Covid-19 has taught us that actions speak louder than words

The havoc wreaked by the Covid-19 pandemic has been lightning fast and utterly comprehensive, but many businesses are seeing their culture shine through their actions.

Covid-19 has taught us that actions speak louder than words

In the context of the last two months, the news over the last week has felt, well – rather slow. The world has changed at such a pace in a matter of weeks that we’ve got used to a hurtling from crisis to emergency; from panic buying and food shortages, spiralling mortality rates, hospitals being overwhelmed to huge economic contractions and homeschooling. The havoc wreaked by the Covid-19 pandemic has been lightning fast and utterly comprehensive.

At the same time, the world has also been flooded with evidence of businesses ‘stepping up’. We have read stories of production lines being retooled, cash being donated and priorities being reshaped as companies have contributed to the fight against Covid-19. Marketing around these endeavours has been ramped up, with brands using this as a moment to try and build affinity internally and externally through sharing their stories. There has of course been criticism as well, and I’m sure we’ve all seen the ‘all corona ads are the same’ montage on YouTube.

So now as we stop and take a breath we turn to the more future focused commentary (and hyperbole) that emphasises the need and opportunity for a new ‘green deal’; new priorities, systems, legislation for businesses and people as we recover, reassess and rebuild.

The reality is, it is impossible to predict what the next six weeks, six months or six years will look like, beyond what you can directly influence. To that extent, any assertions about ‘the future’ feel irresponsible. However, we can begin to take some control. Amongst the myriad of tasks we all have to now do, there are three jobs that stand out, as we move from a crisis moment to the foothills of the recovery:

Job One: Heads up and start planning

Of course, we haven’t stopped planning over the last two months, but it has been reactive and urgent. We have protected cash and furloughed colleagues, shut shops and revised forecasts. Now is the time to plan for the future. This moment must be used by all organisations to look at what type of business they want to be in 5 years time, starting in 2021 and looking forwards. Sustainability and purpose will play a key role as we rebuild, and so now is the time to demonstrate value and truly integrate into our businesses plans and strategies. The revolution will not organise itself.

Job Two: Keep listening

There are stats and figures being bandied around constantly at the moment about how our choices are going to change permanently as a result of the crisis. How we will all demand a more sustainable way of living once things begin to settle down. How the public will indefinitely punish brands that have behaved irresponsibly during the pandemic. This is nonsense. Not because it is untrue, just because we are in a state of flux and how we feel today does not reflect how we will feel tomorrow. This means maintaining a constant dialogue with our customers and team members. Listen, engage, learn and work out how you can combine great agility and responsiveness with a long term plan. There has never been a more important time for those working in sustainability to make friends with colleagues in market research, or to think like innovators.

Job Three: Maintain culture, for good

The last two months have taught us that company cultures can be strengthened, not diminished, despite new ways of working, cutbacks and compromises. This has been fuelled by business getting their hands dirty and making a contribution. It has been inspired by actions, not words. Leaders have stepped up and made things happen. In sustainability, we have to learn from this. We have to make what we do feel tangible and inspiring to our colleagues. This means investment and dedication to delivering our plans. We need to be opportunistic and decisive, and demonstrate commitment through action and leadership; inspiring brilliant stories about our impact that live in our cultures not just our comms.

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