You're an Advocate for Your Employees, But What About Your Community?
It’s all too easy to stew in self-isolation. As a business leader, you find yourself mulling the same questions as the coronavirus crisis stretches on for another day, another week and another month. Isolated from your staff, you begin to wonder how long the crisis will last and how long it will take to reopen your business. Furthermore, will your business be Ok? Will you, your family members and friends be OK, as well?
As COVID-19 has swept across America, hundreds of thousands of workforce leaders have found themselves forced to shut their doors. Offices have gone dark, universities closed and public places quieted. Such drastic measures are necessary to slow the virus’s spread, but they come with their fair share of unfortunate side effects, too.
According to a recent report from Statista, nearly one-third of businesses have seen their sales decrease as a result of COVID-19. Thirty-eight percent have postponed conferences, 25 percent have reported problems with their normal supply chains and 38 percent of workers have been asked to work from home — something many simply aren’t accustomed to doing.
With such pervasive anxiety and uncertainty, the knee-jerk reaction is for leaders to panic, turn inward and focus solely on what the crisis means for their organizations and livelihoods. But some business leaders are taking a different approach, choosing instead to view the crisis as a time to look to their respective communities as a means of aid — not inward toward their fears.
Here are a few mindset changes that will help business leaders become community advocates.
Turn Your Focus Outward
CEOs already have a wealth of experience in advocating for their businesses, employees and chosen causes. With this influence in mind, it isn’t so much of a stretch to imagine that CEOs could easily extend their resources and positions even further to benefit the communities in which they reside.
“Everyone’s rattled,” Lauren Irwin-Szostak, CEO of management consultant firm Business Processes Redefined, LLC (BPR), shared over email. “Everyone’s being tested. People in my position have a choice: Either we hide in our corporate shells and hope we make it through, or we step up and become real advocates for our communities.”
Already, a number of inspirational stories have been reported. Joann Fabric has given supplies and instructions on how to make masks for medical front-liners away for free; Logitech has established a program that provides free webcams and headsets to elementary, middle school and high school teachers.
These are large, meaningful gestures, but your business doesn’t need to be nearly as well known or have “deep pockets” to make a difference. You can be an advocate even if what you do is on a small scale, backed only by a few employees and a passion for communal goodwill.
Don't Surrender to Isolation
Turning your attention to your employees and community during this time of widespread trouble is a reminder that all of society needs to lean on one another — now more than ever. It might sound cliché, but actions speak louder than words, and small gestures can make a difference.
As Abdullah Shihipar recently wrote in the New York Times, uncertainty can "further our sense of isolation from one another, making us forget that we’re in this together.” We can’t afford to let this be the case. Sometimes, support is as simple as showing up wherever you are with whatever you have.
Reach Over Competitive Barriers
In a time of crisis, it’s tempting to withdraw and take an every-brand-for-itself stance. In the long run, however, hostility only harms businesses — yours included. Company leaders should brainstorm creative ways to unite with their competitors. Every business needs to be neighborly. With a little effort, leaders can network and work together to create positive change.
For example, take the work of Detroit-based clothing company Detroit Hustles Harder (DHH). On March 30, the company announced it would be teaming up with local businesses, brands and artists to create new clothing, the sales of which would benefit those impacted by the coronavirus. DHH’s collaborative solution won’t improve its bottom line, but it will provide an opportunity for city-wide joint action to support those most affected by the pandemic.
Focus on Small, Meaningful Actions
To say that businesses are under pressure right now would be an understatement. Most won’t be able to extend millions in aid to help beleaguered teachers or support struggling restaurants, but being an advocate doesn’t necessarily require dedicating large sums of money to support those impacted by the coronavirus. Moreover, it requires doing whatever you can to help those in need.
“My business didn’t have the resources to take the measures you read about on the news,” added BPR's Irwin-Szostak. “But there were some smaller things I could do. I delivered extra toilet paper to other offices in our building. Our office donated masks to the local police department, as well.”
Irwin-Szostak’s actions might not have the same impact of a large-scale program, but they still matter — and the effort is always appreciated. “Even if what you do is small," she concluded, "the help you provide can mean the world to someone else.”
Take Time to Find Perspective
It’s easy to stew in self-isolation, but that doesn’t mean you should. Company heads are well-positioned to make and inspire positive change in communities all around the globe. The next time you find yourself trapped in rumination, take a moment to look elsewhere. Think about what you can do as a business leader to support the very community that has always supported you.
Together, things will move forward.