In today’s troubled times, people are looking to their leaders to take the company’s Core Values off the wall and use them to guide policy. This may seem easier said than done, but here are three leaders that I hope will bring you some inspiration as you face the challenges ahead.
1. Casey Sheahan of Patagonia
During the global financial crisis of 2007 – 2008, Casey Sheahan had to look at extreme cost cutting measures. The easiest and most obvious was to lay-off staff, but that wasn’t the kind of leader that he was.
He said “I didn’t want do that, because Patagonia is my family and I think of every individual there having children in school and mortgages and car payments. I was really anguished about it.”
When he shared his sentiments with his wife, she asked “Are you making this decision out of love or fear?”
Sheahan realized that if he were coming from love, he would not let anyone go.
The next day, he called his managers together, explained the situation and asked for ideas to save cost at every level. What the team came up with was voluntary overtime: everyone would put in extra hours to do the things that were being outsourced. When the economy recovered, Patagonia was way ahead of its competitors in having the capacity to meet increased customer demand.
Today, the company’s mission of “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis” has been the guiding light behind many company policies, including :
- 1% for the Planet – 1% of annual sales is donated to the preservation and restoration of the environment.
- 100% Traceable Down – all of the down in all of their products can be traced back to birds that were never force-fed and never live-plucked
- Common Threads – encouraging people to Reduce, Repair, Reuse, Recycle and Reimagine their apparel in order to reduce the amount of clothing going into landfills.
- Worn Wear – an initiative where people can trade-in worn Patagonia apparel and buy used gear.
When manufacturing company Barry-Wehmiller’s CEO Bob Chapman was forced to consider downsizing, he turned to the company’s guiding princicle “We measure success by the way we touch the lives of people.”
He believed that ‘heartcount’ was more important than ‘headcount’.
So instead of laying-off people, he and his team decided that every team member throughout the organization would share the burden. He said “It is better for all of us to suffer a little than for some of us to suffer a lot.”
They decided that every team member would take 4 weeks of unpaid leave. This plan was received far better than anticipated. People were happy to give up 4 weeks of income because it wasn’t to help the company become more profitable, but it was to help others keep their jobs. Those who could afford to take more ended up trading their leave with those who needed the money.
After 9 months, the company rebounded and in the following year, they achieved record earnings
3. Yum China
CEO Joey Wat runs 9,200 Pizza Hut, KFC and Taco Bell restaurants in China with the mission of ‘Making every life taste beautiful’.
When the country went into lockdown, one third of the restaurants had to close. In spite of this financially crippling move, six restaurants were dedicated to deliver free food to doctors, nurses and medical staff. She says “At moments like this, we need to learn how to NOT make money.”
She believes that keeping the remaining restaurants open was not for profit but to ensure that the staff and their families continue to have money to put food on the table.
Among the many efforts to keep people safe, every food delivery was handled with great caution. The rider would place the food down and move back to a safe distance so that the customer can pick it up while maintaining their distance. Every food package had a tag that had the name and body temperature of the person who prepared it and the one who delivered it. Can you imagine the time and trouble taken to do this?
This isn’t a zombie apocalypse. We will survive this. But many business may not. Business leaders are going to be faced with excruciatingly difficult decisions that may be in conflict with the Core Values they hold dear.
There are no easy answers, but I hope these stories provide a spark of inspiration that it IS possible. In every case, these leaders had their people’s interest at heart. They listened, they cared and they acted with compassion. And their people responded with a fierce determination to go above and beyond.
Leaders need to rise above their fears about the future. Fear will drive you to think of ‘ME’ while Love will lead you to be a champion for ‘WE’. And it is this consciousness of oneness that will see us through this crisis.