Businesses have inspiring stories to share, yet relatively few are currently telling them. CP5 Managing Director and Partner Howard James looks at why and how these stories should be told

Finally, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Just this month, the United Kingdom’s Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency approved the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine. Other medicines and countries are tipped to follow.

Yet this isn’t the end of pandemic. Last week, a Refinitiv report outlined something none of us wanted to hear — the likelihood of more pandemics on the scale of Covid-19 is high. Exactly when and how these might materialise, the report didn’t predict. But highlighted the universal view of scientists that growing disregard for the environment and animal welfare is significantly raising the probability of a new health crisis.

It’s more a matter of when rather than if. Yet such views shouldn’t interfere with our current recovery plans. On the contrary, they should inspire us to continue building greater resilience.

S*** happens

Most businesses struggled with the health and economic fallout of Covid-19. Their plans for black swan events were severely tested. A chief operating officer at one of Europe’s largest investment banks bemoaned how the pandemic completely flattened their contingency strategy. Banks typically lease additional office space in a secondary location, so that when a crisis hits their main office, staff can simply work elsewhere. The coronavirus tore up this plan.

Similarly, an IT executive at a Japanese blue chip conglomerate lamented how annually they spend about US$100 million on system upgrades — yet didn’t have budget to buy Zoom licenses for a handful of back office staff who were mandated to work remotely.

Contingency planning at these types of organisations is typically robust and sophisticated. Yet their strategies still proved futile. The same can be said for the SME sector. These businesses were caught completely off guard, yet given their size, they really shouldn’t have been.

A client of CP5 summarised a common challenge experienced with contingency planning. “Too many people view it as something that will never happen — even by some at the top”, they claimed. “Business leaders need to wake up, smell the coffee, and understand that s*** happens. And it really does hit the fan more often than they think it will.”

Words matter

Developing a robust contingency plan is no easy task — particularly when faced with unknown pandemics. So what actions can organisations take?

Unsurprisingly, Google is a good place to start. Within 0.53 seconds of searching the phrase ‘Preparing for the next pandemic’, more than 130 million results are listed. Seemingly everyone has view to share: the World Economic Forum (WEF), Harvard Business Review (HBR), McKinsey & Company, the World Health Organization (WHO) and many others provide guidance on the actions to take when the next pandemic strikes.

What is less obvious, however, is what organisations should be saying rather than doing — both today and in expectation of a new crisis.

Various governmental health agencies around the world can provide us with inspiration. Singapore’s Health Promotion Board (HPB) has done a stellar job in keeping the nation informed of how best to tackle the pandemic, while keeping residents up to date on the latest developments. HPB’s peers in Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and several other Asian nations are also doing an outstanding job.

What of the corporate space? From the conversations I’m having with peers, there are some truly inspiring stories to tell — yet few of these are made public. One local manufacturer told me that despite not being able to allow administrative staff onsite, collaboration and employee engagement among their workers has in fact skyrocketed

No longer do this company’s employees look disinterested on Monday mornings. Instead, teams appear refreshed and enthusiastic. Furthermore, the company has increased its headcount across various departments. To boost morale, the company holds virtual quizzes every Wednesday evening, among a raft of fun activities staged through the week — and allows 30 minutes each working day for staff to connect with family and friends, who likely feel lonely or anxious during the lockdown.

Relevant, authentic and non-tokenistic

Such stories are not only great publicity for current and prospective employees, they also garner confidence and respect from customers and investors. In March 2020 for example, drinks conglomerate InBev announced that it was producing over one billion bottles of hand sanitiser in support of the global battle against Covid-19.

In August, car manufacturer General Motors began building critical care ventilators. Within a month, about 30,000 machines were delivered to hospitals nationwide. Both companies received widespread praise from customers, employees and the international media.

Organisations shouldn’t shy away from less glaringly-positive stories. In reality, it’s okay to discuss the challenges experienced during the current crisis. There is an opportunity for business leaders to share these challenges, and provide genuine, non-tokenistic thought leadership around how others can overcome such issues, and drive positive change.

Whether good, bad or outright ugly, stories help to humanise our brands, and help us make better decisions in future. They can be also act as a source of inspiration for the next generation and beyond. Today’s stories will prepare us for the next crisis. As brands, we have a duty to tell them.

CP5 is working with numerous business leaders on delivering actionable thought leadership Our programme focuses on the core attributes needed to deliver a meaningful leadership story, which cuts through the noise, keeps the narrative clear and insightful, and addresses subjects that make a real difference to people’s lives.

Just as they do for people, brands that tell good stories will be those that stand out as relevant, authentic and non-tokenistic — and know how to find and engage their audience with what they want to hear.

To learn more about our thought leadership capabilities, talk to us now.

Photo by Artem Podrez from Pexels.