The most common refrain in branding initiatives leading up to the COVID-19 global pandemic was, “It’s our people who make us different.” If this is true, you best be thinking about how you’re going to help those valuable people get through this coronavirus crisis.

The actions you take now either pay off in customer loyalty and staff performance over time, or diminish your ability to recruit and retain customers and employees after the crisis subsides. In the words of former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, “Never let a crisis go to waste.”

The Edelman Trust Barometer special report on brands shows that brand trust is on par with quality, value, convenience and ingredients as a purchase consideration. According to Edelman, our view of brands’ role in society has evolved and people expect more from brands.  

What does this mean in the epic era of COVID-19? Does this mean you won’t have to right-size the organization to fit your financial situation? No. But it does mean doing all you can to avoid it. It also means communicating along the way to manage expectations and fears. (Melina Palmer, one of the best in behavioral economics, offers tips to calm employee fears here in Inc. Magazine.)

If the day comes where you need to reduce staff, do it with dignity and as much transitional help as you can muster. Once the crisis subsides, you likely will rebuild your team. How will you be remembered by those bedrock souls who you depended upon prior to the coronavirus pandemic?

If you are in the United States, the CARES Act and other financial back-stop measures by the U.S. Congress and Trump Administration will only go so far. Many companies are paying employees who are sheltering at home. Some forward-thinking companies are starting to plan for extending benefits, like health insurance to help their employees during this crisis. Boards of directors are foregoing pay. Top executives are taking pay cuts. Why? Because eventually those leaders will once again need to surround themselves with great people. People expect to respect their leaders. People perform best when they are valued. And people choose brands who they trust, who they respect and who they know will perform. Your brand is a reflection of your culture. And your culture is a reflection of your leadership.

Learning From Other Leaders

A good friend of mine runs a medium-sized engineering firm. During the 2008 financial crisis, his employees knew he did what he could to keep people on. And, those who he had to let go still respected him and were grateful for all he did for them. He’s a leader of shared sacrifice. He looks inward to take responsibility when things go wrong. And he heaps praised on everyone else but himself when things go well. He leads his teams to invest time and energy into local charities that his people care about. His ability to lead during the financial crisis was built on the culture and leadership established long before the crisis hit.

Are You Managing Or Leading Through Crisis?

Right now, most executives are focused on managing the COVID-19 crisis. But there’s a tremendous need, right now, for leaders to dedicate resources to answer the question, ‘What comes next?’

To gain insights on this, there’s one podcast you must hear from the Harvard Business Review Ideacast. The topic is ‘Managing Crises in the Short and Long-term.’ In a mere 27 minutes you will gain insights from Eric McNulty, associate director of Harvard’s National Preparedness Leadership Initiative and author of ‘You’re It: Crisis, Change, and How to Lead When It Matters Most.’

How Do You Compare To Other Leaders During The COVID-19 Crisis?

Effective leaders in crisis are able to show empathy. Believable leaders in crisis offer clarity and direction. Sustainable leaders in crisis commit to doing what they can to protect and provide for their people. Why? Because these types of leaders believe their people are what (or who) truly differentiate their organization in the marketplace.  

When we meet with executives and leaders, they often ask what others in similar situations are doing to succeed. Thanks to this recent survey of 403 executives by the Institute for Public Relations and Peppercomm you have a benchmark to compare how you are doing when engaging your stakeholders during the COVID-19 crisis.

Tina McCorkindale, Ph.D., APR, President and CEO of the Institute for Public Relations and Steve Cody, co-founder and CEO of Peppercomm and IPR Chair, provided findings during a recent webinar on how companies are communicating and engaging their workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Key topics include what are the most trusted go-to sources and channels for communicators, how the pandemic has impacted the workforce including employee satisfaction and productivity; what companies are communicating about and how they are tracking it; how diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives have changed; how companies are preparing for the return-to-work; and best practices for internal communication during this crisis.

With all of this in mind, how do you think you are doing in managing the effects of the coronavirus and preparing to lead your team out of it once COVID-19 crisis settles upon the Earth and creates a new normal? Share your thoughts. E-mail