Last week in Australia, we witnessed a spectacular and public implosion of company values from one of the most popular banks.
ME Bank was caught red handed raiding their customers’ redraw accounts (or extra savings) in order to pay off mortgages, during a time of intense financial strain on their customer base.
This was seen as the bank pursuing profits before people — in a time when their customers needed them most.
Ironically, ME Bank has built their brand on being seen as different to the big four banks in Australia and always considering the needs of their members and customers first. Here’s a quote from ME Bank’s website: “ME is different from the pack. We’re building a brand, a bank that we can be proud of.”
I think it will be very hard for ME Bank to ever recover its position as an honest, values-based and customer-centric alternative to the major banks in Australia.
Compare this to the actions of a small café in Randwick, Sydney. We all know that COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on small cafés and restaurants. Yet this particular café, located near the Sydney Childrens’ Hospital, has not only kept its doors open for takeaway, it is offering free morning coffees for all of the medical workers who are supporting our society by working so hard. Despite the pain being felt by this business, the café owner has stayed true to their values and I am confident that this will lead to long-term success for the café business.
There are countless examples of companies and organisations doing the right thing and staying true to their values during this time. But with the pressure and strain that has come with this global pandemic, there are temptations and moral pitfalls for many organisations. There is a well known expression – “Never waste a good crisis” – and that can be interpreted in many ways. Some organisations will use this crisis only to pursue their own narrow self interest, while others will use it to protect and strengthen their company values, reaching outward and digging deeper instead.
So, what should companies do to protect, promote and strengthen their values during the COVID-19 period? I believe a sensible approach is to publish a set of principles and priorities that will guide the decisions of the companies’ leaders during this period. We have done this at Kablamo, and at CareerTrackers, and other larger organisations, like ANZ Bank, have done so too. Here are some of the principles that we included in our “Co-CEO Pledge” for Kablamo during COVID-19:
- We will be transparent with our team about how our business is going and our plans
- We will make the best decisions for the long-term health of Kablamo and all our Kablamites (staff)
- We will give you visibility and reasons for our decisions
- We will continue to support our small business partners and suppliers
We also asked our team to make this a two-way pledge. We asked them to make an extra effort to communicate, to join our remote team meetings and – most importantly – to stay very customer focused and keep bringing their best to our customers each day.
I believe that companies with strong, meaningful and consistent values are the most likely to succeed over the long term. Look at the remarkable success of Atlassian and Amazon. On the other hand, companies that don’t have good values embedded in their DNA are less likely to survive this pandemic. It will be fascinating to see whether ME Bank’s values (and brand) become a victim of the COVID-19 crisis or whether the CEO can successfully rescue them from the intensive care unit.