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News & Views

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  • 17 April 2020
  • Alison Da Silva and Darren Young

Navigating the New Normal

Alison da Silva, Managing Director of Purpose & Impact at Zeno and Darren Young, Director of Corporate Crisis and Issues ponder on how businesses should emerge from the Covid pandemic

Before the world ground to a halt in response to COVID-19, purpose was gaining traction in board rooms and dominated the conversation around the marketing table. Social consciousness has been at an all-time high as consumers everywhere looked to companies to advance progress on issues spanning climate change, equality and immigration. They expect companies to have a more meaningful reason for being and are making decisions about what to buy and where to work with an eye toward supporting those that share their values.

Never has this been more critical than during the COVID-19 pandemic as businesses large and small take actions with the common purpose of helping those most in need. Using their entire business as a force for good.

During one of the worst global pandemics we have ever seen, businesses have been responding with an inspiring sense of urgency and collective sense of purpose. Whether that’s taking care of their employees, customers and supply chain as well as the most vulnerable populations including front-line workers, children, the elderly, and small businesses impacted by the economic implications of the virus. Some responded with philanthropic dollars, while others reimagined their entire business models to produce needed protective gear for frontline workers. We witnessed the private sector quickly driving progress where the government was falling short.

There is no reset button and while we will one day see COVID-19 in our rear-view mirror, we won’t go back to business, or life as usual. Leading with purpose is more than just preparing for a ramp up after the initial crisis fades. It is looking at how this will change fundamental behaviours and the steps that need to be taken to adapt to a new reality. It is also an opportunity to re-assess how to make business better, especially in ways that are either revealed by the crisis or that may have contributed to it happening. This is the new normal.

Amidst the many takeaways from this situation, here are 10 which stand out:

1. Empathetic leadership is a sign of strength. Its value has risen.

2. Small changes to operations can have a big impact. Business has shown that where there is a will, there is a way.

3. Social innovation will thrive, creating a more complex picture for brands.

4. Purpose clearly starts from within and taking care of employees is the most significant way to demonstrate purpose in action.

5. Organisations will reassess vulnerabilities in their supply chains to ensure we can continue to thrive during periods of uncertainty.

6. There is no refuting that climate change is manmade any longer and we should make the changes to our operations and behaviour today to reduce environmental risks in the future.

7. Collective action is needed to address any global crisis. Our inter-dependency is clear.

8. Business models will further evolve, especially in retail and the service sector.

9. Employee mobility works. We will want more of it to protect some of our precious downtime.

10. Our relationship with personal hygiene and personal space has changed.

To effectively plan for the new normal, a company first has to understand what will change and what will stay the same. To do this requires a hard look at the causes of the crisis and how behaviours changed during the crisis.

Companies will want to examine their business model and assess the likelihood of that model changing or adapting in the wake of the pandemic and then prepare to make changes that will ensure that they are able to succeed in the new normal.

Business should be considering how to emerge from this better than they were before, to seek out opportunities to make changes that will more directly connect purpose to business progress, and to ensure that the company is delivering value to all of its critical stakeholders, not just shareholders.

Or perhaps it is just a good time to assess what your brand stands for and how best to ensure that you bring that point of view to life. That is what COVID-19 should teach us all.