EngagementCulture6 ways companies are bringing their values out to play during COVID-19

6 ways companies are bringing their values out to play during COVID-19

When businesses are forced apart, shared values can be a binding force and a powerful accelerant through challenging times. Debra Corey examines 6 ways that values have come to the fore during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to research I conducted for my latest book, the majority of companies have company values, and many are using them in their hiring, onboarding, recognition and even performance management processes. But what happens in a crisis, a pandemic? Are company values stuffed away in a filing cabinet or are they “brought out to play”, being used in critical business and people decisions and actions?

That’s exactly the question I’ve been researching throughout the pandemic – trying to understand how the role of company values has changed and if/how companies are “bringing them out to play”.

Let me start with the role of values. In the past, companies have relied on them to describe the behaviours expected of their workforce, to help them stand out against their competitors, and to guide decisions and actions to drive the company’s mission and purpose. And whilst this is very much still true, I’ve seen two new roles surface for values throughout the pandemic:

  1. The first is that values are being used to help companies pivot and flex as they deal with the many challenges and obstacles both their business and the world around them are facing. I’m seeing values being used to help drive business and people decisions in new and more critical ways, helping them stay on track to deliver on their mission and purpose by living their values in different, and often, innovative ways. A great example is when BrewDog, a company known for making beer, pivoted and flexed by making hand sanitiser in their distillery in Aberdeen. Driven by their value of “we believe that business can be a force for good”, they recognised a national shortage and rose to the occasion by manufacturing and distributing Punk Sanitiser to help those in need.
  2. The second is that values are being used as a way to give employees certainty and comfort in a time of uncertainty and fear. With many of the controls over work and personal lives being in the hands of COVID-19 and government regulations, it can be a scary and unsettling time, where any form of control can make a huge difference to employees. By having values to guide them, employees can find comfort in knowing that what they are doing has purpose, meaning and direction. For this point, let me share a personal story of how my company values of “opening the door to possibilities” and “creating magic” have given me comfort and control over the past few months. As I started the year with a new book, I had plans of doing talks and workshops around the world to help companies use their values in new ways and to create their own magic. But with COVID-19 this all came to a halt, and I felt disheartened knowing that I would not be able to deliver on this objective. But armed with my values I took back the control, and developed a DIY tool to help companies with their values so that although I couldn’t help them in person, I could still do what I set out to do. Take that COVID-19, I found a way around you, and that gives me certainty and comfort!

Let me now move onto the “how”. How are companies bringing their values “out to play” throughout the pandemic? Here are four of the many examples I’ve seen over the past few months. I hope they inspire you as much as they’ve inspired me!

  • At Atlassian, an enterprise software company, they brought out their value of “be the change you seek”, which talks about having the courage and resourcefulness to spark change, by organising an online charity auction. They went out to small businesses that had been affected by the closures around COVID-19 and bought products, experiences and gift cards from them. They then used them as part of an online auction for their employees, with the money from the bids going to charity along with a match from Atlassian.
  • At Missguided, a global fashion retailer, they brought out their values of “love lots” and “win together” in a wellbeing campaign called “Happy Monday”. The way it works is that, every Monday, their colleagues share positive stories on their online communications portal that will make one another smile, sharing their love and supporting one another. From updates on charity donations to home working ‘pupdates’, their Happy Monday series is bursting with colleague stories to inspire and spread a little happiness.
  • At Reward Gateway, an HR technology company, they brought out their value “we are human”, which talks about understanding that everyone has a career and personal life to juggle, and to use empathy and understanding to connect at a deeply human level, by creating special work from home themed recognition eCards. They were developed so that employees from around the world could recognise one another for contributing to the business and one another in different ways, to help them feel less isolated, and to connect and bring them together despite work locations.
  • At Tony’s Chocoloney, a Dutch confectionery company on a mission to set a precedent for 100% slave-free production in the chocolate industry, they brought out their value “makes you smile”, which talks about looking at the bright side, to keep laughing, and being full of energy to move chocolate mountains, with their special lockdown meal gifts. These gifts include food from local restaurants, thus putting smiles on the faces of not only their employees but the businesses they are supporting. And to make their employees smile even more, the latest gift was delivered personally by a member of their leadership team.

Let me end with a quote by Maya Angelou which is that “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” So get out there and “bring your values out to play”, letting your employees feel them in what you do, in good times and bad!


Debra Corey is a highly experienced and award-winning HR leader, world-class speaker, three-time author, and was recently named one of the top 101 global employee engagement influencers. She’s had a varied career, working for global companies such as Gap Inc., Honeywell, Merlin Entertainments and Reward Gateway, where she’s developed and delivered HR strategies in a rebellious way, pushing the boundaries and challenging the status quo to truly drive employee engagement. In 2019 Debra founded her own company as Chief Pay It Forward Officer, where she’s inspiring and helping others to bring out their inner rebel and drive business change.

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