On September 29, 1982, three people died in the Chicago area after taking cyanide-laced Tylenol, triggering copycat poisonings that would eventually claim seven lives.
Johnson and Johnson had to act.
Moving against the wishes of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Federal Drug Administrators, CEO and company chairman James Burke recalled every bottle of Tylenol from pharmacies across America.
The company also set up a hotline, and warned people not to take the drug. It also didn’t put Tylenol back on the shelves until it had designed the tamper-proof cap we all wrestle with today when trying to open bottles.
During the crisis, Burke quoted the company’s credo, as guiding his decisions. It starts: “We believe our first responsibility is to the patients, doctors and nurses, to mothers and fathers and all others who use our products and services.”
Burkes’ actions became a famous example of a proactive corporate crisis response. Today, it still stands to shows how core values are an operating system for your organisation. And while imperative in the best of times, they are vital in more difficult times. But you’ve got to use them.
Current events have organisations writhing with indecision. It is like seeing a worldwide real-time research study into how many organisations have non-negotiable core values informing their actions and decisions. And how many are left without that guidance, either because they haven’t done the deep work to figure them out, or because they have hollow statements, dressed up as values?
How will you know the difference? Easy test. Have you called on your core values, and I mean literally looked to them for guidance, in deciding what to do in the face of COVID-19?
Judging by the self-focused, sterile and rambling emails, and discombobulated responses I’m seeing, I’ll take a stab in the dark that’s a big old no for too many organisations. But let’s deal with the paucity and shallowness of values another time.
Small businesses are lucky. Yes, I said lucky. Because you probably have a more personal relationship with both employees and customers, which lets you be more, well, personal in your response. So if you’ve got a set of values, even if you haven’t thought about them since those posters went up a couple of years ago, it’s time to take them off the wall and out for a spin and see what they’re made of.
Is creativity one of your values? Put it in action to find opportunities and carve out new ways of doing things. If your people can’t work from home, how about running two or three rotating skeleton teams, or creating group zones. Fire up the virtual whiteboard and start brainstorming.
Is a sense of humour important in your world? How about a short, hand sanitiser video to show the world you’re open for business and you’ve got things covered. I saw one on Linkedin from a Melbourne fruit market with the caption: “Go ahead Corona Make my day. All sanitised up at Alexanders Fruit”.
Is the health and wellbeing of your customers always at the forefront? A simple, personal and friendly email that clearly outlines what you’re doing and what they need to do never goes astray. But please, I beg you, do not bombard people with War and Peace-length recitations of government guidelines, and rafts of irrelevant information.
Don’t be inflexible. You might need to renegotiate a few promises right now. How you do that is also a place you can call on your values.
Just-in-time supply chains have become not-quite-in-time, so if your products are delayed, call on that ‘customer focus’ value and be proactive. Flip the breathless stream of “your package is on its way” notifications and let customers know, actually, it’s not on its way. They will understand, and it’s much better to tell them before they have to ask.
Be the business that actively uses what it says to help make decisions. The people who work for you, with you, and buy from you, will thank you.
See you next time.