In times of crisis, reaffirm your purpose

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I suddenly have a lot more time on my hands. It’s made me think about how, as a customer service consultant, I can offer value to clients at a time of unprecedented crisis where the primary focus, understandably, is survival.

Then it occurred to me that I should start where, really, everything starts: purpose. I’m not talking about one’s existential life purpose. That’s unique – even singular – to each of us. Here, I’m referring to organizational purpose, one’s highest priority at work. My own documented organizational purpose is: To raise customer service quality from ordinary to extraordinary. I then read through the values that inform my business decisions: service, respect, meaning, optimism, contribution, and others. Next, I reviewed my range of customers, including: clients, readers, listeners, partners, and colleagues. And, finally, I read aloud my aspiration goal: “To make a lasting positive contribution to the field of customer service!”

I was able to clarify these by addressing the following questions, thinking deeply about each one, and then answering them over time:

  • Why do we exist? (What is our purpose?)
  • Who are we? (What are our values?)
  • Who do we serve? (Who are our customers?)
  • What do we aspire toward? (What is our aspirational goal?)

While revisiting this exercise, I recognized the futility (in this business climate) of trying to draw executives’ attention away from the more tangible and practical contingency and austerity plans currently underway in order to focus on corporate ideals. Fortunately, it’s not zero-sum (execute contingency plans or focus on corporate ideals); it can be both. Action and reflection are not mutually exclusive.

Here’s a present day, real-world example:

I know of a company that, earlier this month (before COVID-19 was labeled a pandemic and prior to President Trump declaring a national emergency on March 13, 2020), made a job offer to a candidate who subsequently gave his two weeks’ notice to his current employer. Within those two weeks, all hell broke loose and the hiring manager was compelled to rescind the job offer. Before that action was taken, however, the head of the firm contacted the hiring manager and directed him to honor the original job offer.

Now, some might question the wisdom of this decision given the uncertainty of this economy where furloughs, layoffs, and record jobless claims dominate the headlines. Why wouldn’t he just rescind the job offer? The answer lies in the firm’s corporate ideals. Specifically, one of the values that informs its decisions is to keep promises. This means that employees (at all levels of the firm) keep their word and foster a reputation for dependability. It’s true that in the short-term the firm could reduce payroll costs by rescinding the job offer. But what might be the long-term benefits of upholding corporate values even when it’s inconvenient, costly, or seemingly justifiable to subvert them?

Consider the effect on the hiring manager who experienced, firsthand, the integrity of the company chairman. And think about the criticism of the jilted job applicant that was avoided and the potential future contributions he may make to the firm. And what about the band of “boss watchers” at the firm who take their cues from leadership? They’re very observant. And they talk. And they don’t miss much. How has this action affected them, their morale, engagement levels, productivity, pride in working for their employer, intent to stay with their employer, intent to recommend their employer, etc.? These are all rhetorical questions for now, but they will ultimately be answered in utilization reports, engagement surveys, and turnover analysis.

So, here’s the value I will offer you today: Are you looking for stability in times of tumult? Confidence in times of uncertainty? Direction in times of confusion? Order in times of chaos? Then look to your organization’s purpose, values, customers, and aspirational goal. And if you haven’t yet contemplated and defined these, then use a portion of this time to do so. It will be an investment of your time now that will have an enduring positive effect on your business long after the current crisis has passed.

Wishing you and your families peace, safety, and good health.

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