It’s no secret, we are dealing with an unprecedented crisis in modern history. Clearly, neither governments nor businesses were prepared to deal with the magnitude of a global pandemic. As we all struggle through with decisions that will impact our families, communities and economies – I’d encourage business leaders to recognize this time as an opportunity to build their company’s brand in a way that will not only carry them through this uncertain time, but emerge even stronger.
In the case of COVID-19, there are already people and companies emerging as leaders during this crisis and taking action that will be remembered far after we emerge from our collective quarantines. The airline industry is perhaps one of the hardest hit, and CEOs like Delta’s Ed Bastian are foregoing salaries for six months as part of their plan to cushion the blow from the worst decline in business since 9-11. Entrepreneur Mark Cuban was one of the first business leaders to make a commitment to paying hourly employees at American Airlines Arena, where his Mavericks would play but for the NBA hiatus. He is advocating for other businesses to do the same.
Of course, not every business has these luxuries. Many small businesses don’t have the safety net to keep a business operating during a shut-down. But if you’re in the enviable position to delay profits for the benefit of your employees or customers, then this is the time to do it – and it will pay dividends in the long run. This, in essence, is the time to lead.
Leaders should be asking these three simple questions of themselves and their teams:
- Who are my constituents? At minimum, there are two significant stakeholder groups to address: your employees and your customers. If you have additional resources, consider the broader communities in which you do business.
- What are their needs and worries? Let’s start with the bottom half of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: Safety, Security and Social needs. If your constituents are worried about feeding their families and keeping a roof over their head, that’s where you start. If you have hourly workers who are not able to do their jobs remotely or in social isolation, then consider what you can do to either keep them employed safely or keep them financially afloat.
- Am I in a position to help? Today, your fiduciary duties are not to your investors first – they are to the people who buoy you forward – the employees and customers who are your business. If you have the means, then think broadly about your capacity. Jeff Bezos understands that Amazon needs its warehouse, delivery and grocery personnel to operate, and that the services they provide are essential. He’s also committed to hiring 100,000 more workers in an effort to keep services moving and employ those who may have lost their jobs in other industries.
Even if all of your employees are salaried and able to work virtually using laptops and Zoom, they may also be suffering from anxiety (children are home, elderly parents are at risk, single employees are isolated in small quarters, the stock market is in the toilet). Consider what resources you may be able to offer during this time of uncertainty. Are there financial advisory services you can offer? Flextime that could support an evolving work/home dynamic? Virtual happy hours or yoga classes to reduce stress and improve morale? These things seem trivial until we really need them.
And how will you support your customers during this time? Comcast, Charter, Verizon, Google and Sprint have signed a pledge with the FCC to keep Americans, including residential and small-business customers, internet-connected for the next 60 days, even if people cannot afford to pay for it. Consider – what products and services are you able to give away to non-profits, schools, or hospitals to help them cope or support their constituents?
Only once we’ve emerged from worrying about necessities can employees focus on achievements and excelling at work (and getting back to those profits).
How will you lead?