Creating societal value is one of the pillars of the CCO as Pacesetter, something the novel coronavirus pandemic is bringing into even sharper focus. Indeed, CCOs are finding that purpose and values no longer require promulgation. Now the drive to live these values that relate to the organization's mission is coming spontaneously from employees. 

Medtronic realized that the scale of this crisis was so immense that increasing production of their ventilators would not be enough to meet the needs of healthcare teams on the front lines treating COVID-19 patients. So they voluntarily open sourced their IP and actively sought production partners like Intel and Tesla. PayPal is helping deliver stimulus funds to people and increasing access to payment services. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been pressing hard for relief for the small businesses that have been especially hard hit by lockdowns. Google’s early action to prioritize employees' health by switching to remote for non-essential employees helped push public policy. 

In these respects and in many others, Comms finds itself on the front lines. Business leaders are looking to our function to help them literally do their jobs, and CCOs and their teams are having to learn rapidly about manufacturing, operations, legal and other dimensions of the organization adjusting to extreme disruption. At the same time, companies are beginning to plan for the “new normal” that will follow the crisis, so Comms is being asked to help think about future business models at companies like Vanguard. Through it all, internal communications have moved to the fore – and are no longer primarily about advocating policy or delivering corporate messages. Today, engaging employees is more about emotional attentiveness to people’s needs and fears.

These organizations were among those whose CCOs shared their learning and striking wisdom during this week’s Hot Topics calls. Here are some takeaways from those discussions.

  1. Reinforce that your company is part of communities. Be sensitive to the needs of those who rely on your company, or on whom it relies. Empathy, sincerity, dialogue, inspiration - discover how to deepen connections with communities – within your organization’s ecosystem and beyond. Goodwill is remembered long after the crisis subsides. Even if leadership does not have all the answers, there is value in taking all the questions.
  2. Lean in to your core competencies. Corporate purpose is the intrinsic value a company creates for society through its core products and services. For many organizations, the current crisis provides a unique opportunity to live their mission. And while traditional philanthropy is important, CCOs are identifying how their unique societal value proposition can be made more helpful in this time of need. 
  3. Partner up. No company is an island. There are new partnerships springing up in manufacturing, distribution and supply chains, financial aid, healthcare and more. Finding these synergies is a force multiplier. Driven by the pervasive impact of the virus, this collaboration is happening at speed, quickly turning messaging into action. And when it comes to messaging, you many want to place your partners and communities at the center. This is not a time for self-promotion, keeping your tone neutral and factual can help.
  4. Ask “How are you doing?” and really listen to the answer. Ourselves and our teams are spread thin, working from home with stresses that didn’t exist a few weeks ago. The hallmark of a good team is that everyone pitches in when it’s needed. The hallmark of a leader is taking care of those people, even if they’re not asking for it explicitly. Mission-driven employees may have difficulty switching off, but they need relief, too. Create space for them to say what would help. Do not forget your internal resources as other teams within the organization might have more bandwidth due to shifting business priorities. The storytelling and empathy you practice now may – and should – persist after the pandemic.
  5. Imagine the New Normal. Once crisis response has reached a plateau, organizations are having to navigate how to find a new normal. Performance reviews/career conversations need to resume. Strategy has to change quickly, and rapid change causes some discomfort among employees who have been affected by shifting priorities. Figuring out what work will look like post-pandemic is newly challenging, as a significant amount of research and thought leadership about the gig economy will not be applicable. 

Special thanks to moderators Becky Edwards formerly of Schneider Electric and Billie Cole of Rakuten for leading an active discussion and Michelle Russo, US Chamber of Commerce; Greg McCullough, Medtronic; Franz Paasche, Paypal; Rebecca Katz, Vanguard and Emily Singer, Google for contributing to the call with their informed perspectives.