Business people

COVID-19 – a reputation built on people

Photograph of Jennifer Riddell Carpenter

Written by

Jennifer Riddell-Carpenter


Though it can be easy to forget, COVID-19 is a human crisis before an economic one.

Even amongst people and families whose health remains largely unaffected by the virus, the financial impact will be felt hard by everyone – through the real and significant loss of livelihoods, employment and earnings.

Over the coming months, businesses’ reputations will rise or fall depending how they understand and respond to this new reality – balancing the need to support employees, with the urgent need to make the right business decisions for survival.

But tomorrow, all that will matter is how you supported your people today.

Use the days ahead to re-think decision making processes, making sure your people are at the heart of your business thinking.  Three key things to consider include:

1) When the chips are down, let your organisation’s values lead. In the coming weeks, we’ll see countless organisations inadvertently expose their company values system to the outside world.

Organisations with a strong values system will focus their choices and actions on what is important to them and will be able to easily build internal buy-in and cohesion behind those decisions.

Others with weaker values and poorer cultures will unintentionally show the world that their leadership prioritised the individual needs of a select few over the collective needs of all. Over the past few days, we’ve seen this play out for some football clubs in the Premier League – choosing to furlough club staff at the taxpayer’s expense, whilst seemingly asking so little from the well-paid, high-profile players. For an industry built on comradery, loyalty and trust, these business choices could be catastrophic. Don’t expect the media backlash to abate anytime soon.


2) Furloughed, but not forlorn. COVID-19 presents one of the UK’s toughest economic challenges for generations, and for thousands of businesses across the country this crisis is one of sheer commercial survival.

For many organisations, the short-term solution will be to take up support made available by Government through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. When first announced, the Chancellor expected roughly a 30% take up amongst UK companies by June 2020. But in the weeks that followed, Government has since braced itself for a far higher take up.

For many UK businesses, this means that furloughing has already become the norm, and any reputational risks attached to the act of putting staff on temporary redundancy are reduced. However, organisations must manage the hidden risks that accompany it – robust decision-making processes that select who to furlough, clear and frequent staff engagement in the process, and connecting and communicating to support staff once on furlough – are all business-critical issues to plan around. Getting these steps right now will protect both organisational reputations and employer-employee relationships further down the line.


3) Know your exit strategy. Just as the Government is planning its ‘exit strategy’ for lock down, organisations too should be planning for the next stages of the COVID-19 crisis.

Businesses that have short-term financing measures in place – including (though not limited to) furloughing options – should now be building and agreeing their ‘COVID-success metrics’. These metrics will help to paint a picture of what financial success in the weeks ahead looks like and support a staged recovery to the new ‘business as usual’.

As in all crises, being able to demonstrate that the organisation is moving along and progressing effectively through the ‘crisis timeline’ is critical to moving out of crisis mode. It remains up to each business to articulate what that trajectory and future looks like to ensure  that your staff, customers and stakeholders can support you on that journey. Attempting to ‘weather out the storm’ without a strong plan in place will mean that the COVID-19 crisis lasts longer and its impact will be far greater than it needs to be for your organisation.

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