Rise above business as usual #risestories

RISE above business as usual. Easier said than done. But many companies are doing exactly that during the COVID-19 crisis, which is vividly demonstrating the need for multi-stakeholder collaboration to fight common challenges and the role of companies in society as drivers of positive change.

Purpose defines a corporation’s underlying objective in a way that guides business strategy and its impact on society. A crisis makes it more difficult to “purpose-wash” – much easier when the going is good – and reveals those who are truly guided by their purpose, versus those who are using it as a convenient label or branding exercise.

RISE was already convinced that the “business as usual” model is broken. The crisis is making that evidently clearer. We are simply more effective when working together and no country or community is an island in that sense.  Many companies are stepping up in responsible and innovative ways for their people and customers: doing all they can to try to diminish layoffs, increasing benefits for employees or positively supporting their communities.

We have been tracking these inspirational and purpose-led responses and posting them under the hashtag #RISEstories. As we monitored activities, 5 main types of responses emerged:

  1. Repurposed Business Operations: A redirection of core business operations to respond to the crisis. This has been demonstrated by fashion house LVMH and retailer H&M who are using their respective factories to produce hand sanitisers and protective clothing for healthcare workers. Ford has risen to the challenge by collaborating with 3M and GE Healthcare to expand production of urgent medical equipment and supplies for health care workers. Flavours & fragrances leader Givaudan is using some of its facilities to produce hand sanitisers, in addition to launching a community fund to enable teams around the world to support those most in need.
  2. Flexible Finance:Banks changing their business operations to accommodate those who have been negatively impacted financially due to the crisis. RBS and TSB have deferred repayments on loans and mortgages. Lloyds, HSBC, Barclays and Bank of Mauritius have all announced relief packages to help fund small business and allow them to cope with their cash flow.
  3. Adapted Operations:Signals a change to the way business is run, though not outside of their normal scope of operations. Grocery stores such as Iceland, M&S and Delhaize have announced dedicated shopping hours for the elderly, the vulnerable or for emergency healthcare workers. Philips has increased production of critical health technology and BNP Paribas has extended free health coverage under the UNICA policy to Italians.
  4. Employer Leadership: Leaders, particularly in the United States, have taken upon themselves to ensure the wellbeing of their employees. The CEO of Delta Airlines and its executive board have all foregone compensation for one year and six months respectively to try to diminish layoffs. Patagonia closed their stores but continued to pay employees. Walmart, Apple and Darden Restaurants extended paid sick leave to employees.
  5. Philanthropy: Financial support or benefits in kind that aid affected communities (not necessarily the employees). Bank of America and JP Morgan have both announced large investments to affected communities to mitigate the effects of the crisis. Nike created a fund to support communities where employees live. Unilever has pledged free soap, sanitizer, bleach and food while Tesla acquired over 1,000 ventilators from China.

These examples highlight the critical role that business plays in society through enhancing the livelihoods of communities, working collaboratively and filling gaps that governmental bodies cannot. It also enables business to produce and sell more, or strengthen their reputation during the crisis, helping purpose to drive business performance.

What is apparent is that there will be no return to “normal” once this crisis is over. COVID-19 marks a defining moment in history, and the contrast between before and after will be stark. This is not a negative – there will be a new normal that builds on the shift in thinking about purpose that had already begun. The Business Roundtable Declaration in August 2019 and the increased focus on the role of business in accelerating the achievement of the UN SDGS are examples of this.

There will certainly be challenges and obstacles to overcome, but this is a unique opportunity for business to RISE above (the old) business as usual.  Please let us know if you want to discuss ideas for what you can do as a business to develop or live your purpose right now, or creative ways of communicating it. We are here to help.