What does purpose look like in a crisis?
Amelia Watts, Communications Manager, A Blueprint for Better Business
Over the last weeks, we have all experienced rapid change in response to Covid-19 and the economic uncertainty we face as a society. We wanted to share just a few illustrative examples of the positive ways in which businesses are responding. We hope this will show how companies can make thoughtful and compassionate decisions in difficult times and we aim to highlight, where we can, the thinking we believe sits behind them around relationships, people, purpose.
This is just the tip of an iceberg, and a lot of this work – both good and bad – is going on daily unseen. Many of these examples are still being worked through, and all are just one of many decisions these companies are making. It is also key to acknowledge that we know that many hard decisions are yet to come. However, we hope it highlights how companies might think about approaching these challenges in a purpose-led way.
Treat people with dignity
- Greggs – Last month, as the extent of the crisis had only just begun to emerge, Greggs was quick to announce it ‘would pay staff who need to self-isolate’. By making this public, none of its people were left with any uncertainty, it may also have prompted other companies to follow suit, and pre-empted the subsequent guarantees given by the Government.
- Intuit QuickBooks – This crisis made working from home a reality for many, but some jobs are not able to transition to a remote service, but these people are no less valuable to an organisation or to society. Intuit acknowledged this and announced that it would “continue to pay our front-line hourly service workers during this work-from-home period. We are proud to support them in their critical roles as security officers, receptionists, food services, building operations, janitorial, fitness, mail services and shuttle drivers.”
- Capita’s CEO and CFO committed to take a ‘voluntary’ pay cut of 25% amid coronavirus outbreak. CEO, Jon Lewis explained that taking this and other ‘difficult short or medium-term decisions now will ultimately benefit the company in the long term. This is especially the case regarding our cost base.” All members of Capita’s board have also “agreed to a reduction by the same amount of the fees associated with their directorship”.
As Blueprint’s Five Principles make clear a purpose-led company treats everyone with dignity and seeks to act fairly. There are many examples of businesses, both across the UK and globally, who are approaching these very difficult decisions in a way that balances, where possible, supporting the human relationships on which the long-term success of the business depends and which at the same time benefit society. Here we have highlighted examples that reflect open and honest communication and a recognition that some people in organisations will be more able to weather the financial cuts, which may need to happen, while others may need to be protected.
Purpose directs action
- Unilever’s response is a great example of why when good relationships and a sense of purpose are in place, and integrated into core business, the actions a business should take are clearer.
As Alan Jope wrote in his public letter ‘Remarkably, until there is a vaccine for Covid-19, soap remains our best first line of defence….As the world’s biggest soap company, we have a responsibility to help. We have a social, medical and moral obligation to make soap more readily available worldwide.’
A purpose-led business sees itself as a series of relationships, which are mutual, including with suppliers. In Unilever’s case, drawing on the depth of relationships with stakeholders allows it to target support most effectively.
- The Co-op CEO announced they are looking at how the company can deploy staff to support their local communities. This shows how businesses can communicate their intention before they have a clear defined answer or plan – and the power of turning to your community to ask what more you can do.
- Similarly John Lewis Group shared how it would be supporting their customers and community through a support fund.
Uniquely it also acknowledged role it’s store’s play as a space where vulnerable and isolated customers get much needed social interaction and the ‘loneliness and isolation customers may start to feel at home’ during the UK wide lockdown. In response, John Lewis is “exploring ways to offer its expert Partner-led services remotely. These could include nursery advice for expectant parents; wellbeing advice; craft and cookery classes provided by expert Partners online or one-to-one calls.”
- Anglo American shared how it plans to continue to support the communities it works in as they confront this new challenge. The community development and medical teams distributed guidance to local partners, and also invited scrutiny as senior leadership shared the plans with the wider business community on LinkedIn ‘in case it is of any value for others, and also get any feedback that other specialists may have.’
It is very clear that having a why can help organisation focus and make decisions in a purposeful way. The role businesses play in society has rarely been more evident as we look to respond to this new challenge. Here we wanted to share examples of how purpose enables business to serve society, respect the dignity of people, and so generate a fair return for responsible investors.
Share your expertise
- Some businesses have been quick to provide resources and products to frontline NHS staff: from free coffee, to drive-thru beer and dedicated deliveries and shopping periods. Gary Neville announced he had made his closed hotels available to the NHS free of charge to house frontline workers. He also guaranteed not a single member of staff will face redundancies and all will receive full pay.
- As shortages became clear companies stepped in to use their expertise to make new products. Notably making sanitiser including beauty brands, European distillers and UK beer producer Brewdog using its distillery to make hand sanitiser to give to those in need.
- Collaborations between government and industry highlight how business can directly contribute to solutions to this crisis. Particularly the call for UK manufacturers to re-gear factories to build ventilators for NHS. Dyson, Vauxhall, Nissan, Airbus, and a number of Formula One manufacturers are providing factory space and expertise including 3D-printing in an effort to bridge the shortage of ventilators in the UK in weeks.
In a time of national crisis, it is heartening to see so many businesses openly share their knowledge, expertise and experience for the benefit of society as a whole rather than protecting self-interest.
Value your people
- Morrisons committed to immediately pay small suppliers amid coronavirus pandemic. By doing this Morrisons, and other companies who follow suit will not only provide peace of mind to suppliers, but also help “clients, staff and others to continue to be economically productive” and support “the velocity of money” as Susan Hayes Culleton – the Positive Economist – explained in a recent video.
- Deliveroo took the unusual step for a ‘gig-economony’ employer of offering a “hardship fund” for riders and drivers who become ill or have to self-isolate, in the form of a weekly payment in excess of UK statutory sick pay.
- As we meet this challenge as a society, it has become very clear that Banks will be playing a vital role; many were quick to set out details of Covid-19 mortgage holidays for customer who have been financially affected by the crisis. Since then the Banks and UK government have announced that banks and other lenders will act as a key link to provide businesses with government supported loans to pay their staff and keep businesses running where possible.
- There have also been many examples of businesses looking to ensure they meet their responsibility to ensure their services are available to the vulnerable. These include Natwest’s dedicated phone line for over 70s and isolated and the recent announcement of dedicated over 70 and NHS shopping hours by supermarkets.
Blueprint’s Five Principles outline how purpose-led organisations might act toward customers and suppliers, critically the importance of recognising that these are relationship, not one-way transactions, and that you build these relationships over time.This is an incredibly challenging economic period for all businesses, but it is inspirational to see examples of how despite this companies are recognising the vital role they play and doing what they can to support their business relationships for the long-term.
There are many other organisations in the UK and globally who are curating great examples of how businesses can respond to crisis, one that we have found particularly interesting is this list from the US by Just Capital.
We would welcome more examples of how businesses are using purpose to meet the challenges of this crisis – please do share them here or contact me by email.