Leading with Purpose: Spreading Calm, Positivity, and Tangible Support During COVID-19

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During an unprecedented global crisis, people are looking to their companies for support and guidance. It’s challenging to communicate effectively with employees right now, especially those working on the front lines. It comes down to the actions you take and finding creative ways to make those actions visible to your employees and to other important stakeholders.

Customers and employees are paying attention. In a study released this month from Edelman, 90 percent of consumers said that brands should be willing to suffer substantial financial losses to ensure the well-being and financial security of others. And 71 percent said that companies that placed their profits before people during the crisis would lose their trust forever.

Many companies are getting it right. They are taking significant actions to help their people and their communities. And they are making sure these actions are visible to employees and other stakeholders – to inspire and encourage them as we work through this crisis.

Here are just a few of the examples I’m seeing:

CVS Health focuses on getting practical information to front line associates to provide support and help ensure safety

On a recent call with executives facilitated by the Center for Higher Ambition Leadership, we heard from Karen Lynch, EVP for CVS Health, who is co-leading a crisis management team for the company. Like many leading companies, CVS is offering employees more bonuses, childcare or elder care support, and continued pay if they test positive for COVID-19 or are quarantined. They have put many safety measures in places in their CVS pharmacy retail locations, from disinfectant wipes stations to plexiglass panels at checkouts.

When it comes to communication, traditional town hall formats don’t always align with retail work shifts, so CVS has created an online COVID-19 resource center where employees can find the very latest guidance and resources 24 hours a day. They’ve used video to capture messages direct from the CEO to employees. Because most associates are not working at computers, they are creating tools that are easy to access with smartphones, and using text messaging for time sensitive updates.

Colorado-based Red Rocks Credit Union (RRCU) helps employees help each other and cultivates a culture of compassion and gratitude through this crisis

Employees have all kinds of needs right now – health/bereavement related issues, financial problems, and childcare struggles are pressing hard on so many. To address the unique needs that are arising during this pandemic, RRCU has established a simple application that employees can fill out if they need financial assistance. These applications are vetted, then team members can donate to help their peers with anything from medical bills to rent to childcare costs. Recipients can post thank you notes and stories on the company’s Community Board to show their appreciation as well.

Using a digital platform from Co.tribute, RRCU can connect employees from wherever they are working and help make acts of generosity more visible across the organization. The result is a sense of compassion and unity among employees, and a strong culture of gratitude amid hardship.

CEOs stress purpose in authentic and transparent communications with employees and customers.

Communications from CEOs illustrate how their organizations are making decisions aligned to core purpose in this time of crisis.

Eric Artz, president and CEO of REI, wrote to co-op members sharing the company’s plan to continue to pay store employees during the first 45 days of store closures, followed by furloughs with healthcare benefits. Artz also announced he will forfeit 100% of his base salary for the next six months, along with his incentive eligibility.

Arne Sorenson, president and CEO of Marriott International, spoke directly to associates through a powerful and emotional video. It’s a great example of communication in a crisis. Marriott is partnering with American Express and JPMorgan Chase to provide $10 million worth of hotel stays for medical professionals. Sorensen is also forgoing a salary for the rest of this year and cutting those of his executive team by 50 percent.

In a COVID-19 environment, CEOs must preserve the future of their companies by managing multiple factors such as cash and debt, but at the same time, they can seize this bleak period of history with heart-felt, compassionate leadership. In time of crisis, leaders’ choices make all the difference.  A leader’s legacy will be judged by whether their values during this period were for real or just words on a paper.

Employees, customers, and the community are looking for reassurance and hope. What a great opportunity for business leaders to rise to the occasion.

By Douglas A. Wilson, Chairman, CEO Leadership Alliance, Orange County, and CEO, Next Solutions