Reputations of businesses and their owners are being made and broken as the Covid-19 pandemic unfolds.

It has long been said that you can tell the character of a person by how they react when the chips are down, something that is now proving true of firms faced with the stresses of the times we find ourselves in. How they act now will be their legacy.

Organisations seem to be falling into four main categories right now:

  • Those who have no control of their destiny due to cashflow or other factors
  • Those who are determined to do right by as many people as they can, for as long as they can
  • Those who are willing to jettison workers and suppliers without a second thought to protect their balance sheet
  • Those who are just hunkering down to survive

A number of high profile instances have been highlighted in the media, such as Sports Direct trying to class itself as an essential service, pub chain JD Wetherspoon laying off its entire 43,000 workers unpaid – until an outcry forced a change, in both cases.

At the smaller business end of the scale are those instantly blocking off all payments to (often smaller) suppliers while they put their staff onto the Government furlough scheme and protect their dividends. Sometimes this is understandable, though harder to accept when some of those same businesses were only a week or two ago boasting of expensive corporate entertainment they were hosting…

What legacy for profiteers?

Then there are the profiteers, adding hundreds of percent to bottles of hand sanitiser or Calpol. Hopefully their regular customers will hold a special place in business hell for them when this is over.

Of course this situation brings out the best in more people and businesses than it does the worst. Entire operations are pivoting from their normal activity into doing something that has far more social value, often entirely at their own cost. Alcohol producers are making and giving away huge quantities of desperately needed hand gel, retailers are making surgical gowns instead of designer clothes or churning out critical visors, masks and goggles.

The concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR) has been around a long time, starting with the world’s biggest brands and, in recent years, trickling down through the business community at all levels. The kind of corporate ‘citizen’ you are matters.

Right now it matters more than ever. Thousands of businesses and their leaders will be judged on how they behaved during this time. That legacy thing again. “What did you do in the war, daddy?”, as the wartime advertising campaign went…

The reputation of your business for decades to come could ride on how you act now. If it takes a bit soul searching or a sense check from a critical friend to reassure you, take the time to do those things. Opportunities missed now won’t come again, but they could haunt you for the rest of your career.

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