War room. Execute. Killing it. Guerrilla marketing. Bleeding edge. Make it viral.
These are all war metaphors, used ad nauseum in corporate corridors and board rooms. At the same time, corporate CEOs, HR and Marketing departments are locked down in long meetings to discover ‘Corporate Purpose”. A warm fuzzy do-goodism to discover why the company exists, does business and can transform the world into a better place.
Do corporate leaders actually think that corporate purpose can actually be something meaningful if they keep speaking the language of war? More significantly, it’s not just CEO’s, most management books and gurus speak the same language. This kind of thinking also gets extended to corporate marketing and HR department. HR departments implement surveillance techniques in offices to determine the period of time people tend to spend in cafeterias, washrooms and coffee breaks. Marketing departments spend significant efforts in store front video surveillance, online re-targeting and gamifying sales. Today, these metaphors have gone into describing the public health crisis as well. The fight against Corona, Corona Warriors are just some of the phrases being bandied about.
Eliminating the virus from humans won’t let us win this. If the pandemic were a war, we would eliminate all the bats, pangolins and other species that harbour viruses. That itself would lead to collapse of our natural systems.
A public health crisis in not a war. It’s a humanitarian, economic and health crisis. A war means killing, using destructive weapons, capture of territory and people. A health crisis means cooperating with scientists, academics, experts to learn techniques, create tools and deploy nuanced methodologies. A humanitarian and economic crisis needs understanding people, caring with empathy and deploying measures at scale. In these kinds of situations, the most important thing is trust. People take decisions on the basis of the person they trust most not war cries. Can you trust the government? Can you trust the experts? Can you trust the companies?
And the distinction between these metaphors is important in more ways than one. Unless there is a sudden miracle cure, getting out of this crisis will mean widespread testing and contact tracing at scale. For companies this will mean implementing protocols, a humane approach towards people and their frailties and equal consideration for family time, mental health and more. Health and wellness will be a priority. So will corporate purpose and building trust.
At the ET Global Business Summit, Megha Tata said, “Making a business work needs to be about profit, but in this environment it becomes that much more important for corporates to stand for a purpose. A purposeful organisation brings credibility not only for the employees and the internal customer, but for the external customer as well, because it builds trust. Hence, trust becomes the currency for each one of us.”
War is about domination. Corporate competition is about domination. But the reality today is that ‘purpose’ needs to move from thinking about domination to coexistence with the natural ecosystem and with each other. Disruption can’t be caused simply because venture funds have money and big ideas. Working towards the common good has to take primacy and be the defining metaphor of our times. For this, we don’t just need big words but things that build trust, transparency and believability at scale.
For trust is the currency of the pandemic.