The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is forcing organizations across sectors to hastily change the way they function. Technology has been extremely helpful in ensuring that the rapid changes needed, especially in scenarios like remote working, are handled properly. Suddenly a three-letter acronym, BCP (Business Continuity Planning) has become the industry buzzword. However, another significant ‘continuity’ which many organizations overlook is the ‘Value Continuity’. In other words, while you are ensuring that your business is not impacted during the testing times (which, unquestionably, is the priority), have you validated whether your foundation, that is your organizational values, is still strong or is shaking?
Based on my tenure at UST Global, I can vouch that plenty of effort has gone towards building an exemplary value-based organizational culture, the fruits of which are clearly visible in these times. It was made possible by the strong focus on values and culture driven by our founder/chairman Mr. G. A. Menon who repeatedly said that “Our values & culture drive the success of our organization.” We have had our own share of crises in the last 20 years, and we have learned how important it is to keep the values (and the organizational focus on it) intact and that’s exactly what we have done during the current crisis caused by the COVID-19 lockdown.
To start with, I would like to highlight a few best practices we have institutionalized at UST to ensure ‘value continuity;’ at all times. I will also share the outcomes of those value continuity best practices and, more importantly, try to leave you with a few quick and easy tips to ensure value continuity in your organization or function.
How did ust ensure value continuity during the recent covid-19 crisis?
The core values of UST Global are Humility, Humanity, and Integrity. It was important to ensure all these were retained constantly through these testing times.
Humility - Treating everyone equal and caring for all
For us, the virtue of humility is highly important. Among other things, humility is also about thinking less about yourself. One of the ways in which we demonstrate ‘Humility’ is by treating everyone equal. During the ‘business-as-usual’ times before the lockdown, we ensured the well-being of everyone through our unique family-oriented culture achieved through constant face-to-face interactions. In the early days of the lockdown, we realized that it’s important to maintain the warmth and care for each other, even more strongly than in the good times. That’s when we decided to initiate check-in calls to ensure the safety and well-being of our employees and their loved ones. In addition, we reached out to our contract staff (housekeeping, security, etc.), clients, CSR partners, NGOs, and schools, orphanages, and old age homes with whom we've partnered with. We even reached out to our former employees as they are are still part of the extended UST Family.
Were our employees happy to get a call from someone from their company, not part of their project or function, just to check if they and their loved ones are doing well? You bet! Likewise, our clients, our partners/vendors, and CSR beneficiaries were all pleasantly surprised by this gesture. (Guess what? A number of our former employees checked if they could come back to UST!)
Humanity - The irresistible urge to do good!
The importance of humanity is that it infuses the spirit of service, which is even more relevant at the time of a crisis. During the check-in calls with our employees, one concern that came up repeatedly was their inability to participate in the community initiatives of UST (which had become part of their routine) due to remote working and the social distancing norms mandated by the authorities. We had to identify ways to quench the thirst of our employees to serve the community, without risking their health. Our immediate focus was on ensuring that the essential needs (food supplies, PPE, masks, sanitizers, etc.) of our CSR beneficiaries were taken care of across all our locations. Furthermore, with many of the impacted countries deciding to focus more on implementing/enhancing remote/online learning at their schools, we are now working with the schools and the students which we have adopted to provide sufficient support on their remote learning needs.
When we do something for the community, we don’t need to think of our business gains, though that doesn’t mean that we haven’t gained anything. We had many of our employees going out of their way to support society in creative ways ranging from 3D printing protective face shields to running fundraising marathons while following social distancing rules. The pride we see on the faces of our employees after doing something good and the smiles we see on the faces of the needy ones we supported is eventually what we gain out of it.
Integrity – Keeping your promise when the going gets tough
As our founder Chairman Mr. Menon repeatedly said, “We honor our commitments and act with responsibility in all our relationships.”. Like other service organizations, the single most important commitment we make is to our clients and those were the toughest to meet during the pandemic and the lockdown. We had to move from a near-100% Work From Office (WFO) mode to 100% Work From Home (WFH) mode in a very short span of time to ensure business continuity. All our employees, support teams, and vendors/partners came together as a team and ensured nearly every one of our employees were enabled to WFH in less than 72 hours, which, in turn, helped us to meet our delivery commitments to clients.
While our success is the result of a strong BCP, at the core of it we have the underlying value of integrity which encourages every one of our employees to step up to a situation and go that extra mile to meet our client commitments. In other words, value continuity leads to business continuity itself.
By ensuring the continuity of our core values, Humility, Humanity, and Integrity, we believe we have touched at least a few lives across company, community, and customers.
What can you do to ensure value continuity in your organization?
Here are three simple tools which you can try out in your organization to ensure value continuity if your organization faces a crisis again. A Value Continuity Plan (VCP) is something you can consider as a pre-crisis tool, a Value Litmus Test as a post-crisis tool, and the Dilemma Resolver is something you can rely on throughout the crisis.
Value Continuity Plan (VCP)
Very similar to your Business Continuity Plan, create a plan that will focus on the key steps to ensure the value continuity. Ask yourself questions like:
Crisis situations can also lead to some conflicting priorities such as organizational vs community, client interest vs employee interest, etc. The easiest way to resolve these dilemmas is to answer this simple question:
If there were no crisis at all, how would we navigate this scenario?
Any organization will face crises of different sizes and impacts during its existence.Your value system is your organization’s foundation, which must remain unshaken. You should not deviate from or dilute your values irrespective of the number and size of crises. As Jon Stewart once said, “If you don't stick to your values when they are being tested, they're not values; they're hobbies.”
Value Litmus Test
Here is a simple technique which can be used to convert each crisis situation to a litmus test of your organizational values. All you need to do is to ask this question to your employees, partners/vendors/suppliers, clients, shareholders, and even the beneficiaries of your community initiatives, during or after you come out of the crisis:
Do you think <Name of Your Organization> made most/all of their actions & decisions during this crisis time in alignment with their defined set of organizational values?
If the response you get is a resounding YES, then you have nothing to worry about. If it is a NO, then you have more work to do on your organizational values.
Sooner or later this pandemic will pass. How strong we emerge from this crisis will depend on our core values. All of us will come out of this crisis as better human beings with a better appreciation towards the ‘true value of values’!