Transparency in your business operations continues to be a major theme, and that’s even more true in the time of the COVID19 pandemic. Transparent operations create customer loyalty, regardless of industry, and it is that loyalty that is going to help businesses stay open or reopen.
Starfish Impact always recommends that a company’s corporate social responsibility, or CSR, programs are a ‘good fit’ – that they line up well with the brand, product, founders, or origin story of the company. In responding to the pandemic, this is still true. Given the global implications of the pandemic and the economic aftershocks, however, what may now fall into a company’s ‘wheelhouse’ may be much broader than before. Supporting the local health care system, nursing home, or other institutionalized health setting may before have seemed like a stretch for a company, for example. Now, hyperlocal community initiatives have mushroomed in relevance to both individuals’ and businesses’ existence. Similarly, a company supporting unions, advocating for hourly worker’s rights, or discussing logistics may have previously seemed out of place in a CSR portfolio. Now, CSR programs that take into account their geographic ecosystem as well as their dependence on the larger supply chain are well-received as authentic and empathetic.
Perception also matters. Employees will remember how they were let go, laid off, and furloughed, if that becomes necessary. CSR is not only an externally facing idea – but is also the company culture, internal expectations, and management of your teams. Companies that have asked employees to take pay cuts to avoid larger layoffs, for example, should not be seen making large purchases or indulgences. When these do come up, they need to be accompanied by a public explanation as to why the executives deemed this a worthwhile use of cash, even if it may be seemingly obvious or part of a larger recovery plan, such as a previously signed contract or an investment opportunity that will not otherwise affect the solvency of the company. Companies that engage in constant communication internally and externally will find themselves better positioned to recover from the economic disaster.
Lastly, this is an opportune time for need-driven innovation and there is wide acceptance for failure of new initiatives, programs, or efforts. Stakeholders across the financial spectrum are affected by this disaster and given the fluid nature of the response, are expecting companies to try new things to stay afloat, serve their customer, and treat employees well. They are also seeing companies repeatedly pivot, sometimes on an almost daily basis, as new information becomes available and the viability of programs are reassessed. For example, many restaurants attempted to convert their significant pantry inventories into pop-up grocery stores to respond to the need of their local communities who were having trouble accessing markets or were fearing food shortages. Shortly after, cities responded with concerns about safety of consumers and the different health code restrictions that apply to grocery stores versus restaurants, and these pop-up grocery stores were mostly shut down. Restaurants reported appreciation from customers, rather than irritation at the changes.
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