March 2020 | Point of View

Why integrity is the economy’s No. 1 concern right now

When the dust settles from COVID-19, our actions today will dictate our performance and success

It goes without saying that this is an unprecedented time in our history—as a business community, as a country, and as a global society. The decisions that lie ahead of us are as meaningful as they are unanticipated. As the public and private sectors make decisions every day to address the constantly changing nature of this crisis, what’s on my mind is how our decisions will shape the future. When we are on the other side of this crisis—and we will get there—our trajectories both individually and collectively will be determined by our actions and leadership during this period of immense uncertainty.

Not just publicly, but behind closed doors.

The fear is that as businesses are forced to alter their operations overnight, they take drastic measures, cease communications, and go dark on suppliers and vendors. If this happens, we are going to have a much bigger problem on our hands than we do already. In fact, West Monroe’s March 19-20 poll of 150 C-suite executives showed their No. 1 concern is the unpredictable behavior of partners, employees, and clients in this environment—ahead of layoffs, supply chain disruption, and burning through cash reserves.  

Why? Because amid the uncertainty, the temptation is there: to slam the brakes, to stop work on every project, and even to halt normal business operations. To me, that is the worst thing any of us could do and will have grave effects on the economy and your upstream and downstream ecosystem partners. It’s one thing to make necessary decisions like cutting discretionary spending or halting travel due to government restrictions. But it’s another to violate the etiquette of a partnership ecosystem built over decades on mutual value exchange, but even more so on trust, respect, and communication. 
  
This economic crisis is not just about how you weather the storm financially, but whether you demonstrate integrity and have all intentions of keeping your promises. For our capitalistic society, that means a selfless responsibility and commitment to transparency and communication with your stakeholders. Each of our stakeholder groups, and the broader ecosystem of partnerships, deserves our best during this crisis.

A bull run has the ability to hide a lot of flaws—and with an 11-year bull run, these flaws have been hiding for a while. A crisis exposes flaws—in your business model, your portfolio of products and services, the company's value chain, culture and values, and relationships. Let’s not let these flaws be our downfall. When the dust settles, we can fix them. In the meantime, take the high road as your stakeholders depend on you for leadership. 

How you make decisions across all aspects of business continuity in the coming months will determine your long-term success—and the ability of others in your ecosystem to sustain the crisis. That’s what we think, anyway. We have taken proactive steps with our own clients, partners, and employees to reinforce that the show must go on, but pure defensive self-preservation isn't the only consideration. We remain focused on delivering work, looking out for our employees’ best interests, and increasing communication with our non-profit partners. If we increase transparency and communication at this time, we can avoid any significant erosion in our ecosystem that could very quickly turn into “everyone for themselves.” 

It is human nature to be cautious during times of uncertainty— we are seeing people stock up on household goods, I think, due to their human instinct for not knowing “what’s next.” Caution is one thing, but if we all cocoon for weeks on end, it will be too late to develop a reaction plan. Stay home and be safe? Yes. But now more than ever, we need each other as an ecosystem to continue working together so each of us can emerge from this situation on the right trajectory and as little damage to our stakeholders and ecosystem as possible. That requires collaboration, communication, and transparency—and increased attention to these behaviors, fully understanding the implications of your decisions and actions. 

Some businesses are going to thrive during this time, in fact, because their goods and services are just what the world needs right now. From food delivery services to cleaning products to medical supplies and video conferencing, there are players in the value chain that may actually have the problem of excess demand. For those companies, it’s more important than ever that they are good leaders. (Which we’re already seeing with their calls to hire more workers.) Many others, however, will struggle tremendously. Regardless of which side you’re on, your organization will be tested. Our poll also showed 19% of C-level execs have already had to make tough decisions that are contrary to their corporate values—and we’re only weeks into this!

When I say this crisis came on quick, I know how much of an understatement that is. It will be a test for us all. But this is our call to arms. We have a responsibility to protect and sustain the value we’ve built. 

My hope? If you have to slow down, don’t ghost your ecosystem partners. Communicate, empathize,  and come up with win-win scenarios in the face of no-win situations.

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