In these times of scarcity, fear, and loss, people are negotiating their business relationships more vigorously than ever before. Under normal circumstances, contracting parties, by and large, meet their commitments and behave fairly toward one another. But when resources are scarce, and tomorrow’s future is uncertain, survival instincts can turn yesterday’s mundane affair into a 2nd Century gladiator’s battle.
Reciprocity and mutual benefit are a sine qua non of business relationships. Yet, under these extraordinary circumstances, companies may be tempted to focus solely on surviving the short term, rather than nurturing long term relationships. When people are not concerned about future interactions (or repeat games as it’s called in game theory), then symbiosis is no longer their priority. But quite conversely, in a time where nothing can be taken for granted, it is imperative to nurture professional relationships and productively manage conflict.
Companies should be open to creatively solving problems with their distressed customers and suppliers. Indeed, providing a much-needed accommodation can turn a temporary strain into a long-term trusted partnership. Beyond the contracting parties’ benefit, this kind of cooperative behavior bolsters our entire economy, as it enables the survival of businesses.
Decisions you make today will dramatically affect your company culture and brand reputation for a long time to come. Show your business relations and employees that you really care about them, not just what they contribute to your bottom line. Don’t agonize over not meeting your Quarter 1 (or even Y2020) revenues target. The financial and enterprise landscape has changed, so must your goals.
Acknowledge the tremendous hardship employees are going through, needing to simultaneously play a second role of homeschool teacher, or home care nurse. Recognize that your employees are living through a traumatic experience that can be significantly affected by the policies you implement. Some are disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 crisis and their unique experience can be worse than you realize.
Don’t ask employees to return to work outside the home earlier than is safe. Provide flexible working schedules to telecommuters. Check-in with employees on a personal level. These actions are not only morally compelling, they earn loyalty from the people who will ensure your long-term success. Especially poignant of the lasting memories of the COVID-19 era will be the acts of compassion and the actions of those who let us down. What you do now is how you will be remembered.