employee goodwill. The chef is also working within the confines of the crisis to continue to keep his core business afloat whenever possible.

All brands must think about the big picture and leverage their purpose to take care of public safety, support their key stakeholders and keep their businesses running. The overriding priority is flattening the curve that represents the spread of the coronavirus disease. Then identify how to pivot your business to the new, hopefully temporary, norm and position your brand as a key ally working to continue to contribute to building a better world.

Written by

CEO We First Inc, author NYT's bestseller We First, strategic corporate consultant and trainer, father, Australian, optimist.

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