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Ford Covid 19 Medical Equipment Production 03 5eac62564b6fe 5eb00ca85e6b1

Why Companies Doing the Right Thing Matters More than Ever

May 4, 2020
This is when we show our employees, customers and communities who we really are and what matters most.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Hancock Bank did something incredible. There was no power for ATMs or credit card machines. Banks were destroyed. People were desperate for cash. So, Hancock employees dug dirty bills out of flooded vaults and ATMs and laundered them. Literally. They washed and dried the cash in laundry machines connected to generators. Then they gave it away. Tens of millions of it. Most of it to people with no ID who signed IOUs on scratch paper, promising to pay back the loans. Incredibly, almost all of it was returned. The bank was there when customers needed it most. This created so much loyalty that deposits reportedly increased by $1.5 billion in the year after the storm.

What does this have to do with COVID-19? Everything. Like Hurricane Katrina and Hancock Bank, this is a moment of truth. This is when we show our employees, our customers, and our communities who we really are and what matters most. Hancock Bank lived its values of service and trust. And this paid enormous dividends. Living your values is not only the right thing to do; it’s good for business.

These challenging times are a stress test for all companies. And a litmus test for your values. It’s not just about whether your company survives. It’s about how you lead people through these dark times. This is a defining opportunity to practice courageous leadership. This is the time to lean into the buffeting winds and stand strong. This is when values truly matter. It’s a time for companies to show that they don’t just sell something or make something – they stand for something. That they care deeply about helping workers, customers, and communities. The companies that match their actions to their values will undoubtedly be the ones that rebuild and rebound faster, like Hancock Bank.

I work with manufacturing CEOs in Ohio and I’ve spoken to dozens of them in the past few weeks. So, I fully realize that what company leaders are juggling is immense – balancing the tragic human side of this pandemic while trying to pull their companies through arguably the worst economic freefall the U.S. has ever experienced. No one is prepared for this. Most companies are in survival mode – constantly triaging, completely overwhelmed. At times like this, values can easily take a backseat to survival. But “I had no choice” decisions that fly in the face of your values will compromise your brand, your employee relationships, and your future. Stay true to your values and it will provide a North Star to guide agonizing decisions and anchor your crisis response.

The heartening news is that so many companies are getting this right. The adage that bad times bring out the best in people certainly applies here. Think of the 2,000 Ohio manufacturers we are mobilizing to make protection equipment for frontline workers fighting the pandemic. And there are countless big global brands doing the same. Nike and New Balance pivoting from sneakers to masks. GM and Ford moving from cars to ventilators. The countless factories making production shifts to be relevant and responsive to this crisis are highly visible examples of great leadership. Not all of us can do this, but there are countless other ways to help and show you care.

Apple is donating $15 million to COVID-19 relief globally.

Microsoft is continuing to pay the hourly workers who support their campus, even if they can’t work.

Global engineering and manufacturing firm Parker is reconfiguring operations to prioritize all orders for parts for vital medical devices, living their values around serving customer needs.

Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt hotels are making rooms available to house and quarantine healthcare workers.

Footwear manufacturer KEEN is providing 100,000 pairs of shoes, about $10 million worth, to workers on the front lines – showing the world that their core values of caring and health are more than words on their website.

McDonald’s is donating more than $3 million in food in the U.S. But I actually saw something in Lorain County, Ohio, near where I live, that touched me more than this grand (and incredible) corporate gesture. The local Lorain McDonald’s and Dollar Tree store created what they call a “wall of love.” They bagged essential items like hand sanitizer, toothpaste, and tissues and tied the bags to the fence for anyone who needs them. This small, heartfelt gesture is an authentic expression of what McDonald’s calls its “journey towards good.”

And that’s the real message. Most of us can’t donate millions of dollars, give away millions of shoes, or hand out cash like Hancock Bank. But when it comes to values, small things also matter very much. These tiny sprigs of hope build bridges across troubled times, lift our sagging spirits, and remind us that we are all in this together. Many American manufacturers are donating on a grand scale and pivoting their production to make emergency supplies, which is incredible. If you can do that, please join the fight. But if you can’t, there is something you can do. Get the small things right. Values live in every action, every word, and every customer and employee interaction. I know CEOs of small manufacturing firms who are calling every employee personally to check on them every few days. I know others who are foregoing their salaries so they can keep paying employees during production shutdowns. I know one who had to furlough employees but continued all medical plans. Another who delivered groceries personally to his laid-off workers. That’s values-first leadership. And that’s what will carry us through this crisis. We built America on grit and heart and we can rebuild our post-COVID world the very same way.

Ethan Karp, Ph.D., is president and CEO, MAGNET (Manufacturing and Advocacy Growth Network), a Manufacturing Extension Partnership based in Northeast Ohio. 

About the Author

Ethan Karp | President & CEO, MAGNET

As President and CEO of MAGNET, Ethan Karp brings his wide range of experiences to drive economic prosperity in Northeast Ohio through innovation and invention. Prior to focusing on building the future of Ohio from its strength in manufacturing with MAGNET in 2013, Ethan advised Fortune 500 companies to innovate and grow with global consulting firm McKinsey in Cleveland. Ethan is a trained scientist who spent many years trying to uncover how the brain works while attaining a Ph.D. in Chemical Biology from Harvard and undergraduate degrees in physics and biochemistry from Miami University.

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