COVID‑19 crisis – How some businesses are putting purpose into action

By Cathy Byrne

As ever, during times of crisis we’re seeing the best of the human spirit and the worst. I’ve been moved to tears seeing stories about NHS staff risking their own lives to help others fight COVID-19. I’ve also been shocked by the selfish, irresponsible behaviour of some who blatantly ignore all advice on social distancing and self-isolating, putting lives at risk.

The same parallels are true in business where we’re witnessing some companies doing everything they can to provide solutions to the current crisis and others who are falling short, or even worse, looking to exploit the situation for their own short-term commercial benefit.

Businesses will be judged on how they have responded to the challenges brought about by COVID-19. Crisis response is clearly a reputation driver. I’m not going to name and shame the companies that have sought to exploit the crisis, but I predict that customers and other stakeholders will remember how they’ve responded, and this will create enduring reputation issues for the worst offenders.

The current climate is the ultimate test for whether companies are living up to their purpose, vision and values. How are companies demonstrating why they exist and channelling their talents and skills to meet the needs of the world?

I want to give a shout out to the companies who are demonstrating the very best of business and will reap all the reputation equity, deservedly so.

Leon Foods – A favourite haunt of mine for lunch. Its vision is “to make everyone eat good food”. In the space of a couple of weeks Leon is bringing together other restaurants (Wasabi, Abokado), food distributers and suppliers to deliver free hot daily meals to NHS staff on the frontline.

It has also turned some of its takeaway outfits into shops and is offering a 50% discount to NHS teams. John Vincent, co-founder has gone on the record to say that it will turn over 100% of any profits made to the NHS. He’s also shown that he’s a compassionate leader, giving his employees the choice to work or not. Bravo Jon and the team. If you want to support the FeedNHS campaign then click here: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/FeedNHS?utm_term=73NP5kKnE

In the manufacturing sector we’re seeing Dyson refocus resources to design and build a new ventilator – The CoVent. This is being developed to address the specific clinical needs of COVID-19 patients and is a new, not-for-profit line, currently in production. And in the last couple of days we’ve seen natural competitors come together to collaborate. The Formula One teams from Mercedes, McLaren and Red Bull have responded to the Government’s appeal to business to produce medical devices. They are manufacturing ventilators, or ventilator parts, that are crucial to providing therapeutic relief to people suffering the acute respiratory distress caused by COVID-19.

Reckitt Benckiser, the global consumer goods company whose purpose is to protect, heal and nurture in the relentless pursuit of a cleaner, healthier world, is one of the big players who is making its mark. As part of a package of measures, it’s giving away 10 million units of Dettol soap to the most vulnerable and donating critical protection equipment of 15 million N95 masks with a focus on pharmacists and health care workers. My husband is a community pharmacist so thanks RB.

And there are a whole range of other companies who are repurposing their usual manufacturing lines to design and deliver Personal Protection Equipment (PPE). Take Blocblinds based in Northern Ireland. It’s suspended all blind manufacturing operations and is now producing ‘Bloc FaceShields’ for frontline NHS Staff and key workers. Also Bayer Hockey, who announced recently that all of its facilities are being reworked to make face shields for medical professionals.

There are also other examples of perfume companies repurposing production to hand sanitisers, and hotels offering free accommodation to NHS staff and key workers. And I’m sure we’ll see more examples of purposeful businesses coming into their own over the next few weeks and months.

It’s fascinating that so many companies have managed to flex their entire organisation in a matter of weeks, even days to fulfil new demands. This is a sign that agility is absolutely key, not only to staying relevant, but to being socially responsive and socially responsible.

Sometimes business gets a bad rap but let’s applaud those companies that are actively demonstrating that progressive business is about purpose and profit. These are unprecedented and uncertain times. It’s good to see some businesses putting their purpose front and centre in how they respond to the current challenges posed by COVID-19. Let’s hope others follow suit.

We Create the

Insights

Strategy

Capability

Engagement

To Build Your Reputation