COVID-19 Presents a Unique Opportunity to Crystallize Your Organization’s Why
"People don't care what you do, they care why you do it,” says Simon Sinek in his now famous TED Talk, How Great Leaders Inspire Action. I use this talk in my leadership workshops to help leaders think about how well they convey their company's why to employees. When employees know and believe the why, they are more engaged and inspired which leads to higher morale, productivity, and retention. When we discuss the importance of why, I like to ask leaders, "who would care if your company ceased to exist?" The answer to that question reveals the why. Companies deemed “essential” during the current pandemic can easily point to their why. Providing food, medicine, gasoline, or other important goods to a scared and sheltered public is indeed essential. But even businesses deemed “nonessential” right now are playing their own important role as the world grapples with COVID-19.
The key for businesses is to uncover and communicate their why; the current global crisis provides a unique opportunity to do exactly that.
Here are a few inspiring examples from my own client roster of how COVID-19 is shining a new spotlight on their why:
A company that manufactures and distributes HVAC filters is working overtime producing filters which deliver clean air to hospitals where healthcare workers and patients battle COVID-19
A hearing technology company is helping hearing-impaired people remain connected during this time when communication is not face to face
A nonprofit consulting firm set up a helpline to respond quickly to client questions about employment decisions for their staff impacted by the pandemic
How has your company been impacted by COVID-19? How have you had to adjust or increase operations? Has the pandemic revealed a new or different need for your product or service? During this global pandemic, who would care if your company ceased to exist – and why?
There is an old fable about three bricklayers all working on the same wall. Someone asked the bricklayers, “What are you doing?” The first said “I am laying bricks”; the second bricklayer replied, “I am building a wall”; and the third answered, “I am building a great cathedral for God.” The third bricklayer had a deeper understanding and appreciation for how laying bricks fits into a bigger and broader goal.
Employees who understand the why have a vision of how their daily work fits into a larger and more meaningful purpose. When employees see a connection between what they spend their time doing and the why, the entire organization benefits. If an employee can see a connection between what they are doing and how it is helping to directly or indirectly fight COVID-19, well, you have a very powerful culture-building story.
These are difficult times for workers and organizations. There is great uncertainty, confusion, anxiety, and fear. But every great challenge presents great opportunity.
Leaders - this is the time to collect stories of how your employees, managers, and teams are showing up for customers in new and unique ways despite extraordinary circumstances. These stories should be nurtured and shared to remind everyone in the organization what the why is and how they individually play a role in it.
When this pandemic is behind us and the world has returned to some semblance of normalcy, these stories should be dusted off and woven into your culture in meaningful and concrete ways. They should find a home in Town Hall meetings, in new hire on-
boarding, on your company web site, and in leadership development programs. These stories of human impact during a worldwide pandemic will help define your corporate culture long-term.