• Mark Topley

Three CSR risks for your practice during lockdown and what to do about them

Updated: Apr 26, 2020

It’s just over 2 weeks since that historic Prime Ministerial Briefing in which Boris Johnson announced we should not leave our homes unless absolutely necessary. As a small business owner myself, I felt the stress, anxiety and exhaustion that many of my clients experienced. It has been an unforgettable fortnight. Although a lot of us would probably like to forget it.

One way that many people have chosen to react to the pandemic has been to help. The past 2 weeks have been filled with examples of practices stepping up in their community:

  1. Establishing the practice as a food collection centre and distributing packages to vulnerable groups

  2. Contacting their neighbours with flyers and through social media, offering help with shopping and other jobs

  3. Calling all of their patients over 70 and offering a sympathetic ear, signposting them to support services if required

  4. Offering gloves and other surplus PPE to community groups

Corporate Social Responsibility – the decisions a business makes in how it will act towards its people, its environment and its community – has been a crucial aspect of a trusted business for several years. Before March 23rd, around 90% of consumers said they expected business to do good as a normal part of their business strategy. The post-Covid-19 community looks like it will be a more cohesive society that has been reminded of its relatedness, its humanity and its interdependence. But it will also be a society that emerges bruised and impacted by unemployment, the loss of loved ones and the additional stress of weeks of confinement.

As many have pointed out, after the pandemic, people will remember what we did. They will remember how our response as businesses made them feel. Did we step up, or shrink back and go silent? The way we approach the next few weeks as businesses will matter for months and years to come.

My experience and observations, mashed with lessons from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and the Kugler-Ross model of grief, suggest that there are three phases we’ll go through.

Reaction Phase

This is where we’ve been up till now. The initial period after the lockdown was one of shock, confusion and anger for many people. We had to grapple with a very unclear situation that threatened our own family’s health and safety, our personal and business finances, and our team’s wellbeing. It’s been a rapidly changing emotional rollercoaster. The risk for us in this phase was that we over-reacted to protect ourselves and become self-focussed and introspective. I was so encouraged by the leaders who stepped up, reached out to their communities, and reassured their teams that ‘we’re in this together’.

The responsible businesses resisted the urge to knee-jerk. Instead, they communicated with clarity, empathy and authority to their teams, their patients and the public. They looked around for the immediate needs that they could meet, and connected with the people and causes that they could best serve. They backed their teams financially.

Response Phase

This phase has already started for some, and I believe it’s where we will all be within another week. It started for most businesses once the initial financial plans, restructuring and team decisions were made. Once we all started to feel ‘safer’. The big dangers for us in the response phase are caused by a lack of connection to our norms.

For the team this means there is a risk of boredom, depression, loss of purpose and relational disconnection. Some may start to resent the decisions that were made to protect the business.

Responsible businesses will recognise the need for greater communication and engagement with their teams. They’ll recognise that their people need to know that they are still part of something, and that things will get better. The Response Phase means leaders need resilience, and clarity of vision and constant communication. People need to feel they still belong. Work to connect and build up the team regularly is critical.

People may also need to find ways to build their self-esteem when work isn’t available. Your team can volunteer without risk to their furlough pay, and you should actively encourage this, and do so yourself. Outside the responsibilities of childcare, we probably all have time to make a difference, whether that’s formally using our clinical skills, or informally in our localities. The stories of how your team helped will be a critical component of the cultural glue that will hold you all together through lockdown.

Rebuilding Phase

Once the pandemic is under control, we will begin to return to a more normal way of life. It may be weeks or months away. But practices will reopen and our teams will return to work. It may be messy. It will definitely be busy. We must expect to have to rebuild our team and their relational bonds. It will be like we are starting again. The danger for us in Rebuilding Phase will be that we think we can just pick up where we left off, or that we forget the invaluable lessons and ‘value re-set’ that the coming weeks will give us.

The Rebuild Phase provides a once in a lifetime opportunity to re-set our businesses. The values of CSR will be vital. Already I am speaking to owners who recognise that the post-covid world will need greater corporate responsibility. They are using the lockdown period to think through their priorities and create the foundation on which they want to rebuild their teams.

In next week’s blog I will expand on what the Response Phase involves, and provide some practical suggestions on what you can do now. I’ll aim to help you avoid the pitfalls and make the most of the opportunities. Later this week, I will also be sharing new free resources in the form of a ‘Responsible Business Social Media Plan’ and ‘Responsible Business Team Communications Framework’. These will be available through my Facebook page.

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