Most of us have seen or experienced that COVID-19 can bring both the best AND worse out of people. On the one side, people placed and continue to place the interest of others before their self-interests, double their efforts, and go the extra mile for the greater good of the community, on the other, some individuals (un)conscientiously engage in unethical activities that may stain the reputation of entire organisations. How do you ensure that people get things done, do things right, AND do the right things? I invite you to think about the following 3 quick-win actions that, if applied now, can prevent the accumulation of reputational risks in the future:

 1. Check your vision and, if it is still credible and inspiring, communicate it frequently

Reminding people of the vision is particularly important in contexts where people work remotely, rely on each other to get things done (i.e., tasks are highly interdependent), and work in cross-functional or cross-hierarchical teams. Communicating a credible and inspiring vision of the future will guide peoples’ actions today! A strong vision defines the boundaries of your mission, conveys a sense of identity to your team members, and increases engagement. Moreover, scientific studies show that repeating a strong vision increases firm profitability and reduces the negative effects of silo-thinking or in-group/out-group behaviours (them versus us). To check whether your team’s or organisation’s vision is effective and of high quality, review our vision checklist below. If you or your team answer one or more questions with “NO”, you might consider revising your vision.

Vision Checklist

2. Clearly define how your team members must act now in order to ensure your (customers’) future success

A clear framework for social interactions among people within and outside of your organisation helps your teams to stay focused, drive change, and avoid costly errors. Here is what our own team has done to ensure that we are aligned during and after COVID-19.

  • Discuss 5 key characteristics of values. Highlight the importance of behaviour when linking your value proposition to your customers’ needs.
  • Use an affinity-diagram to define and cluster thoughts and actions that clearly are inside or outside your value frame.
  • Create headlines of the behaviour clusters and describe examples of behaviours that are more meaningful than single-word values
  • Discuss the results, create alignment, assess your team on these values, identify improvement areas and pitfalls that must be avoided, create and execute your action plan

I invite you to visit our value website to see the outcome of our value workshop: Value Website

 3. Create a context that reduces the risks of (un)conscientious unethical behaviour

Can I make you abuse your power and behave as an unethical leader even if you don’t want to behave as one? Can I make you act like a dictator without you being aware of it? When I ask these questions at the beginning of my leadership-programme, the response of nearly all participants is “NO”. In a harmless exercise that I use towards the end of my programme, almost all participants are surprised to find out that, within 45 minutes only, I was able to create a context that led them to behave (mostly unconsciously) in unethical ways, abuse their power and oppress their own team members. There is scientific evidence that contextual pressures lead good people to do bad things. So, whilst we all are preparing for our next moves during and after COVID-19, here are some actions that, among many others, will provide a healthy foundation for future actions that drive value within your organisation:

  • Ensure that your incentives are in line with your team or organisational vision, strategy, and values. Are people incentivised to place their self-interest before the interest of the group or your organisation? Do you have incentives in place that drive individual or group goals, or both? Do your employees believe that their efforts will result in acceptable performance? Do your employees believe that their performance will produce desired rewards? Do your employees value the rewards?
  • Make certain that leaders do not (ab)use their authority to trigger obedience or the “I did not want to do it but I have been told to do so” syndrome. If people act out of fear of losing their jobs, there is a higher chance that they violate rules and engage in unethical behaviour. Yes, transactional leadership explains one part of leadership effectiveness, but its excessive use leads to short-termism and conformity that might hinder your organisation to find creative solutions in these changing times.
  • Verify that your goals are challenging but not unrealistic.
  • Avoid putting too much time pressure on people. Give them the time to step back and take a bird perspective and to see whether their actions are in line with your organisation’s vision, mission, and values.

Feel free to share your quick wins that helped you and your organisation set new directions.