Committing to Purpose in Times of Crisis

Written by

Red Cullers Group Creative Director | Sierra Sutton Associate Creative Director | Mike Lear Executive Creative Director, North America |

Apr 17, 2020 · 7-minute read

We are in the midst of a global crisis that has affected every aspect of our lives and will define our world for the foreseeable future. A crisis like this is a magnifying moment in an organization. People will remember the actions a company and a leader take in this time. That’s why, now is the time to commit to do something great for the world—when the world needs it most. It is time for companies to make a Crisis Commitment to their customers, their employees, and themselves. But how can leaders know if they’re making the right commitment for their organization?

What is a Bold Commitment?
For decades we have recommended Bold Commitments to our clients—as a promise that proves they are willing to act on their Purpose. When a company announces Purpose, skepticism will always be high. Their employees, customers, and shareholders will be looking to see that it’s more than another jump on the Purpose-washing trend. The words are the easy part. What matters most is how each company acts and what they commit to change, with Purpose guiding the way. When an organization launches a Bold Commitment, they bring the power of the words behind their Purpose to life with purposeful actions.

In a crisis, the situation is similar but even more extreme. While launching Purpose starts as an internal exercise, the decisions that leaders make during a global crisis are on display for the world. In times of uncertainty, Purpose is a North Star. Companies that let their purpose guide them, and give them permission to act boldly, can shape our world for the better when it needs it most.

What is a Crisis Commitment?
A Crisis Commitment is simply a Bold Commitment made in a time of crisis. Designed to answer a need in the world that must be addressed right now, they help organizations make a mark on the world and prove that they mean what they say. When a leader makes a Crisis Commitment, they keep their business focused and productive during a difficult time by answering a need for their customers, employees, and their communities. And hopefully, they inspire others to do the same.

Like a Bold Commitment, Crisis Commitments are meaningful and measurable. But there are two additional elements considered when crafting a Crisis Commitment.

  • Expertise: Crafting an effective Crisis Commitment requires leaders to tap into knowledge and expertise about the crisis and what is needed. Not every organization is an expert in infectious disease, but every organization can do something to help. At BrightHouse we combine our internal expertise in PR and Coms with crisis area expertise from our Luminary network of thought-leaders. By leveraging our deep expertise in creating these kinds of commitments we ensure that what we recommend is truly something the world needs that a particular client is skilled in providing.
  • Speed: Bold Commitments come with a longer timeline, often years. A Crisis Commitment is no good if it comes too late to help. Speed is crucial to addressing critical needs, so we recommend an agile team, an expedited timeline, and a decision maker at the top of the company who can quickly decide on and execute a crisis commitment.

What makes a good Crisis Commitment?
To help develop your Crisis Commitment, BrightHouse has created a criteria that assesses whether it is the right commitment for you by asking four questions: is it inspiring, is it creative, is it impactful, and is it unifying?

  • Inspiring: Will it inspire the action of others? Will it make people think, ‘I wish I were doing something like that to help?’ Is it big enough to start a movement? It could be an easy online sewing tutorial that inspires people across the world to make their own masks, or it could be Budweiser turning its factories into a place to make hand sanitizer, inspiring a whole list of other breweries to follow suit.
  • Creative: Does your commitment demonstrate innovative thinking? New ideas and innovative ways of helping can become game changers in a crisis. No innovative thought is too small. A simple DIY face mask made with two rubber bands can impact millions of people just the same as Dyson’s founder did by inventing an entirely new ventilator in 10 days.
  • Impactful: Will your commitment help us address the problem in a meaningful way? Does it go beyond raising awareness of the problem to offering a real solution? For a commitment to be impactful, it must be more than messaging—because real action is what creates real impact. Look to examples like Crocs donating pairs of their very comfortable, easy to sanitize shoes to healthcare workers.
  • Unifying: Will it help unite your stakeholders, keep business moving, and build connections with your customers? The ideal commitment makes everyone feel like we’re in this together—because ultimately, together is how we’ll get through it. Sometimes symbolic unity is key, like when Ed Bastian, the CEO of Delta cut his own salary for 6 months and that of the board. It sent a powerful message about their commitment to their people and the sacrifices they were willing to make. Even more powerful is Kroger’s commitment to raise the salary of every frontline worker by two dollars an hour along with paying out a one-time Hero Bonus.

Owning your action:
The final crucial thing to remember is to leverage who you are. Our Purpose process is based on the Aristotle quote, “Where your talents and the needs of the world intersect, therein lies your Purpose.” But it was Archimedes, another luminary from the ancient world, who said, “Give me a place to stand, and a lever long enough, and I will move the world.” These two human truths form the foundation of our Crisis Commitment philosophy. You can best help the world by doing what you’re best at. Double Tree can’t do a terrible amount with their hotels right now, but they have released their famous cookie recipe for the first time – which is somehow better than any other cookie you’ve tasted in your life – so you can make it at home. Now that is building on your strength. And of course, DoubleTree’s owner Hilton Worldwide is donating hotel rooms to essential medical personnel, the CEO is accepting no salary for the rest of the year and the board is taking a 50% pay cut, and they have decided to furlough workers instead of laying them off. Because they’re smart cookies.

Why make a Crisis Commitment?
You might wonder why your organization should engage in what looks a lot like charity during a crisis that could end in a serious recession. Like all good investments, a Crisis Commitment is valuable in the long-run. And the first dividend is inspiring and uniting stakeholders. Making a Crisis Commitment energizes employees and customers by renewing belief that Purpose not only informs the day-to-day, but also inspires big, forward-thinking action when needed most.

But more importantly, in this magnifying moment, inaction is the worst course of action. People will remember the actions a company takes, and the ones they fail to make. There is a famous quote from Fred Rodgers, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers—so many caring people in this world.” When companies make a Crisis Commitment they do more than look, they become the helpers we all look for.

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