Adapting and Leading: How Companies are Responding to COVID-19
Date: March 11, 2020
Many of the lessons learned from 9/11, the 2008 recession, SARS, natural disasters, and other times of crisis have provided companies with a strong foundation for the response to COVID-19. The world’s leading companies know this is a time to focus on corporate purpose and values and to think about the way they lead today with an eye towards the long term and getting us through this period of time. Many are looking internally first to be sure their employees are protected and know the plan, such as AT&T, Microsoft, and Walmart. They are also looking at supply chains and customer needs, such as airlines waiving change fees. But what these companies are also doing in their communities is what truly defines them; they are addressing the needs of their broader set of stakeholders. As leaders in corporate purpose and corporate social investment, here are some things to think about in your company’s response:
- Assess: look at your stakeholders to determine who is most vulnerable. Some are losing jobs. Others will be without work temporarily. Some will lose essential services.
- Look across your issue areas, grantees, and partners to put yourself in their shoes. What are they experiencing right now? What tough choices will they have to make?
- Some of your stakeholders are at greater risk demographically, whether by age or race/ethnicity.
- People over 60 and people with underlying medical conditions are at greater risk. They will need access to medications and supplies. Many depend on services and supports in their home and in the community for their wellbeing. Put a plan in place to support and/or replace those services.
- There are reports of xenophobic actions against Asian Americans. Check in on the psychological safety and well-being of your stakeholders.
- Determine which stakeholders will be called upon to a greater degree, such as food pantries or healthcare. Look out for those in high-risk industries/sectors that will be impacted by a drop in travel and meetings, for example.
- Support: once you understand the “who”, you can draw the line to “how”. Apply your company’s skills and resources right now to those most in need.
- Provide legal advice, logistics guidance, and other pro bono support. Donate product. Offer financial support, such as the work of Microsoft, Amazon, Starbucks on the COVID-19 Response Fund. Keep funding and salaries stable if possible. Look at cost savings from cancelled travel and meetings and reapportion to meet unique current stakeholder needs. Carry out activities virtually so as not to put people at risk. Make changes to your model to adapt to the moment, as health care companies have done. Let them know you are there for them in a time of need.
- Look: times of confusion and panic are precisely the times to ensure your equity lens is engaged. Monitor your actions for unintended bias. The messages you put out on your plan B strategies should consider the costs and viability for everyone.
- Not everyone can work from home (37% according to Survey Monkey/Wall Street Journal) and/or avoid crowds. People with high incomes can isolate themselves much more easily than low-income populations.
- If people are working from home and schools are closed, many people will be in charge of childcare. They cannot find a “back up” if everyone is being told to not gather in large groups.
- Those who cannot work from home are inherently at greater risk. Ensure their safety.
- Only a small percentage of people can “stock up” on supplies. Many live week-to-week and do not have memberships to wholesale stores.
- Inform: anxiety and misinformation are rampant. Assist in disseminating accurate information, such as CDC recommendations, and help with planning so that fear is replaced with assurance. Companies are trusted dissemination channels for their stakeholders.
- Engage: keep engagement high while operating virtually. While high-tech solutions will meet some needs, remember that not everyone has a camera, internet, or webinar/social tools. Postal service, email, and phone will sometimes be the best way to connect. Think carefully about the best way to stay in touch with at-risk populations, who will be the hardest to reach.
- Act: lead. Reach out. Apply your company’s best skills and resources, such as Regeneron and Sanofi’s work on a vaccine. Put your corporate purpose to work. Live your company’s values, and share them, such as the message from Target CEO Brian Cornell. Track and measure and readjust. Be out in front.
Even though this planning seems short term, keep looking at the horizon, as noted by BCG. Strategic thinking now will secure your company and your stakeholders for the long term. How is your company responding to stakeholder needs? Share your story so that we may crowdsource solutions to share with our companies. Watch for a CECP Pulse Survey on this soon so that we may gather more information. Please also let CECP know how we can support you by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please also visit the US Chamber of Commerce’s Combatting the Coronavirus Toolkit for Business.