Why you need to highlight values during a crisis

Carolyn Taylor

The true test of an organisation’s values comes when you’re under crisis. Whether that be a financial, reputational, or some other risk, it’s during these times that you find out whether your values are watertight, or wallpaper. And the more you demonstrate your commitment to them in tough circumstances, the greater the long-term benefit. 
A crisis can be an opportunity to build your brand

When under intense pressure and stress, people naturally default to defensive, short-term survival decisions and actions. For organisations, this can create a tension between your commercial needs and self-proclaimed values, yet it’s during a crisis that you need your values the most.

Organisations create and communicate values to set a standard for how you want your people to behave day-to-day. A crisis is an opportunity to show people how serious you are about your values. For example, let’s say you have a value of ‘respect’ and are making large numbers of roles redundant. At first, this value and the activity may seem to be at odds. However, it is all about how these layoffs are done. If they are delivered in a values-driven way, you can come out of this crisis with your reputation enhanced, brand strengthened, and employee engagement increased. So how can you do it?

Talk about your values

Using the example above, if you’re making redundancies, the most powerful activity you can do is talk openly about how the process will be conducted and connect this to your value of ‘respect’, because it won’t always be obvious to people. In our work, we find that leaders regularly make values-driven decisions, but their people often don’t realise this is what they’ve done. They see the decision, but they can’t always work out how it demonstrates a value/s. So, help your leaders to talk about why they have made the business decisions they have, and explicitly the role that the organisation’s values played in their thinking.

If people understand the rationale and can clearly see that the organisation has been driven by its values, you will earn credibility and respect, and your people will be inspired by the fact that even during a crisis, your leaders held firm when it may have been easier to behave in a different way. As a result, instead of those people impacted becoming detractors (as they easily could have), they will often act as future advocates of your company, despite them having left. This type of employer branding is priceless.

Holding out to find a solution

The biggest challenge during a crisis can be the conflict between the short-term need for survival, and organisational values. The temptation is to discard the values, do what is expedient, and pick the values back up in calmer times. In these moments, the test of a leader is how long they hold out to find a solution. Can they carry this tension long enough to possibly find a solution that meets the immediate term and upholds the values? This is by no means easy, and it requires courage and creativity, but the longer you hold on, the more likely it is that you can find a way to do both.

And this is the difference between a values-led organisation and a non-values-led one. In the former, people hold to their values even when the short-term pressure is high. And the more the organisation does that, the greater their claim to be values-driven, the easier they will find it to live their values in normal operating conditions, the quicker those values become embedded, and the passion and pride people have in the organisation (both internally and externally) will be immeasurable.

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