With COVID-19 on Everyone's Mind, the Time for Responsible Leadership Is Now
By Kylie Wright-Ford, Chief Executive Officer, The RepTrak Company
Right now, many businesses are making decisions in response to the COVID-19 crisis that will harm their short-term financial prospects in the interest of their employee well-being and in the spirit of good governance and leadership. These decisions are not easy. But no action is also a decision, and the role of the CEO in these decisions is critical to the way a company is perceived. Simply put, the perception of "responsibility" accounts for a third of a CEO’s reputation.
Event businesses are halting production of their core offering. Travel companies are offering unprecedented flexibility. Companies all over the world are engaging in “social distancing” to halt the spread of the virus within their employees and their families. It is all in the name of responsible leadership and is a logical response to pressure from the public and health authorities. Such leadership can also give you a competitive advantage.
In times of crisis, like the one we’re all living in now, the opportunity to fortify the bridge of trust between an organization and its key stakeholders is palpable. However, the opposite is also true: missteps during a potentially life-changing crisis can threaten their reputation.
But what to do when volatility reigns and you are managing through both media and perception crises, and trying to run the business and deal with investor anxiety, as well?
Let’s all agree on a set of core facts:
1. Herding behavior like we are seeing now is not new. But the speed at which we must act, and the influence of social media on perception, is.
Since 1750, philosophers like Jean-Jacques Rosseau have been studying the power and impact of “public opinion,” which some believe is a tool used by society to force groups to become a follower of “correct” behavior.
We can’t fight the tide here. Do the right thing and be genuine in your response. Understand with data where opinion is and then be transparent about what you think and what you want to do. Break this rule and trust is lost.
2. Organizations and the individuals who lead them are increasingly judged on public opinion.
We live in a new age of reputation in which organizations are scrutinized on every aspect of their operation. While we’re seeing a moderate bounceback in the 2020 RepTrak study of global reputation, about half of the world still has doubts about the good intentions of all companies.
Time is short. Be intentional about your communication. Frequent, relevant, and authentic communication is what wins in reputation. Cut through the noise while others dither.
3. We’re going to be dealing with COVID-19 for some time to come, and then there will be something else.
Once the COVID-19 crisis has been dealt with, we will be faced with other similar and dissimilar crises. We need to get to a place where we have proactive assessment of where public opinion is moving and what we need to focus on. Then organize and align priorities accordingly.
The lesson here is to deliver a consistent experience. More than any time in history, companies have opportunities to communicate instantly and ubiquitously with their audience. This is a great thing when delivered with honesty and consistent messaging.
Above all else, though, always be sincere in your delivery.
Stay safe out there and be more human, more data-driven, and faster than ever. These are make-or-break times, and we are here for you if you need help with any of that.
Kylie Wright-Ford Chief Executive Officer The RepTrak Company @kyliewf