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As the coronavirus crisis unfolds, every business has found itself grappling with its ramifications, and every leader has found themself faced with increasingly tougher decisions.
Some have made choices that empower their teams, customers, and communities; others, such as the heads of Kroger, WeWork, and GameStop, have made choices that reflect a lack of empathy and a misunderstanding of the issue’s scope.
As Hubert Joly, former CEO of Best Buy, wrote in the Harvard Business Review (HBR): “This is a time when performance will be judged by how a company and its leadership serve everyone and fulfill a higher purpose — and specifically how they have shown up and met the requirements and expectations of its multiple stakeholders.”
With that in mind, here are three major corporations that have risen to the challenge and demonstrated exemplary leadership over the past several weeks.
Although I have not always agreed with the leadership decisions of Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and CEO, I have been impressed by his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. He has responded quickly and thoughtfully to the mounting challenges, including prioritizing essential supplies and protecting customers from price gouging. “My own time and thinking is now wholly focused on COVID-19 and on how Amazon can best play its role,” he wrote in a March 21 blog post. “I want you to know Amazon will continue to do its part, and we won’t stop looking for new opportunities to help. There is no instruction manual for how to feel at a time like this.”
The company’s largest strides, perhaps, have been in the arena of its hourly workers (though there remains significant room for improvement). It has temporarily raised their minimum wage, increased overtime pay, allowed unlimited paid time off, and offered two weeks of sick pay for those quarantined or diagnosed with COVID-19. It has also established a $25 million relief fund for contractors, such as delivery drivers — but has not, unfortunately, offered them paid sick leave. Overall, as Casey Newton wrote in The Verge: Coronavirus has “spurred the company to (finally) recognize the everyday heroism of the workers in its distribution and delivery networks.”
Amazon has also made serious commitments to its community. Not only is it continuing to pay the more than 10,000 hourly workers who normally support its now-empty offices, but it is also offering its tenants free rent through April and creating a $5 million relief fund for small businesses near its headquarters. “[W]e know that we have an important role to play in keeping our employees and residents safe and healthy, and in supporting the local businesses that are our neighbors,” wrote John Schoettler, vice president of global real estate and facilities. “[W]e will continue to try to work with our community to get through it together.”
As I have written about before, Larry Merlo, CEO of the drugstore chain CVS, is not afraid of bold moves — and, during the current crisis, he has once again demonstrated his propensity for large-scale, high-impact decisions. “Our colleagues have demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to providing essential goods and services at a time when they’re needed most,” Merlo said in a statement. “[W]e’re taking extra steps to provide some peace of mind and help them navigate these uncertain times.”
Some of those extra steps include bonuses between $150 and $500, 24 hours of paid sick leave for part-time employees (a benefit that full-time employees already receive), 14 days of paid leave for workers who are quarantined or diagnosed with COVID-19, and up to 25 days of backup child or elder care for all employees. For the benefit of customers and public health, CVS has also waived delivery fees for prescription medications, helping to keep vulnerable populations at home.
Furthermore, the company has adopted a bold and innovative strategy to ramp up its hiring and aid furloughed workers. In “the most ambitious hiring drive in the company’s history,” it plans to fill 50,000 roles, many of them with displaced workers from Marriott and Hilton Hotels. To do so, it will embrace a future-of-work-oriented hiring process, complete with virtual job fairs, virtual interviews, and virtual job tryouts. “I think it’s a great idea,” one outplacement firm executive told MarketWatch. “If this can become a more seamless way to keep people in wages, it could be a positive turn for the economy.”
Upon first glance, Target’s leadership decisions look extremely similar to those taken by Amazon and CVS. It has pledged $10 million to coronavirus relief for its employees and communities, increased hourly worker pay by $2, waived its absenteeism policy, extended 14 days of paid leave to those quarantined or diagnosed with COVID-19, and offered 25 days of backup child or elder care to all of its team members.
One move, however, sets it apart from the other corporate giants. In an example of extraordinarily empathetic — and forward-thinking — leadership, Target announced it will allow high-risk employees such as seniors, pregnant women, and those with compromised immune systems, to stay home from work for 30 days and continue to be paid.
“With each passing day, it’s clearer how indispensable our team is to communities across the country as our guests cope with the coronavirus,” said CEO Brian Cornell. “Increasing their compensation for a job incredibly well done and ensuring continued compensation for those who need to care for themselves and their families is a reflection of our company’s values and simply the right thing to do.”
Although the multinational corporations above are in a solid position to demonstrate strong leadership, smaller-scale examples abound, too. Portland’s Shine Distillery, for example, began manufacturing hand sanitizer at the beginning of March, arguably spurring a nationwide movement. Sweetgreen is delivering free salads and bowls to healthcare professionals; Keen is distributing 100,000 pairs of shoes to front-line workers and families. DoorDash has waived commissions for independent restaurants for 30 days.
The list of companies goes on and on — and shows that responses to the coronavirus crisis need not be similar to be powerful. Leaders should utilize the resources they have, finding creative ways to support the people and communities that surround them. As Joly wrote in the HBR, the leaders of the moment are those who see the pandemic as an opportunity to “help others” and “do the right thing.” They are those who understand “this has the potential to be their ‘finest hour,’ and they want to rise to the occasion.”