EXPLORING THE BIG QUESTIONS

TIMES OF CHANGE ARE ALSO THE TIMES WE ASK THE MOST QUESTIONS. HOW TO INTERPRET EVERYTHING THAT IS HAPPENING AND HOW TO SHAPE A RESPONSE. NICOLAS AND HANISHA ANSWER SOME OF THESE LIKELY QUESTIONS TO ILLUSTRATE THE KIND OF TOPICS EXPLORED IN THE RESET SESSIONS…

HANISHA, HOW DOES THE POST-COVID WORLD ALTER THE ROLE AND IMPORTANCE OF SOCIAL PURPOSE?

Having a social purpose is arguably the most important tool for survival. Having a true social purpose means your business seeks to improve part(s) of the world around it through its existence. Who doesn’t want that right now? Imagine your team completely aligned behind one core belief and your measures of success aligning more closely with progress towards improving the environment and people’s lives than financial performance (although that would not suffer). It’s hard to imagine anyone wanting a business like that to fail. 

Unfortunately there are still only a handful of such businesses out there. (The B Corp list is a good place to start if you’re looking). In reality though, social purpose is rarely done properly. At its worst, social purpose tactics have become synonymous with a quick way to get people to talk about you. The effects are quick and impact is equally short-lived. The cynical ones amongst us find that kind of hypocrisy infuriating, but the hopeful ones should, perhaps, find that promising. 

If companies trying to survive and thrive post-COVID wanted a way to bring their teams together around something meaningful and wanted their customers to see them as relevant and generous, maybe they start with a new logo or even getting their production line to make testing kits instead of fast fashion. The exciting part is how they’ll adapt to this new, kinder brand space they’ve found themselves in and do more. 

NICOLAS, WHICH BRANDS DO YOU THINK ARE PIVOTING TO A POINT OF STRENGTH?

The brands that are really accelerating already had strong, diversified digital channels for both brand and commerce / service. But the ones who seem to be gaining the most have used their strengths to accelerate further, with gestures that bolster both brands and their propositions. Amazon as the obvious example as they’ve not only capitalised on their enviable position as an

ecommerce-only retailer, but they’ve gone further than just exploiting their position, they’ve ploughed investment back into ensuring employees are treated better and have access to testing, which in turn will build reassurances to customers receiving goods that are therefore much less likely to be contaminated. A robust enhancement to their

basic service proposition and also a more emotional gesture of caring at a time when this has risen greatly in importance for the consumer. For other brands we’ve seen, the only ones that stand out are the first to react, like LVMH were very early in their announcements to switch their production lines to hand sanitiser.

HANISHA, IF YOU WERE A BRAND UNDER REAL PRESSURE, DO YOU THINK NOW’S A GOOD TIME TO MAKE FUNDAMENTAL CHANGES TO HOW THEY APPROACH BRAND AND CULTURE?

100% yes, if those changes are in the right direction of course. If you’re fundamentally changing your brand to hit short term targets, please stop. Everyone’s values and expectations have shifted, whether you have realised it or not, you care about something more now than you did in January.

It’s more than OK to allow your brand and culture the same opportunity to shift and adapt. The main question you have to ask before you change anything is WHY. If your answer is driven by relevance to staff, customers, and their evolving needs, it is worth taking a moment to make changes.

If you don’t do it now, you run the risk of losing talent and customers so it’s important to address these changes before it’s too late. One word of warning though, don’t do it in a bubble, without talking to them first. We all know where assuming gets us.

NICOLAS, MANY TRADITIONAL BRANDS HAVE GONE FROM BLOCKBUSTER TO NETFLIX OVERNIGHT. WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM HOW BRANDS AND CUSTOMERS HAVE EMBRACED DIGITAL AND TECHNOLOGY?

It’s very easy for brands to progress slowly when both their consumer behaviour and competition are moving slowly too. But often this leads to inferior product and experience that leaves them exposed to more advanced competitors and disruptors. What we’ve seen in this crisis is a sudden emphasis on all non-physical channels, both for operations and communications which has been mirrored by the consumers themselves suddenly, through necessity

adopting digital channels for everything from shopping to therapy, to gym workouts to banking. What has been a surprise to many is how fast many organisations were to adapt, leaving the question why this wasn’t possible sooner. And while there’s some belief that consumption patterns will return to normal, those enormous chunks of the population who are now au-fait with digital enablers, will not now readily go back to their physical counterparts.

This has been a watershed moment so planning ahead we must assume much higher standards and expectations from a much broader section of the market. The potential for digital channels therefore just greatly increased, so the digital strategy and how the brand and purpose are shaped to accentuate advantages has become critical and deserved of much greater investment and attention.

HANISHA, RESILIENCE HAS BECOME THE DEFACTO CONCEPT FOR POST C-19 BUSINESS. WHAT ROLE DOES SOCIAL PURPOSE PLAY IN BUILDING MORE RESILIENT INTERNAL CULTURE?

I think a social purpose helps internal teams to rally round one specific mission. It allows everyone to understand why decisions are being made and be confident that they are in the interest of the greater good. That’s more than trust in a leadership team, that’s belief in each other. It’s the kind of resilience we all need to see.

I know people working for companies they believe in, risking redundancy and long term furloughing. These employees want the organisation to achieve its’ mission in the best way possible. They are happy to be flexible, volunteering changes to pay and hours to make things work.

I appreciate not everyone can be in such a privileged position but you wouldn’t be offering RyanAir the same suggestions. At a time when we all need to push forwards together, social purpose can be the glue.

NICOLAS, HOW CAN BRAND OWNERS BE MORE HUMAN AS THEY COME BACK FROM THIS PANDEMIC AND SHOULD THEY?

If brand owners are going to shift more attention to digital channels, they really need to embrace them as full blooded embodiments of the brand, not just tactical channels for revenue. Breathing brand into digital creates a very different brief for the organisation and a much greater return.

A brand’s purpose is the DNA that connects to the consumer’s growing appetite for brands that share their values and these two should be positioned front and centre with this shift in emphasis to digital. If a purpose is core to a brand’s mission, then it should be born out in every expression of that company, whether it’s in

service design or company culture, supply chain standards or material sustainability. Brands should look at this reset as a humanity overhaul that anticipates both a recovery and a new world with market standards permanently altered.

HANISHA, WHAT DO YOU THINK LEADERS NEED RIGHT NOW TO NAVIGATE THEIR RECOVERY? WHAT’S GOING TO HELP THEM MOTIVATE THEIR TEAMS AND DIRECT THEIR ACTION PLANS?

First I would start with what the teams need. Teams could be apprehensive about their jobs, uncertain about how the business will move forwards but perhaps even hopeful about what this break from the norm could bring. I would want to see heart and determination from a leadership team. A strong vision is vital but not if you’re trying to put on a brave face. Teams need to see that leaders are vulnerable too.

It is precisely this human side of our leaders that makes us want to rally around them and not let them down. A vision, followed closely by a game plan of how, collectively, the business will see itself through this tumultuous time. This should be time-bound and stuck on a big proverbial wall for everyone to see and map progress.  I would also expect to see a sharper focus on values, the way you do things, not just what you’re going to do.

And equally important will be the list of things you are going to stop doing – because you are wiser now than you were three months ago. Finally, leaders shouldn’t be afraid to say they’ve made a mistake. Fear of failure, I believe, will break more businesses post-COVID than those taking risks and learning along the way.

NICOLAS, WHAT ARE THE AREAS TRADITIONAL BRANDS MIGHT FIND THE MOST CHALLENGING WHEN IT COMES TO SURVIVAL?

With digital channels, we’ve seen near wholesale adoption by the whole population, a collective crash-course that leaves nearly everyone a savvy tech operator. But what we’ve also witnessed is another crash-course in the critical nature of information and the presence or absence of transparency. Once and for all the confidence in the spell that binds a claim with its’ promised delivery has been broken. Promises have been broken again and again, critical information has proven false again and again. And seemingly kind gestures have revealed themselves to have been made in cynical self-interest.

And just as with governments, brands must seize the only antidote for this malaise; transparency. Or more pointedly, meaningful, earnest action and the transparency to allow the receiver to validate its’ integrity. 

So the linear broadcaster brand is really going to suffer, because the overly planned, controlled and contrived, message-based monologue will have no ability to respond to and resonate with markets, let alone react to the changing mood and shifting demands as we move swiftly through each chapter of recovery. 

If as a brand you’re unclear of your purpose in the world, how can you activate it in the transparent and accountable dialogue of digital and social media? What cause can your culture hold onto and activate as your greatest advocates, from customer support to sales, to product and service development?

HANISHA, UNEMPLOYMENT LOOKS LIKE IT’S GOING TO BE REACHING LEVELS WE’VE NOT SEEN FOR DECADES. DO YOU THINK THERE’S A DANGER BRANDS WILL GET COMPLACENT WITH CULTURE BUILDING WHEN THEY KNOW PEOPLE WILL BE MOTIVATED BY FEAR OF LOSING THEIR JOBS?

This is a tricky question. Pre-COVID everyone was talking about how attracting the best talent relied upon a workplace culture that aligns the vision, purpose, and goals of the organisation perfectly with the talent’s own values. It is sadly a different story now, where even the most talented individuals are happy to have their jobs and companies are making savings from the absence of Friday drinks and fruit baskets.

But it would still be naive for businesses to take talent for granted right now.  The best companies have hopefully already figured out what the most important parts of their culture are. It could be the rituals you’ve maintained over Zoom or the camaraderie and collaboration you’ve kept alive even at a distance. You know it instinctively when your culture is good but if you think it needs work, you’re probably right.

As I mentioned earlier, we’ve all changed a little and, if anything, people’s personal, human values are up front and centre in bold. The businesses that will thrive post-COVID will continue to embrace their most human values and push them to the fore through their culture. Now more than ever, we want people to feel proud of where they work – culture is one of the strongest ways to do this.

NICOLAS, WE’RE ALL FINDING NEW WAYS TO DO THINGS – SOCIALISING, WORKING, TEACHING, EXERCISING… HOW HAS CREATIVITY PLAYED A ROLE IN OUR LIVES DURING LOCKDOWN? P.S. ARE YOU ON TIKTOK?!

Creativity thrives within constraints. And every day during the crisis we’ve seen creativity thriving within the limitations to delight and surprise us in so many ways. When you’re forced to change, people and organisations change fast, leaving you asking why it didn’t happen before. And these gestures are iron-clad proof that the system is much more malleable than we have previously accepted in

normal times. And that the value of creativity is much greater than it appears when everything is running smoothly. I really hope that this shakeup and reappraisal leads to the populous now being able to see how we may now be able to make the necessary changes and sacrifices to alter the world’s path away from self-destruction.

I’m not a regular tiktoker but I’ve seen so much culture bubbling over the edges into other channels like Instagram. Squeeze culture at one end and it forces itself out of the other. If we ever needed our faith restoring in humanity, this would help a great deal!

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