How to lead responsibly through turbulent times

Now more than ever, value-based “businessworthy” leadership is required

Note: This article is also a Facebook video.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a monumental challenge that we are facing together as a global society. We have to approach this crisis collectively, with all stakeholders in mind. Now more than ever, value-based “businessworthy” leadership is required. Being businessworthy means applying one’s business energy ethically and responsibly to create value both for company and society.

Since 2009, we have worked closely with distinguished ethical business leaders. Using examples and lessons from the global network of Oslo Business for Peace Award winners, we’ve conjured up a few of our best tips to keep our businesses moving forward and create a better future for all.

Our top tips:

1) Prioritise and include employees.

The obvious part of this is financial: to the extent that you can, avoid layoffs. According to the International Labour Organization, current lockdown measures affect the livelihoods of 2.7 billion people, over 80% of the global workforce.

Share the financial hardship proportionately, ensuring staff who need sustained income the most have it. This could mean cutting salaries more at the top and less less from those who earn less. Sarah’s Bag, a Lebanese fashion house and social enterprise, is an example of this. Sarah’s Bag employs underprivileged and imprisoned women, and has cut salaries of the management in order to maintain the majority of the salary for those paid the least.

Provide fair work, fair pay, and sick leave. Accept lowered productivity .Everyone is under pressure, mental health and wellbeing of your employees is important. Check in with employees, and show compassionate leadership.

Committed to Good (CTG) works to support humanitarian efforts in areas of conflict. They’ve therefore compiled tips on maintaining personal and team wellbeing during high-pressure situations.

If you’re maintaining staff, it might be worthwhile to necessitate new tasks or activities given the changes in operations.

2) Find new market opportunities

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Former Award winner Connie Hasemann at a Business for Peace Summit.

Embrace change. Don’t resist the fact that demand has shifted overnight. Connie Hasemann adapted her company quickly. The Award winner’s telemarketing company is primarily doing fundraising for NGOs, which means a maintained workload.

These strange circumstances are proving to be the main propeller for new growth in some sectors and reviving dormant potential in others. We’ve all seen the headlines: Around the world, distilleries and perfume manufacturers have shifted production to hand sanitisers. Car factories are making ventilators. Deliveries, online conferencing, home fitness, crisis communications work — it’s all changed in the past couple of months. Take a good look at your core operations and the skillsets your team has. An open mind goes a long way.

In times of crisis, customers want to be seen and understood, and they are extremely sensitive to tone and motive. You can involve your customers in giving back to the community, so it feels like a joint effort and a brand they want to stand behind.

3) Put inclusion at the core of your solutions

This crisis does not affect everyone equally. The Sustainable Development Goals are also largely about inclusion, with an ultimate goal of leaving no one behind.

Those that were already disadvantaged will be proportionately impacted more, no matter what country they live in. If you have supply chains abroad, check in with the Covid safety conditions for workers in that country. Inclusion spans gender equality, access to food, work, and education, poverty reduction, and much more. When we talk about inclusion we mean employees, customers, suppliers, and your community. People will remember your actions during this time.

Former Honouree Richard Branson included employees in the decision making process: the decision to reduce the pay and try to avoid layoffs was agreed to collectively by workers and their unions.

A crisis is an opportunity for leaders to build trust. When you act trustworthy, employees feel secure and confident in you, which in turn results in increases in commitment and engagement.

4) Protect suppliers

Sharan Burrow has said that we cannot afford the human and economic devastation of the collapse of our global supply chains, which would throw millions of people in developing economies into poverty.

Jobs, incomes and social protection are the dividends of business continuity. It’s a team effort with employees working remotely, suppliers, design agency, and quality control testing.

Unilever, where former Honouree Paul Polman is the former CEO, has provided early payment to their vulnerable small and medium-sized suppliers.

5) Invest in your Community

Data is actually showing that you need to focus on doing good to grow your business. This is, after all, the new norm.

Durreen Shahnaz, former Honouree, is the founder of Impact Investment Exchange, the world’s first stock exchange dedicated to social enterprises. It has positively impacted 10 million people so far. IIX built a resilience tool to give you a quick analysis of how resilient you are with your current finances and partnerships. We recommend taking a few minutes to fill it out for valuable advice.

If, as an organisation, you are inclusive and have gender as part of the equation — you will actually be ok during these times of crisis because the community wants you to survive, it needs you to survive.

2015 Honouree Zahi Khouri (right) with 2019 Honouree Hamdi Ulukaya. Photo by Johnny Nordtvedt Skog
2015 Honouree Zahi Khouri (right) with 2019 Honouree Hamdi Ulukaya. Photo by Johnny Nordtvedt Skog
2015 Honouree Zahi Khouri (right) with 2019 Honouree Hamdi Ulukaya.

2015 Honouree Zahi Khouri launched the Palestinian National Beverage Company, which works in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Long before this current crisis, since the water in Gaza situation is deplorable, they built their own desalination station and have given water to approximately 30,000 residents.

Dean’s Beans gave away a thousand pounds of coffee to one thousand to local essential workers and those in the community made redundant during the crisis.

6) Rebuild business, economic and governance systems in line with SDGs

We have to rebuild something better than what we had before — more sustainable, more inclusive, more resilient. These challenges will still need cross-sector collaboration if we are to achieve them. The Goals are your business, too.

  1. Assess which goals are relevant and achievable for your company.
  2. Develop a strategic plan and corporate measures from this analysis.

You can also look to UNGC and UNDP as starting points. Sometimes this is more obvious than it first looks — and incredibly achievable. Make it a team effort!

If you’re not already a member of the UN Global Compact, we encourage you to check it out. Their 10 principles are focused on aligning your strategies and operations with universal principles on human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption, and take actions that advance societal goals.

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We realise these are hard times for many.

Leading responsibly is at the heart of what we advocate for at the Business for Peace Foundation. Some of our advice is different for big business vs small, individuals vs organisations. That being said, everything we suggest is in line with our ethical business best practices and the type of leadership we think we need for the future.

We truly believe in businessworthy behaviour, and that coming out of this crisis we’ll collectively have the opportunity to rebuild economies and governance structures in line with SDGs — this is the stance we’re coming from.

For more on us and to keep up with news about our network, sign up for our newsletter.

Business has to be about the greater good and not only about maximising shareholder profits. We’re here to encourage and inspire #businessworthy behaviour.

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