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Why are your Core Values Critical during the COVID-19 crisis?

Author: Dotan Bitner, Strategic Organizational Consultant

We are all familiar with the common saying that our true character is revealed when we are under pressure. Can we say the same for businesses, especially now, during the coronavirus days?

Companies are different in how much their core values are accepted by their employees and embedded into their day-to-day life. Sometimes the core values are explicit and in other cases they are not formally defined, but the employees can certainly describe the company culture: which behaviors are appreciated and which are unacceptable. This blog post will not focus on the ways to make your core values really meaningful and not just hung on the wall. However, it is quite clear that sticking to your core values during a crisis is doable only in the case that your core values are well embedded into your company’s culture. Unfortunately, many times when an actual crisis hits, “company’s crisis response” and “company’s values” often appear to go in separate directions.

Even when your core values are an inherent part of the way people do things in your company, times of crisis might put them under a tough test

Our personal values and core values are not absolute, and do not get the same priority. When we are in survival mode, and the “Fight or Flight” response takes place, leaders become focused on the critical business decisions that need to be taken and less about behaviors which do not lead directly to survival. While you fight for your company’s life, you will most likely not automatically think about trust, respect, transparency or teamwork. Many will agree that this is a pragmatic and adaptive response to a crisis.

I do believe, however, that strong companies which are led by their culture adhere naturally to their core values even during days of crisis.

Why is this so important? Marc Benioff, Founder and CEO of Salesforce, writes in the opening of his book “Trailblazer”, that “If there’s one thing that the experiences I’ve shared in these pages taught me it's that tough times are when values and culture matter most”.

One of my clients’ four core values is “Commitment to our customers”. Due to the Coronavirus outbreak and the uncertainty it brings with it, the company expects to lose significant revenues from its existing verticals. Due to the pressure brought on by the looming loss of revenue, the company came up with a strategy to penetrate new business verticals. The dilemma which my client is experiencing is how much to invest in the demands of the “new verticals” rather than investing in the requirements coming from existing customers in the “now less profitable vertical”, demonstrating the “Commitment to our customers” core value.

Another client of mine defines “Respect for People” as one of their core values and I can affirm that they truly live this value. In this crisis many people experience extreme pressure at home, and sometimes can’t work more than 3-4 hours a day. But due to the crisis my client is under pressure as well and actually fighting for their survival. Should we expect the company that put “Respect for People” as one of her core values, to be more attentive to people's difficulties than others companies, to be more sensitive and flexible with people's unique needs even if it slows down productivity in the short run?

Insisting on your core values will show your entire ecosystem that you built a long-lasting company rather than one that is driven only by opportunities

Those companies will confront a true dilemma, a real “trade off” between gaining quick wins (invest in new markets, optimize productivity) and sticking to their core values. Getting back to Marc Benioff, insisting on your core values will show your entire ecosystem- customers, employees, investors and partners that you built a long-lasting company rather than one that is driven only by opportunities. When a company is perceived by its own people as being unauthentic in its response, the trust lost from employees can have long-term consequences. On the other hand, making value-based decisions can help bring the organisation and its teams together, and come through the crisis stronger and more unified than before.

In the same way of thinking we might expect a company who put “Transparency” as one of their core values to be truthful with her people and share business and Financial information (like “how many months left assuming the current burnout”) even if it might increase their concerns and fears, rather than keep the team calm and build confidence by reflecting a more encouraging picture of the business.

Keep your core values close to your heart and eyes during times of crisis

Companies that emphasize their “Innovation” might encourage and expect their people to find out of the box solutions during times of crisis, like new business opportunities, like creating ways to work remotely- to speed up innovation. You might expect companies that emphasize their “Boldness” to put in front of their Board of Directors a courageous, probably risky business plan which can enable them to emerge stronger when business picks up.

Easy to say, very hard to do, but the one thing that you must do is to keep your core values close to your heart and eyes during times of crisis and be truly aware when you behave according to them and when you make a pragmatic necessary compromise.

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