It would be naïve to think that what’s going on in the outside world wouldn’t have an impact inside a workplace. The heightened tensions from a global pandemic, shifting economy, politics, social inequality & injustice, etc. will show themselves if they haven’t already. The classic horror movie trope puts it more bluntly: The killer is inside the house. Well-being, work environment, professional relationships, employee engagement, and company performance are all at stake. But as the title says, division in society could lead to division at work--but it doesn’t have to.
A company has a few things going for it that society (unfortunately) doesn’t have at this time. Because of that, it can be an oasis and force for positive change. Take the opportunity to demonstrate responsible corporate citizenship. Leverage these to proactively address and protect both people and the business, inside and outside the company:
A common purpose. One might wonder lately just which purpose our country is fulfilling in this world. It’s evident there’s more than one and they seem to be moving targets. Our news cycles and social media both shift and shape the dialogue. A clear, commonly-held purpose is lacking. What Viktor Frankl wrote is proving true: “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.” A socially responsible business, however, has one clearly defined purpose that’s intended to inspire those working together. They know the organization’s reason for existence and they have common goals to achieve that purpose.
Take action: Review the organization’s purpose for its relevance, strength, and impact. Seek ways to systematically and continually incorporate this purpose into all efforts within the company. Answer, “How might we make our company’s purpose known in what we do?”
Shared values and culture. American culture has not been intentionally managed. No one can agree on its values. The absence of shared values erodes a sense of collective identity and pride. This lack of discipline has allowed extremism to emerge as diametrically opposed sides and various agendas fight for dominance. Most companies have at least articulated their values, and the good ones ensure that these match with their lived culture and experiences. In this time of national strife, a company’s culture must be at its best, demonstrating their ideals as role models. Anything short of that should be triggering some sort of corrective action right now. Case in point: the lack of progress when it comes to diversity in CSR is well known. This is a cultural issue. Renewed and ongoing efforts should be initiated for consistency and real, sustainable change. Chris Librie, a CA-based CSR leader, believes that “This is a time for corporate America not only to take a stance against injustice and racism, but to walk the talk. It's time to ensure that our corporate actions back up the brave talk in favor of change. That means more representation by women and people of color in leadership positions at our companies and a commitment to drive diversity in the future. Otherwise the words will ring hollow.”
Take action: Evaluate the current state of the company culture, leverage strengths and address gaps, especially when it comes to diversity. Answer, “How might we instill our values through our culture on a daily basis?”
More resources (and discretion to use it). It appears that even the most complex of businesses can secure resources more readily than public agencies and local governments. This goes beyond funds—it’s about access to and deployment of the information, knowledge, and talent when needed, before, during, and after crises. Economic downturn or not, there are certain investments that must be made: in the employees, workplace culture, communities, the world at large. A socially responsible company knows and acts upon their need to work toward the greater good. Corporate responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and racial & social injustice in our country have been encouraging, but it’s still not enough and there is always more to do. CSR-led companies should recognize that they can be the ones to forge ahead and raise the standards.
Take action: Invest in things that ensure people thrive, such as engagement and development. Strategically utilize resources to achieve sustainable change and win-wins for all. Answer, “How might we define and achieve success from investments in our own communities?”
A platform for affecting change, inside and outside the company. Being an “entity” implies a longevity beyond individual leaders. Purpose, values, and long-term strategy work in tandem to drive progress. Knowing that our society’s brokenness could unduly influence what a company has worked so hard to build, the platform can also serve as a safe place for dialogue and reconciliation, within the workplace and in the community. People are experiencing the world differently, but what’s happening is affecting everyone. These forums need expert leadership and facilitation to ensure the conditions are in place for productive dialogue and outcomes. Our society needs help in negotiating where one’s rights end and another begins. In listening more than talking, lending their platforms for positive change, and taking action on what they learn, companies can role model and demonstrate their capacity for transformation.
Take action: Initiate dialogue inside and out, provide wellness resources, implement decisive steps and practice advocacy to help this nation heal. Answer, “How might we leverage our platforms for social change within and outside the company?”
Opportunity to Innovate. More and more, the world is depending on the private sector to solve its problems because they are better positioned to innovate. Recent examples include the rush to develop COVID-19 vaccines and the first commercial launch into space. Innovation need not be restricted to scientific achievement alone. Social progress has many needs that are just as (if not more) important. For innovation driven companies, they should be ready to rise to the challenge of solving the unsolved problems of the world.
Take action: Create or revise the company’s innovation strategy for a product pipeline with social impact. Answer, “How might me successfully align across innovation, people, and our products for genuine social impact?”
A company’s well-being is at stake, but even more than that the future of our society is at stake.
As shared by David Cooperrider, Professor of Social Entrepreneurship at Case Western Reserve University and the originator of Appreciative Inquiry, “We are perfectly designed for our current results.” Businesses must demonstrate leadership and deploy what they uniquely possess: purpose, values, resources, their platforms, and their innovation to achieve better results for all. In your next leadership meetings, ask “What are we willing to do for the greater good?” Then do it.
This article is also posted on Greenbiz
In the midst of a pandemic, a business can only triage and manage what’s necessary to survive. Many entrepreneurial companies are already accustomed to operating this way. The “fly by the seat of your pants” makes for a nimble response. However, this strength is also why they are especially vulnerable. They sometimes lack the foresight to plan ahead and set up strategies and infrastructure--not just for the long-term, but for the “what ifs.” Without some discipline of this persuasion, an entrepreneurial company can be caught unprepared to rise to a challenge, no matter how scrappy they might be. Now is the time for companies to begin preparing for the next global crisis, however it might present itself. Here’s a checklist of 5 To Do’s to get started, some of which may be surprising.
1. Culture the culture. This is the first thing to focus on, or nothing else will ever fully work. A company culture devolving toward toxicity could actually derail a business, either by a thousand tiny cuts or in one big devasting blow up. In contrast, culture can be a big differentiator, the asset that elevates an organization and accelerates business results. Culture is both pervasive and essential—it is in every part of an organization and determines how work is done. It is what bonds or divides employees, the very ones that need to be aligned, coordinated, and managed toward a common cause. Culture Your Culture: Innovating Experiences @ Work explains Design of Work Experience (DOWE), the comprehensive step-by-step “how to” for company culture and employee experience. DOWE facilitates the design, implementation, and sustainability. Begin or renew efforts to intentionally manage the company’s culture as a business asset.
2. Optimize Talent. A crisis forces the need to acquire, develop and leverage organizational capabilities in unprecedented ways. These are the things a company does well that have genuine business impact. Sadly, in the effort to cut costs, many companies have already laid off top talent—who, as an entire group, might represent the shedding of a business’ core competencies if they haven’t been strategic about it. This doesn’t serve a company’s viability in the long-term. At this moment, organizations should be taking stock of their core capabilities and whether/how that differs from what their business needs to be competitive. The next step is two pronged: a) determine whether to hire, develop, or outsource each specific capability gap, and b) ensure remaining in-house talent remains evergreen with learning and development. Working from home is actually conducive to the latter—replace canceled initiatives and projects with capability building and learning opportunities. These need not be expensive.
3. Truly prepare on a continuous basis. Preparedness is not an end result, but an ongoing constant state that must be maintained. What to prepare depends on the specific company, but may address topics such as:
For some organizations, the preparation begins with the current crisis. Leaders at JLL Corporate Solutions business recently mapped out their COVID-19 Corporate Journey which leads to what they call “the next normal.”
4. Recession proof the business. The terminology here is intended as a verb. A company must know what it will take to minimize the negative effects of a recession and perhaps even thrive in the midst of one. Doing this requires thinking outside the quarter-to-quarter mentality, and even looking beyond the tenure of individual leaders. Strategies might include shoring up product pipelines, securing cash reserves (and other liquid assets) at the ready, cultivating multiple/alternate revenue streams, nurturing potential partnerships, etc.
5. Innovate. To do this, two things need to happen. Acquire the know-how to innovate (as an organizational capability) and actually deliver innovation with impact. The capability to innovate comes with other cultural benefits: creativity, flexibility in mind and action, resiliency when it comes to change, and learning agility. All are really helpful when it comes to dealing with business threats. Most companies don’t really want to innovate for innovation’s sake and fall into the “before their time” trap. Innovation without adoption doesn’t actually build business or change the world. Being able to innovate out of a pandemic, for example, is a company’s path to remaining both sustainable and relevant.
The bottom line is this: it’s not the time to scale down activities and wait for the crisis to pass, this is the time to prepare. If a business can manage to survive this one, make sure it doesn’t fall short for the next crisis. Or there won’t be a next time.
This article also appears on Forbes
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