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April 21, 2020

Fighting fear through fairness – why corporates doing the right thing in COVID-19 will come out on top

 

Executive Chair Jane Sweeney shares some thoughts on corporate reputation and the concept of fairness during a challenging economic environment. 

 

Fairness has become the currency by which reputations are made and lost.

 

COVID-19 is creating significant challenges for organisations of all shapes and sizes, at all ages and stages. Undoubtedly, the way organisations were thinking about safeguarding their reputation and managing issues a month ago has been overtaken by the impact of the pandemic.

 

An organisation’s reputation is influenced by the public’s perceptions of its character and actions. While reputation is intangible, it remains one of an organisation’s most valuable assets. ​

 

There’s a new lens through which businesses are perceived since we entered this unprecedented time – fairness. Being human and showing leadership with a fair hand to all your communities is more relevant than ever. But how do you do the right thing for your business and for your community, and translate fairness into business decisions?

 

Companies are generally seen to under-perform in having a positive influence on society and being ethical and transparent, which are essentials in driving corporate reputation. Now more than ever how organisations ‘show up’ during this time will be remembered and will have a lasting impact on their reputation. Did they treat their employees well? Did they pivot their customer offer? Did they continue to serve their community while coming to grips with the impact of the pandemic? At the best of times who you are as an enterprise drives two thirds of corporate reputation compared to what you sell, which accounts for only a third.

 

​In this environment I suspect the scales are even more weighted to how corporate leaders act when times are tough, and their businesses are hurting. So how do you build a robust corporate reputation in today’s uncertain climate?​

 

Fairness means dealing in a consistent and objective manner. To build and maintain trust, organisations and leaders need to demonstrate fairness: those that do so in their dealings with staff empower their teams to be innovative, purposeful and productive; and those organisations that demonstrate fairness with their customers tend to attract their loyalty and commitment in return. The sense of a level playing field for all is powerful. Those businesses who are doing well through the lockdown and will continue to do so despite the drastic impact of COVID-19, are especially under the microscope and need to be particularly vigilant.

 

It has been pleasing to see larger corporates with much larger capital do their part to lend a hand to smaller businesses. With Internet connectivity being critical for businesses and families to get through the crisis, Internet service providers have moved to cap data costs so those with data limits can stay connected at no extra cost.

 

Similarly, all the major banks have waived fees for businesses that offer contactless payments, in a bid to reduce the virus spreading, while also increasing the PIN limit for contactless payments from $80 to $200. I noted one industry commentator believed the latter would typically have taken up to 12 months to implement this sort of change, but the fast-tracking in three weeks with industry-wide collaboration was the right thing to do.

 

I challenge all leaders to be human and do the right thing – applying a ‘fairness lens’ to your business decisions will set you, your staff and your customers up to come out the other side of COVID-19 in the best shape possible.

 

Remember, we’re all in this together, he waka eke noa.

 

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