Generous leadership proved its value through the muck of 2020

Did bottom line concerns cause businesses to de-prioritize their other values this year?

Before COVID hit, our annual research showed that most Georgia executives believed community outreach was important – even critical — to their businesses’ overall health. They knew what the research confirmed: most Georgians preferred to buy from and associate with generous brands and companies.

But one might have guessed that business survival would eclipse the growing trend of societal care for stakeholders and communities.

How well did generosity hold up through the trauma?  

Quite well, it appears.

Alan Murray, CEO of Fortune Magazine, brought evidence to our May CEO Forum that building ‘moral capital’ was holding as a winning strategy. CEOs of the country’s biggest companies were demonstrating that a values-centered leadership approach was holding its value. 

“CEOs know that how you handle yourself during the toughest of times is going to determine the quality of the company going forward,” Murray said. “It’s not just about profit. You’ve got to make a profit, yes. And you can build up some moral capital over time that helps you weather tough times like this.”

By late May, our research pulse check showed affirming news. More than half of Georgia employees had more trust and loyalty for their employer than before the pandemic, which directly correlated to the generous care they saw employers provide. While businesses were busy pivoting, they had earned high scores for demonstrating care for employees and communicating with transparency. 

Pivoting with people in mind

In our October Expert Forum, Frank Fernandez, CEO of Community Foundation of Greater Atlanta, and Natalye Paquin, CEO of Points of Light, confirmed that businesses were showing ingenuity in addressing urgent societal needs.

They shared how companies were evolving volunteerism to embrace more socially distanced,  skills-based sharing.  And how mapping business assets to align with urgent needs created mutual wins.

Racial inequity discussions had entered the fray by then, complicating many CEO’s priorities and strategies. Fernandez saw leaders addressing this as a separate — and more personal — challenge than the pandemic and subsequent recession.

Where to next?

In December’s pulse check, Georgia employees echoed loud and clear: continue showing empathy

They gave employers a B grade for 2020, and in 2021 they hope to see business leaders demonstrate:

  • Visibility and accessibility,
  • Communicating well and with transparency to employees,
  • Demonstrating empathy towards employees and community, and
  • Addressing social issues they care about.

So, as we make our plans for 2021, it’s confirming to know that the path to optimal business value  –  even through total upheaval– is paved with good behaviors not just good intentions.