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Walking the Talk
The Time Is Now for Brands to Lead with Higher Values

It’s during moments of great difficulty that our authentic selves shine through — and the same is true for companies. Long after the COVID-19 crisis passes, the world won’t forget the values-driven companies that led with a conscience. The time is now to decide: How will your brand be remembered?

COVID-19 has smashed any lingering doubts about the dual necessity and expectation for companies to align their actions with higher values. The world-altering events of the past few months have revealed that companies can and must exist beyond servicing the bottom line. This virus threatens without discrimination every human on our planet, and nearly everyone will experience loss — whether it’s a loved one, a job or simply faith in the future.

Yet it’s during these moments of great difficulty that our authentic selves shine through — and the same is true for companies. Long after the COVID-19 crisis passes, the world won’t forget the values-driven companies that led with a conscience. The time is now to decide: How will your brand be remembered?

Pivoting with purpose

During World War II, many companies retooled their manufacturing facilities to produce things supportive to the collective war effort. With many likening the COVID-19 crisis to a world war, companies are stepping up to retool and produce necessities such as personal protective equipment (PPE), hand sanitizer and life-saving ventilators.

In hospitals and clinics across the country, our frontline healthcare workers are exposing themselves to the disease as they treat the sick without adequate protection. Fashion brands such as Christian Siriano, H&M and Zara have pledged to adapt production lines to making millions of medical masks and face mask covers for healthcare workers in the United States and Europe.

Because COVID-19 attacks the lungs, there has been a high need for respirators, which have been in short supply across the country. In response, Ford recently announced it will produce 50,000 ventilators over the next 100 days at a plant in Michigan, in cooperation with General Electric’s healthcare unit; and can then build 30,000 per month as needed to treat patients afflicted with COVID-19. Ford’s actions fall well in line with its value of “Enhancing people’s lives“; and GE’s with its commitment “EHS excellence to protect our people, our communities and GE.”

And with hand sanitizer supplies dwindling, companies are repurposing production. Pernod Ricard, the French spirits company that owns Absolut vodka and Jameson Irish whiskey, has repurposed its distilleries to produce it here in the US; while luxury goods conglomerate LVMH — parent company of luxury fashion brands Christian Dior, Guerlain and Givenchy — is using its perfume-making operations to pump out hand sanitizer, and providing it to the French government free of charge.

Repurposing production to support the common good also makes business sense — with the global economy on the verge of collapse, providing high-demand items can help keep companies busy during a downturn. Sustainable Brands recently published a long list of other companies pitching in for the common good.

Leveraging your core offering for collective impact

Companies don’t always have to retool to be helpful in addressing COVID-19. Many are leveraging their existing products and services for the collective good.

Allbirds and Crocs both are donating their footwear products directly to healthcare workers who request them. In only five days, Allbirds donated the $500,000 worth of sneakers it had allocated for the effort; then switched to a model which allows customers to “buy-one-give-one” or donate a pair to a healthcare worker. This small act can create a big difference in improving morale for healthcare workers.

3M, one of the chief makers of N95 respirator masks, is stepping up production to meet rising demand. For frontline healthcare workers, wearing these masks can mean the difference between getting sick or staying healthy as they come into close contact with infected patients.

LinkedIn is offering to support the recruiting needs of organizations that are filling volunteer or full-time positions specifically for coronavirus response. Likewise, companies such as International Paper are donating boxes to food banks facing shortages as they struggle to meet rising demand for their services. And the Visa Foundation today launched two programs totaling $210 million to support small and micro businesses — aligning with its long-term focus on women’s economic advancement and inclusive economic development, and to address an urgent need from local communities during the COVID-19 crisis.

Every company has a core competency — and the wide implications of COVID-19 means most can find a way to direct this toward positive impact. At thinkPARALLAX, we’re also taking this to heart — that’s why we’re offering some of our services through a complimentary webinar on Tuesday, April 14 at 11 am PDT, which focuses on how companies can engage employees with purpose-driven communication on COVID-19.

Putting employees first

Much ink has been spilled around the need to engage employees to drive recruitment and retention. However, COVID-19 is testing corporate commitments to employee well-being.

Last month, millions lost their jobs after much of the US shut down to respect social distancing guidelines. No sector was hit harder than food service, where once-bustling restaurants found themselves empty and restricted to pickup and delivery only. Many restaurant workers have lost their jobs, and those who remain employed face reduced hours.

To help make sure his employees stay on payroll, Texas Roadhouse CEO Kent Taylor recently announced that he would forgo the rest of his 2020 salary and bonus — amounting to over $1 million. Taylor also has donated $5 million of his personal funds to Andy's Outreach, a non-profit run by Texas Roadhouse to help employees in times of need, demonstrating his commitment to the people that make his business possible. In addition to being the right thing to do, this also generated enormous brand equity in positive public perception.

Conversely, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey drew public ire after he sent out an email last month to grocery store employees suggesting that they “donate” their paid time off to coworkers facing medical emergencies. The billion-dollar company also said it would offer unlimited unpaid time off during the month of March. Many employees reported feeling shortchanged by this policy.

Whole Foods ultimately joined its parent company, Amazon — as well as Walmart, Darden Restaurants, McDonald’s, Apple, Instacart, Uber, Lyft and other major brands — to offer two weeks paid time off for employees who contract COVID-19. While these companies could be doing more, it’s a start.

Prioritizing employee well-being also means displaying a sensible sense of humanity for them during these tough times. Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield has urged his team them not to stress about work, and to focus on their loved ones and taking care of themselves. Likewise, San Francisco-based IoT solutions provider Samsara — after instituting a hiring freeze due to COVID-19 — managed to reassign all 75 members of its recruiting team across three geographies to other departments, rather than lay them off.

Companies beware: How you treat your employees during this crisis will reflect on your brand for years to come.

Looking toward a better future

It’s too early to tell what the long-term impacts of COVID-19 will be on our world, and the worst may yet lie ahead. But every business has a responsibility to do its part in helping us all push through. Your employees, customers and even investors are watching.

Companies can retool their services and products to support the collective effort to deal with COVID-19. This doesn’t always have to be things that directly impact healthcare workers — there is a long list of stakeholders being negatively impacted by the crisis that businesses can find ways to benefit. Businesses ought to take a deep look within to determine how they can best leverage their existing skills and experience to help. If anything, companies should remember the people who make everything possible — their employees — and do whatever they can to help them through this difficult time.

We’re going to get through this together — that’s the only way — and our collective actions today will determine the stories told tomorrow.

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