Alignment between planning and execution: The leader’s role

Alignment starts at the top. It is the role of a leader to define a path forward, create movement, and align people with the organizational strategy. They are required to execute the plan toward achieving better-than-expected results. Alignment is the way to link planning to execution.

Research indicates that a significant percentage of a company’s shortfall is due to a lack of alignment. Often, ineffective alignment by leaders is at the core of their challenges.

An effective alignment is a critical tool for leaders. If the leader has an idea in mind and needs a group of people to execute it, then it is obvious they must bring clarity to their idea, and consequently, make it understood by all involved—for optimal, expected and planned-for results.

The question then becomes, “What are the key messages CEOs and their executive teams need to communicate in order to align their team and help them bridge the link between planning and execution?”

So how can we make sure, then, that these messages are clear and understood by everyone across the organization? The following elements should be considered when delivering a clear message:

A – Clarify, Plan and Define: To align the execution team, the owner of the idea should clarify it in their own heads, first. Following that, the idea can be converted into a plan—of action. When the plan is crystalized, tasks can be identified, and clear roles and responsibilities can be assigned. Once everyone knows their role and what they are required to do or achieve, the detailed expectations need to be defined and connected to a performance agreement following the individual’s commitment to do the job.

B – The Story: People are more likely to listen and retain stories—especially when they’re visual. This is the most effective way to attract and capture the attention of listeners. Employees naturally gravitate toward, and connect, with stories that have a meaningful impact on them.

To create a compelling story, ensure these 3Cs are employed:   Capture, Connect and Create.

Capture: Share the big picture – Capture the audience with a strong vision about the plan, the “why” behind it and how they are connected to it. They should be able to visualize the plan in action and the role they will play in making it a reality.

Connect: Engage with the audience through understanding their personal and business drivers, and build the story focused on these drivers.

Create: Maintain a clear focus on well-founded, well-researched, insightful and relevant content. Create simple and clear instructions that are understood by all levels of the target audience.

C – Tell: Communication, in its varied forms, is the art of influencing people to willingly go on this journey with you. Leaders who effectively employ the 3Cs, naturally find engagement by others in joining their vision, their journey, as they now see the alignment between their talents, skills, abilities, and the greater work of the organization. They see a clear vision of where the group is going, and how they will get there.

As an art, communication is a skill that can be learned through discipline, open-mindedness, and practice. It is a careful, yet delicate mix of listening and speaking, and of engaging with empathy. As leaders, when we speak, listen or are silently present, how we communicate reflects our values, builds trust, and creates confidence in others. Effective leaders can clearly articulate their vision, communicate their expectations, and convincingly convey messages—with presence, power, and a sense of authority.

Understanding the link between communication and influence requires a thorough understanding of how people engage and react. As leaders, we must be conscious of others’ interpretations, how they decide, what they expect from us, how we can support them, and guide them toward a decision that aligns with the greater good.

Two simple tools that build this awareness, are:

The Decision Cycle and The Influence Cycle.

The Decision cycle is a sequence of steps that a person takes to reach a decision. It starts by recognizing there is a decision that needs to be made—by the person himself, and to collect information on the subject matter, as accurate information can be the key to outline the ideal situation, and simply representing the end goal or target you wish to achieve through such decision.

Once the individual has acquired the necessary salient information, and outline the ideal situation, this will be used as a base to compare past experiences and outcomes.

“Information’s pretty thin stuff unless mixed with experience.”

—Clarence Day (1874 – 1935), American Author.

Using the information collected, and experiences from which we can draw, we must then begin to compare options and their possible outcomes. The decision-maker naturally facilitates a “pros and cons” debate for each option. In doing so, we begin to understand the consequences of our actions—both favourable and unfavourable. Once we have weighed our options, the next step is to commit to a decision—and execute.

Finally, dealing with the outcome and potential repercussions of decisions taken. If this is the decision-making process, then how do leaders influence it? How do they help their teams navigate each stage, and provide strategic communication and advice to influence a positive outcome that aligns with the greater strategic goals of the organization?

Another key cycle to the puzzle is the influencer cycle, which closely follows and drives the decision-making cycle. First, an influencer must engage the decision-maker by targeting his personal and professional drivers. This can include corporate goals, personal values, and much more. Following the initial engagement, the influencer must fully understand the problem and current status of the decision-maker. Once they have done so, they can begin to define the ideal situation. This can be considered their target outcome or benchmark. Now that they have identified the current status, and ideal solution, they can begin to present the decision-maker with credible options and action plans to achieve the goal. The next step is to ask the decision-maker to commit to an action plan so they can begin the execution stage. And, finally, as mentioned above, they must act with empathy and address—and mitigate—any anxiety caused by the action plan. These can come in the form of the decision-maker “second-guessing” the decision.

Understanding the relationship between the alignment of people and strategy is core to the work and practice of an effective CEO to deliver better-than-expected results.

Ethics in Marketing

Written by: Professor Laurie Busuttil, CPM

When Max De Pree was CEO of the Herman Miller furniture company, he posed several questions for discussion at an executive leadership retreat. Two of these were, “What is the purpose of business?” and “Is there a moral imperative to good design?”.[1]  They are good questions for marketers to consider, too.

The Purpose of Marketing

The question about the purpose of marketing could have a variety of answers. Is it to serve our customers and to help them flourish? Is it to advertise products or services—or does it begin with developing those products and services? Do we convince target audiences to buy products that meet wants and needs created by us, or do we develop products our customers truly need? Regardless of how we answer these questions, the marketer’s prime obligation is to act ethically.

Marketing is the exchange of one thing of value for another: products and services for money. Honestly depicting the value proposition, making brand promises that we can keep, and taking a long-term view of customer relationships should facilitate valuable exchanges, which are at the heart of successful marketing.

The Practice of Marketing

De Pree’s second question prompts discussion about a moral imperative in marketing. This is the ethics of marketing practice. Gary Karns suggests that deceptive advertising and persuasive practices result in one-sided gains, and exploitative and unjust relationships.[2] Such practices also result in the loss of trust in marketers and in the brands they promote.

The 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer report identified two dimensions of trust: ethics and competence. Sadly, none of the four institutions Edelman studied (business, government, media, and non-governmental organizations) were perceived as being both ethical and competent. Business ranked highest in competence, yet it was still seen as being unethical.[3]

Marketers can help change those perceptions. We can change the way organizations and brands are perceived by customers. This will build stronger consumer relationships, develop advocates for the brand, and enhance profitability. Developing trust is foundational to a brand’s—and a marketer’s—success.

Trust is established and strengthened when we listen and tell the truth. This was abundantly clear in 2008 when Michael McCain, CEO of Maple Leaf Foods, released a one-minute and six-second television spot, expressing a heartfelt apology to those who had been sickened, and to the families of those who had lost their lives because of a listeriosis outbreak at one of their meat processing plants. The share price of the company dropped drastically on news of the outbreak, yet four months after McCain’s apology and commitment to improve safety practices, Maple Leaf Foods’ shares were trading above the price at the time of the outbreak. Honesty matters and it has a direct impact on the value created by the firm.

While the practice of marketing is shaped by the ethics of marketers, words are not enough. Customers expect action. The 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer released a special report on brand trust in which survey respondents indicated they “wanted brands to take action, solve problems, and advocate for change.”[4] Yet, as the survey also discovered, nearly 70% of people avoid advertising, a fundamental avenue of communication for marketers. Consequently, ethical practices must influence other marketing practices.

For example, engaging in sustainable product development and conservation of resources has practical implications for product design and development. Taking a cradle-to-cradle rather than a cradle-to-grave approach means that marketers care for the environment and do not waste resources.  Transparency and consistency in our pricing and distribution practices are additional ways to restore trust in businesses, especially when traditional avenues of communication (advertisements) are being removed.

Putting customers at the centre of our practice means we put ourselves in their shoes. Treating others as we want to be treated should lead us to intentionally structure our marketing activities in ways that do not create “built-in disadvantages to any individual or group of people.”[5]

 The Future of Marketing

As a marketing educator, I am excited about the future. Every day I work with young people who are planning their future as marketers. They recognize the need for honesty, transparency, accountability, trust—and the ethical foundation that will be required to establish successful careers as valued partners at the business table. The moral imperative is being envisioned.

In class, we discuss case studies, real situations around which students can wrap theory, concretize concepts, and apply them to situations with which they may already be familiar or which they will encounter in the future. We discuss ethical issues from the perspective of all stakeholders. For instance, sometimes the discussions centre on our role as consumers and the ethics of consumption, preparing them to think about the customer as they design, develop, and promote products and services. We tackle discussions about developing products that are not “needed” by consumers but drive spikes in sales. On other occasions, we discuss advertisements that push the envelope and cross moral lines. We reimagine promoting such products in clever and creative ways, rather than in crass or offensive ones.

Of one thing I am convinced: the future of marketing will be bright if we take time to model ethical marketing practices and intentionally prepare young marketers to enter the industry



[1] Wolterstorff, N. (2004). Educating for Shalom: Essays on Christian Higher Education. C.W. Joldersma and G. Stronks, (Eds). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004.

[2] Karns, G. L. (2008). A Theological Reflection on Exchange and Marketing: An Extension of the Proposition That the Purpose of Business is to Serve. Christian Scholar’s Review, 37(1), 97-114.

[3] 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer.

[4] Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: Brand Trust. (2020)

[5] Chewning, R. C., Eby, J. W., and Roels, S. J. (1990). Business Through the Eyes of Faith. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

Execution in business

Peter F. Drucker said, “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things”. Similarly, I would say that planning is doing things right, while execution is doing the right things.

Regardless if there is a good plan or a bad one, without the proper execution, the results will be lacklustre—at best! Hence the popular saying by Jeff Bridge, “Execution is everything”. It is expected that during execution people get diverted. This diversion leads to poor or improper execution, ultimately resulting in less favourable outcomes. Such diversions are most often the result of “pull” or “push” pressures that amplify during the course of execution. Oftentimes, diversion, itself, leads to more pressure on the person, and this amount of pressure determines how far the person diverted.

These days, with the COIVD – 19 pandemic and the consequences of working from home, new sources of challenges arise to increase various types of pressure on the person. These pressures include, but are not limited to, worries about getting infected by the virus itself; getting implicated with the economic situation; feeling of isolation; and fears of frustration and depression—each, or all of which, contribute to the end result.

This article will highlight the steps on how to stay focused on executing the task, which helps translate intent to reality and make for a smoother and more achievable path. It will also highlight tips on how to help people get back on track in case of diversion.

“Execution is putting your mind, your heart and your body in action”, Noura Hamade

There are prerequisites to help carry the execution successfully and avoid any execution pitfalls. These prerequisites include:

  1. Clear vision of where we need to be;
  2. Clear understanding of where we are;
  3. Clear knowledge of what options we have to reach there;
  4. Aligned individuals who have the right skills related to the required task, in addition to their ability to implement. They are aware of both the big picture and have a clear understanding of their tasks. To help motivate them, they should also know what is in it for them.

Once the above is in place, the following are the three steps to manage your execution successfully:

a) Priorities: Before carrying out the act of putting the plan into effect, the first step is to prioritize the implementation by developing phases of implementation to make it happen based on business priorities. Doing so, means listing all the actions, and prioritizing them based on the following criteria:

  1. Which action has more impact on the results?
  2. Which action brings me closer to where I need to be?
  3. Which action has priority (i.e. quick-win, relevance, urgency, etc.)

After that, it is all about just do it and the discipline in doing it.

“Just Do IT” —NIKE

b) Review: Assess the current state to recognize where you are, assessing your progress by asking the simple question, “where are we against the organization’s performance indicator”, and against the target (plan). Then define and analyze the gap with the intention to take any corrective actions and changes, as needed.

c) Improve: The improvement stage is a concept that aims to enhance performance which allows us to improve our results and deliver better-than-expected results. It is very important at this stage to recognize and understand the outcome of the review.

Based on the review outcome and the gap analysis, you should conduct corrective actions to address potential gaps. This could require more challenging courses of action, such as adjusting the initial plan. Part of building the corrective actions part, is to understand what leads to this diversion, and recognize the pressure, the source of that pressure, and whether you can control it or manage it, and how you can minimize the effects of it. All the while, being mindful of improvement: It is a process and should be weaved into the culture of all organizations. Improvement should be considered in one of the two following conditions:

  1. If the review identifies a gap between the actual and the plan


  1. If any new factors arise and could impact the plan or the execution

Finally, the trap which most executives find themselves in, after the improvement stage and the corrective actions, is directly starting the implementation without realigning the stakeholders involved in the initial plan, or the persons affected by these corrective actions. This trap will result in the failure of the process.

Statement about Racism and Discrimination

For more than a week, we’ve been witnessing the events that led to the tragic and unjust death of George Floyd. And sadly, black racism goes deeper—for decades and centuries.Racial inequality and inequity concern and affect all of us. We must band together as a society, and accept and embrace the black community—all communities.

We denounce racism—in all its forms—as a horrendous and unacceptable act, and which has no place in our community. Racism and discrimination are not part of CIMMO’s fundamental beliefs, and we support the action to dismantle and eradicate it.

CIMMO represents marketers locally and internationally. As always, we will continue to live our mission to make the world a better place, through marketing. In earnest, we will—as we have since inception— continue our commitment to working hard with our members, volunteers and partners to promote—and live—a culture of unity, inclusivity, acceptance and respect for ALL people. But there’s much work to do: For starters, we must find ways to better represent the black community in our profession; and we will do our part to effect change in this regard.

We will be listening to our community members and partners, working with them to see real change happen—all, for a better world today, and for future generations to never again, have to experience racism, discrimination and prejudice.



Dr. Youssef A. Youssef

President and Vice-Chair

CEOs’ values, ethics, behaviour, and organizational outcome

This article is about the influence of CEOs’ values and behaviours on their organizations’ culture, which shapes performance outcomes and secures a long-lasting market leadership.

“Culture” has been a topic of discussion across various fields of business, sociology, history, and anthropology. In an article written by Charles Rogel (2014) he mentioned that “an organization’s culture consists of values, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours that employees share and use on a daily basis in their work”. The culture determines how employees describe where they work, how they understand the business, and how they see themselves as part of the organization. Culture is also a driver of decisions, actions, and ultimately the overall performance of the organization.

“Until I came to IBM, I probably would have told you that culture was just one among several important elements in any organization’s success along with vision, strategy, financials, …etc. I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game – it is the game.” (Lou Gerstner, CEO IBM 1993-2002)

Organizations are embodiments of their leaderships’ values and are a mere reflection of top-down cultural alignment. In the last decade, there have been many examples of unethical practices by CEOs or senior managers that have had a negative impact on their organizations, in some cases, leading to legal action. Therefore, understanding CEOs’ influence on culture requires a strong comprehension of the role that values, ethics, morals and behaviours play in relation to the CEO, and their impact on business.

Values are our fundamental beliefs. They are a set of personal principles we use to measure what is right, good, and important to us. They are the standards that provide guidance to distinguish between right and wrong. Culturally, we see differences as to how values are defined.

Honesty, integrity, compassion, courage, honour, responsibility, patriotism, respect and fairness, are among the most commonly heard-of and observed values. One could categorize the values formally mentioned as “personal values”, and are often considered to be values derived from a higher authority. That is a convenient way to differentiate them from what are often called “utilitarian” or “business values”, such as excellence, quality, safety and service, which define some elements of positive and negative attributes in a business context.

It should come as no surprise that organizations that endure long-term success have core values and a core purpose of which they remain fixated on, despite, at times, a period “bumpy” days. What changes, are their business strategies and practices, and these are changing endlessly to adapt to the ever-changing demands of the business world. Respected and fundamentally sound companies understand what should remain sacred. The ability to manage continuity and change is down to the consciousness of the organization.

Ethics are a set of rules, which are commonly agreed upon, known, and communicated within a group of people, and form a standard guideline for conduct. Ethics are the rules from which behaviours are measured and evaluated—for their morality. Consider ethics to be the governance instrument that steers individual accountability toward our interactions with others, ultimately influencing and permitting certain behaviours, which constitute our interactions.

Consider the word, “evaluate”: When we evaluate something, we compare it to an existing or known standard or benchmark. We determine whether it meets such standard, falls short of it, comes close, or far exceeds it. To evaluate is to determine the merit of the subject or action as compared to a standard.

A Code of Ethics, which reflects a company’s values, is the document that portrays the culture that defines what one can expect the behaviours of the company, and its employees to exhibit. They constitute and illustrate the commitment to the organization’s fundamental principles (values), ultimately shaping the organization’s interactions, outputs, and how it conducts business.

While the business strategy paves the way for achieving the organization’s mission, the Code of Ethics details the platform from which the leadership team, along with all employees, use to achieve it. To an army, a Code of Ethics is not the battle plan, but rather the marching orders with which it must be aligned—with great precision—to ensure it is exhibited and carried out internally, as well as observed externally. They are the means to the end; their related behaviours need to be clear and consistently need to be explained, interpreted and discussed. Regardless of position, role or rank, those who do not reflect the Code of Ethics should be apprehended so that those who do, are retained enough to reap the rewards.

Business ethics are the principles that guide the way a business behaves. Many subject areas are based on broad principles of integrity and fairness regarding issues such as accounting practices, product quality, customer satisfaction, employee wages and benefits, local community, environmental responsibilities, etc.

Some organizations are public about their values and Code of Ethics, while others are not. However, with today’s countless cases of major accounting frauds that have obliterated employee pension funds and investor capital, it has become increasingly more vital for organizations to publicly state and commit to their values and Code of Ethics. Companies that publicly commit to their values and Code of Ethics, tend to align themselves on the positive side of the public eye and have an obligation to stakeholders, customers, and employees to uphold their commitments to such values.  On the other hand, companies that fail to define their values may often be those that don’t have any. This lack of commitment to build and live by a set values or a code is a strong indication of a company that lacks identity, and whose elements are not grounded or known to outsiders—and quite possibly, its employees.

Morals, in brief, are a set of self-imposed standards that govern one’s relation with themself, to adhere to their values and ethical composition. Morals dictate to which extent a person can stand for, compromise, or disconnect from their values and ethics, despite influences by others—be it a superior authority, colleagues or even subordinates.

If the employees within the organization are governed by a single set of values and ethics, and they embody such values and ethics, then individual morality will be in sync with that of the organization. Whistleblowers are a great example of some of the known cases where such individual-to-organization alignments of values are not met, aside from possible legal implications. In modern times, in multinational or culturally diverse organizations, employees stem from various culturally influenced value systems that may not align with the organization’s code of ethics. This gap in alignment, a possible lack of culture-fit, can lead to a wide range of individual moral conflicts between employees; and a disconnect may be evident. Undisputedly, diversity is strength; but having the right culture-fit is a necessity that many organizations have geared their recruitment process to selectively proceed with those candidates that exhibit the appropriate culture-fit.

Behaviour is the outward expression and reflection of our morals that compose our interaction or reaction to people and circumstances we face. It is based on how others view us and how they judge us.

With no insight into peoples’ minds, one’s ethics and morals can only be evaluated through their behaviour. Therefore, when one acts in ways that are consistent with our values and ethics, we will characterize that as acting ethically. When one’s actions are not congruent with our values—our sense of right, good and just—we will view that as acting unethically.

“Organizational outcomes were a reflection of the top leader’s cognition and values”, (upper echelons theory – Hambrick and Mason, 1984)

There is a very clear link between leadership values, ethics, morals and behaviours, and the success of the business: Leaders are the ones who set the tone of the organization by influencing the culture and defining the set of ethics within which it operates. To keep leading in a dynamic and challenging environment, a leader must lead by example, maintain the discipline, commitment and responsibility, and adhere to the culture of the organization, to accomplish and deliver the task.

Are Marketing and Ethics Mutually Exclusive?

Ethics in marketing is a hot topic that draws a fine line between right and wrong, depending on how you look at it. But what is right or wrong? There is inherent subjectivity within. So how does one figure out—objectively— what the best way is to take an adulterated and altruistic approach to planning an ethics roadmap for their brand—and living by it? It’s imperative it’s one that will guide all of their communications in a manner that will ensure ethics are upheld in the most transparent and consistent manner.

Ethical marketing is not so much a marketing strategy, rather, a philosophy that drives all marketing efforts. Ethics ought to also promote honesty, fairness and responsibility—in all communications—including advertising, marketing, PR, content, social, etc. Really, it’s any form or technique—traditional or digital—of selling to, or connecting with, consumers. And it most definitely needs stringency when it comes to minors. Ethics is a difficult topic to discuss, let alone arrive at any consensus, because of the subjective judgments everyone displays about what is ethical and what it isn’t.

Ethical marketing is not a clearly defined list of rules or regulations; rather, a guideline or framework to help companies evaluate their marketing strategies and tactics. They develop them in accordance to their culture, their belief systems, and their views on right vs. wrong. As mentioned, earlier, anyone can develop a set of ethics, but actually living by them is an entirely different story. And the latter is where most of the issues lie when it comes to brands and marketers. Not to oversimplify it, but it boils down to: Do vs. say.

Questionable, or perhaps outright unethical marketing practices, are rampant—in most, if not all, business sectors! From pharmaceuticals, to food and dining, to agriculture, to credit-scoring, to advertising itself, to politics, to law enforcement, to automotive and emissions, to recycling, to cosmetics, skincare and testing, to charity and transparency, to healthcare, to finance and trust, to energy, to news, to real estate and, to what has become the most important and high-profile concern: personal-data privacy. As you can see, the list is lengthy. And we all, in some form or other, have been adversely affected by unethical behaviours in marketing.

Ethical marketers exercise sympathy and emotion, while unethical ones exploit them. Some unethical marketing practices could, for example, include those who intentionally evoke sadness, empathy—even rage— to effect or manipulate consumer decision-making. Such widely used tactics as fear, targeting disadvantaged people, or trickery, including bait-and-switch, where brands advertise something that is not really available or at the price communicated, just to get customers to come in, at which point they pitch them with other more expensive products.

Bait-and-switch is an advertising technique, which can be—and oftentimes is—considered illegal. But in many cases it is looked upon as a dishonest practice by consumer protection agencies. A typical bait-and-switch practice includes advertised prices, which are exceptionally low in order to muster attention and motivate consumers to come into your store or visit your online channel, and then switch on them. That’s the “cheat” part.

Such practices are used by many brands, who, for myriad reasons, try to maintain shareholder value, sales and revenue targets, social corporate responsibility, etc. Some practices result in brands covertly, and diabolically carrying out campaigns and claims supporting their ethics in business. For example, VW allegedly misled and deceived customers with its advertising campaign, which it used to promote its supposedly “Clean Diesel” vehicles. But the truth was uncovered by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Consequently, VW were slapped with a $25B fine because it allegedly cheated on pollution emission tests, which needed to meet stringent environmental testing thresholds. Their marketing efforts supported this claim. Then the paying consumer and customer found out. Rage ensued because they were tricked into believing they bought from a socially conscious company. And they proudly did so based on this very belief. So you can see how ethics was a key and emotional issue here.

Before we dive into some examples, let’s take a moment to clarify what ethical marketing means and encompasses. There are issues around ethics that include respect for the environment; transparency and accountability; good and fair working conditions; fair-trade practices; gender equity; child and enforced-labour practices, to name but a few. Ethical marketing refers to the application of marketing ethics into the marketing process. A few of my sources—generally and briefly—state that marketing ethics refers to the philosophical examination of particular marketing issues that are matters of moral judgment.

To get a firmer understanding of ethics in practice, let’s look at some examples where brands live by a good set of ethics—overall, not just in marketing. TOMS, the shoe brand, was founded by Blake Mycoskie in 2006, following a trip to Argentina. During his visit, he saw, first-hand, how the impoverished were living—without shoes; something many of us likely take for granted. As a result, Mycoskie established his company with giving in mind.

He has donated 60M+ pairs of shoes to children in need all over the world. What’s more, TOMS’ eyewear division has donated 400,000+ pairs of glasses to those who are visually impaired and have no access to eye care. There are many more examples about TOMS’ “giving” nature. And his communications programs support these initiatives. But most importantly, TOMS follows through on their commitments!

Another example of ethical marketing from a brand that perhaps is not as widely known as some leading brands, is Dr. Bronner, a cleansing (soap) product company. We know there’s controversy around what brands use as their ingredients: Is it safe? Do they engage in animal testing? Does it harm the environment? Do the labelling of products include genetically modified ingredients?

These are just some of the questions that concern consumers, especially among the younger demographics such as Gen Z and Gen Y. They’re looking for brands who are socially responsible—and live by their claims; but also those who don’t assault them with ad messages which they have learned to pretty much ignore. Did you know that 92% of millennial consumers are more likely to buy products from companies who have ethical practices in place? And 82% of those consumers believe ethical brands do better than similar companies that lack or don’t have a firm commitment to ethical principles. These are big numbers; and brands not paying attention to them will experience drastic—and surprising—reductions in revenue, brand reputation and brand equity. All, very costly for brands to build, and take years to achieve.

Back to Dr. Bonner: So what’s unique about them? For starters, Founder, Emanuel H. Bronner established a book on ethics: The Moral ABC, an example would include raising environmental awareness, social injustices, the use of USDA-certified fair-trade ingredients, and equitable compensation such as that limiting executive pay to five times that of field-level employees. To put the last point into some perspective, Dunkin’ Donuts CEO, Nigel Travis, for example, said in 2015, that paying workers a minimum wage of $15 per hour was “absolutely outrageous” despite the fact that he personally earns about $4,889 per hour. Do the math; it’s incredulous!

Here’s a chart Dr. Bronner uses to gauge their ethics, engagement—and results:

“Everyone is a product of choices and circumstances. No one has power over circumstances, but each person has power over one’s choices.”  —Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt

As mentioned earlier, personal privacy, with e-commerce sites and online shopping, and other sites that ask for your personal information so you can use their app and pay, and where they can develop intelligence around your buying habits and preferences, is a big concern among consumers right now. Many e-commerce sites like Amazon, Walmart and Wayfair, among thousands more, as well as credit card companies like Visa, MasterCard and Amex, and merchants—online and off—like Apple and Shopify, and like Canadian Tire, Lowe’s, Best Buy and HBC, etc., all collect personal data. This collection provides them with intelligence and the ability to personalize offerings, and predict their customers’ next purchase, among other things. But consumer concerns are valid and justified, especially given how so many breaches have occurred over the past decade. And the breaches are getting bigger and bigger.

Most recently, in February 2020, Estée Lauder experienced a large-scale data breach. Locally, here in Toronto, just weeks ago in early 2020, The Beer Store in Ontario, Canada, also experienced a data breach that not many knew about. Consequently, they opted to cash-only transactions. Problem was, this happened during the Covid- 19 health crisis, so customers were perplexed, wondering why, during a time like this, were they asking for cash-only transactions. In 2017, Equifax experienced a data breach that exposed 147M personal records. Or what about Ashley Madison, the site that offers discreet encounters? The site, from my readings, exposed 32M records, which also resulted in some divorces. Others that had their customers’ databases breached, include Capitol One – 106M, Cathay Pacific – 9.4M, Dropbox – 68.7M, Facebook, on one of numerous occasions – 540M, Home Depot – 56M, JP Morgan Chase – 76M, and Microsoft – 250M, among many more. And counting! So you can see how prevalent it is. It’s become a serious problem. So consumers, depending on where in the world they live—some more than others, some less—all have a growing degree of apprehension toward parting with their personal information; it’s extremely private and personal data. But the issue with these perceived diabolic incidents, is what brands do with personal data. For example—and most problematic—is the selling to, or sharing of, your data with third parties.

But what is personal data or personal information? According to The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada website at time of writing, it states the following criteria that define personal information:

  • Race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age or marital status
  • Education, medical, criminal or employment history of an individual or information about financial transactions
  • Any assigned identifying number or symbol
  • Address, fingerprints or blood type
  • Personal opinions or views except where they are about another individual
  • Proposal for a grant, an award or a prize to be made to another individual by a government institution
  • Private or confidential correspondence sent to a government institution
  • The views or opinions of another individual about the individual
  • The views or opinions of another individual about a proposal for a grant, an award or a prize to be made to the individual by an institution
  • The name of the individual where it appears with other related personal information, and where the disclosure of the name itself would reveal information about the individual

Criteria on how personal data is used:

Regarding research itself, there are major ethical issues to consider:

  1. Informed consent
  2. Beneficence – Do not harm
  3. Respect for anonymity and confidentiality
  4. Respect for privacy
  5. Transparency regarding use of personal information. What brands, third parties do with information
  6. Ensuring those under eighteen years of age, are—in every regard—excluded from collection. Full stop!
  7. Data collection must be completely voluntary.

Although this is a departure from marketing, I wanted to share this just to give you insight on how far some employers will go to collecting personal information. Regardless, albeit used and collected differently, for different purposes, marketing is not new to some of this. Here is what some employers in the U.S. do regarding collecting personal data on prospective employees, for example. According to Michael McFarland, SJ of Markkula Center of Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, “[…] some employers collect data that would surprise many. For instance, potential employers have a great interest in the medical, financial and criminal records of applicants. They often request and receive such information.” areas/internet-ethics/resources/unauthorized-transmission-and-use-of-personal-data/ “A congressional survey in 1978, for instance, found that 20 percent of the criminal history records given out by the states went to private corporations and government agencies not involved in criminal justice.”

January 28 is Data Privacy Day—recognized by countries around the world. Data Privacy Day highlights the impact technology has on privacy rights, and emphasizes the importance of valuing and safeguarding of personal information. The marketing community certainly takes this very seriously. But every year the day comes and goes. Does this mean those behind collecting the data can go back to unethical practices after a 24-hour reprieve? It has become very evident over the past decade that consumer fears surrounding personal data breaches, which include identity theft, money theft, and personal-information theft, and selling of same, landing in the hands of unknown, unscrupulous and unethical third parties. It happens every day, and consumers know this, and hear about it often in the news, online, on the radio and in the papers. It’s real and it happens—too often.

Among consumers, there is a growing expectation that brands will provide relevant and timely offers, information, personalization and improved experiences—all of which are reliant on collecting your personal data. But there is an ultimate purpose: these yield to brand advocacy. Consumers know this and they feel, somewhat, caught between a rock and a hard place; they feel cornered, so to speak, in having to give their personal information, or they have limited or no way of buying products they want, online. So what’s one to do? Well, like the masses, you trustingly give your information to marketers and brands, and hope all will be okay.

It’s all you have, really. Sure, those seeking restitution have somewhat been successful. Indeed, there have been lawsuits, and out-of-court payouts, but that doesn’t bring back your data from potentially unscrupulous parties. But is that really what one has to endure to buy something?

But, look, I’m not trying to bash or cast a negative light on marketers and brands—not at all. I mean I’m in the business, myself! But I do believe in ethics, I do believe in transparency, and I do believe in earning trust—and keeping it. But what I am doing is merely highlighting real-life cases where data—for marketing purposes—is collected, and how things go awry.

That said, I think a shift ought to happen where privacy should be about trust. Trust is a long-term thing, whereas privacy can only last a day, an hour, a transaction. It’s not merely about semantics; it’s about positively deepening the feeling and emotions of those who part with their personal data, and consistently delivering on ethics-based uses of it; not selling or sharing it with third parties; keeping it safe; and being honest and transparent. Because once data is let out of the bottle, there’s no getting it back in. The reality is many, if not most consumers, know that data is being collected about them. Consumers leave it behind like a popcorn trail with every card transaction, bank ATM visit, website we visit, and mobile phone call we make. In each and every one of these scenarios we send off signals that say something about our interests, our behaviours and our preferences.

So you can see how consumers are worried about parting with their data, or about data that’s already available, and therefore, vulnerable. But marketer data (like marketing content) is the new currency. They need it to better market to you—in a very targeted, timely and personalized fashion. That’s the goal. But the process in getting there, from a marketer’s perspective, is what separates ethical marketers from unethical ones. The more they know about you, the more they can curate their offerings to you. Personalization is a big trend right now, especially in retail. Amazon, for example, is a huge collector of personal data. And they work hard to use it to their benefit, so as to make the shopping experience relevant, timely, and personable—on a hyper-targeted, granular 1:1 level. All of this is written in the extensive “fine print” on websites or paper versions—all of which are never read by most because in modern commerce there’s an unwritten or unspoken understanding and expectation between brands and marketers—and their customers—that their data will be used ethically. That’s why most of us never read the terms and conditions before clicking, ‘I agree’.

There’s this kind of “blissful ignorance” or naiveté among consumers who simply assume brands will do right and be ethical just to keep their business. But is sharing of their data, which is written in the lengthy legalese as to what they can, and will, do with it, considered ethical because it is assumed you read it, but really don’t? There’s an element of trust and an element of blissful ignorance, so consumers move along the path-to-purchase. Their belief is, “I don’t think it will happen to me.” Until it does! Based on my research, 75% of consumers (three out of every 4), say they would take negative action against irresponsible or unethical brands. So brands need to be aware of these consequences where brand equity will be affected, trust diminished, and loyalty declined—all serious factors that can take years to rebuild, if at all.

Data should be used to benefit both parties—culminating a personalized experience that delights the customer, and the increased revenue and profit that benefits shareholders. Earning the respect and trust of customers and consumers at every point of contact, every transaction, is key. If brands and marketers put such processes in place, and truly understand the nature of their ethical responsibility, it’s a win/win.

There are governing bodies, professional organizations like Ontario Medical Association, Professional Engineers of Ontario, Ontario Bar Association, Association of Registered Graphic Designers of Ontario, that have ethics committees. Some have formal and stringent Legislation Bills to help mitigate, investigate, enforce or avoid unethical practices in their respective fields. But it still happens. So are these watchdog eyes enough?

What checkpoints or measures can be exercised to ensure absolute transparency? Is it even realistic? Is it supported? Are they up-front with their intentions? Does industry speak out of both sides of its mouth? Are there any companies that can claim they’re ethical? There are characteristics, which ethics comprise, such as stewardship, honesty, integrity and respect. I would opine that some institutions, companies, government agencies, non-profits, etc., may practice some of these, but I’m inclined to think many do not engage in all of these characteristics. So does being a partial supporter make one ethical? Or does one have to exercise all characteristics to be considered “ethical?” I mean, is anyone or any brand perfect? Can they be? Then, of course, there is the all-important profitability: What role does bottom-line reporting to shareholders play when it comes to answering to ethics? Is it a key motivator?

Ethical use in marketing-driven data:

We now live in a world of data-driven everything; it’s all around us. And there are varying levels of consumer trepidation. But it’s also an exciting place to be for consumers and marketers, alike. From ordering an Uber, to ordering in dinner, to purchasing movie tickets, to grocery shopping, to even finding a soul mate—everything is online these days. We live in a world of data-driven convenience for consumers. But with these new levels of conveniences and experiences, come new levels of responsibilities (hopefully ethical ones), for brands.

In Canada, ethics or moral philosophy is a branch of philosophy that involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct.

Ethics seeks to resolve questions of human morality by defining concepts such as good and evil, right and wrong, virtue and vice, justice and crime.


Take Nivea, for example, a well-known German-based brand we regularly see on TV commercials (in Canada), featuring, Tessa Virtue, promoting, “feeling good in your skin.” But in West Africa, the spot ad-for-visibilty-fairer-skin-sparks-controversy-in-west-africa says communicates virtually an opposite message. It says it “[T]o visibly lighten [and care for] your skin.” But the issue is, the messages are fundamentally contrasting—for the same product: Feel good in your own skin vs. How to lighten your skin. Feel good vs. vanity. Hmm…

In West Africa—from Cameroon to Ghana and Senegal, there was call on social media for a boycott on Nivea products, and for the ads to be pulled, using the hashtag #pullitdownnow. Many described this ad as “racist, colourist and tone-deaf.” If true, is Nivea being unethical? Is their ad misleading? You decide. After all, principle aside, you are the consumer, and your threshold, tolerance and acceptance levels will determine if such practices are ethical. Or not. Perception is reality.

Then there is the controversy over animal testing use in the cosmetics industry. How many times in the last decade have we heard of brands claiming to be cruelty-free, and touting they use no animals in their testing? It’s become a marketing selling point and a key differentiator. But when it is not the case, is this considered covert manipulation? Is it a play on ignorance? According to fashion/beauty-brands-that-you-thought-were-cruelty-free-but-arent/ these companies, in China, allegedly still use animals in their testing. They include Estée Lauder, Maybelline, Mary Kay and Elizabeth Arden, among others.

Another example is L’Oreal. They don’t test on animals in the U.S., but allegedly, “[…] pays for testing in China, where experiments on animals are required for cosmetics.” But in North America, we probably don’t hear about this. In China, Internet walls are installed to block Chinese from seeing or hearing about western adoption of cruelty-free testing. As such, ethics—or lack thereof—continue to be exercised, all in the name of commercialism, capitalism and profit.

Yet, another: Uber, the ride-hailing service was caught red-handed after its drivers realized major discrepancies in pay: “[t]he FTC said Uber had “inflated” its hourly drivers’ earnings in online marketing and advertisements to attract drivers to its platform. “However, once drivers [had] begun to receive their paychecks, [d]rivers [had] discovered their actual earnings were substantially less than Uber claimed[…] For example, on Craigslist, Uber advertised drivers in Minneapolis could earn $18 per hour, and Boston drivers as high as $25 per hour. In both cases, however, less than 10% of Uber [drivers made] the advertised hourly rate.

And, still, according to The Telegraph article in February 27, 2017, “Energy drinks brand, Red Bull was claiming that the drink ‘gives you wings.’ doesnt-give-you-wings.html “The company settled the class action case by agreeing to pay out a maximum of $13 million—including $10 to every U.S. consumer who had bought the drink since 2002. The tagline, which the company has used for nearly two decades, went alongside marketing claims that the caffeinated drink could improve a person’s concentration and reaction speed.”

“Beganin Caraethers was one of several consumers who brought the case against the Austrian drinks company. He said he was a regular consumer of Red Bull for 10 years, but that he had not developed “wings,” or shown any signs of improved intellectual or physical abilities. Red Bull settled the lawsuit to avoid the cost and distraction of litigation. However, Red Bull maintains that its marketing and labeling have always been truthful and accurate, and denies any and all wrongdoing or liability.” One has to wonder.

How about “scientifically proven” or “guaranteed results?”

According to a Business Insider article – activia-yogurt-said-it-had-special-bacterial-ingredients-2, “[a]ds for Danone’s popular Activia brand yogurt landed the company with a class-action settlement of $45 million in 2010, according to ABC News. The yogurts were marketed as being “clinically” and “scientifically” proven to boost your immune system and able to help to regulate digestion. The Activia ad campaign, fronted by actress Jamie Lee Curtis, claimed that the yogurt had special bacterial ingredients. As a result, the yogurt was sold at 30% higher prices than other similar products. However, the Cleveland judge overseeing the case said that these claims were unproven.”

Child labour

This form of labour is the most ethical part of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). It ought to be a key component of the CSR agenda of any business that has child labour in its supply chain. Brands that do not exploit children in their factories, fields, etc., do make this known to consumers. Sadly, this, too, in some cases, has become a differentiating factor for some brands, as they use it as a defence mechanism for the media, but also in their marketing communications plans.

Let’s define child labour:

International Labour Organisation (ILO), whose member states include myriad countries—from Austria, Afghanistan, Algeria, and Australia, to Chile, China, Canada and Croatia, to South Africa, Somalia, Sweden and Spain, to Ukraine, Uganda, USA, Uruguay, and so many more, defines child labour “as work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development.”

Basically, according to ILO it refers to any kind of work that is “mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children; and interferes with their schooling by depriving them of the opportunity to attend school; obliging them to leave school prematurely; or requiring them to attempt to combine school attendance with excessively long and heavy work.”

A little back-story on the known beginnings of child labour: Sadly, it dates back to the Industrial Revolution occurring between 1712 – 1914. Children were considered effective labourers because of their small physical stature. Unlike adults, they were able to access places adults could not. In the colonies under European rule, mostly in Africa, governors promoted the use of child labour. Government administrations imposed head taxes on those who were older than eight. This levy helped factories legally recruit young children while at the same time, their adult parents could not work, with family living expenses. On this side of the ocean, in the U.S., child labour was also a common practice. So much so, in the 1900s eighteen percent of all workers in America were children. So child labour was quite prevalent.

Source: International Labour Office, 2013

The ILO, together with UNICEF, concluded that the primary cause of child labour is, indeed, poverty. Then child labour becomes a case of necessity—central, primary and crucial income for the family. That’s a lot of pressure on a little innocent person bearing the weight—literally and figuratively—of what an adult would be tasked to do in normal circumstances.

Marketing and child labour

Before we continue, let’s take a moment to watch these two PSA-type, eye-opening and emotional spots that try to educate and raise awareness about child labour’s rampancy: This one by Unicef: And this one by World Vision Canada:

The effects of child labour are many. Some are physical, while others are psychological. But both can be long-lasting—even permanent—if left untreated. Effects, include:

  • A lack of a normal childhood and its pleasant memories
  • Financial slavery
  • Physical, psychological, and/or sexual abuse
  • Inadequate nutrition, leading to possibly higher rates of diseases or small statures

So you can see why some brands that have child labour in their supply chain are silent about it. Somehow, sometimes, whether due to disaster, flooding, fire, child labour movements, etc., these companies’ practices get exposed. Then it becomes a PR nightmare for such brands. In today’s marketplace where tolerance is at an all-time low when it comes to unethical marketing practices, especially among the Gen Z and Y cohorts, you can appreciate what monumental issues some brands can—and do—face. But there is hope—a silver lining: There are many great brands, as mentioned above, that have never engaged in child-labour practices. Instead, they employ local or even international trade—fairly and equitably. Some of those brands, include:


I researched many definitions on ethical marketing. And many were great. But I settled on Wordstream’s definition because it’s so well written, and it encapsulates and defines the key and pertinent points of ethics in marketing. Here it is:

Ethical marketing relies on a long-term strategy of continuing education, campaigning, and activism. It’s about helping consumers make better, more conscious choices about the products they buy and the stores they frequent. It’s about changing the way we think about how goods are provided, the people who make and sell the things we buy every day, and the communities that rely on fair, ethical trade to survive. It’s about cultivating brand loyalty by aligning your organizational values with those of your ideal customers.

Ethics in marketing and advertising has become a very sensitive subject; it’s being amplified even more, especially in the last fifteen years, with younger cohorts demanding ethical marketing tactics from brands. In today’s complex and cutthroat retail world—online and offline—where brands fiercely compete for consumer attention, they’ve become very creative and resourceful in trying to win over consumers. As such, data (and content) has become the new currency. But sometimes marketers cross the line. But ignorance plays no favourable defence; nor do sympathy or empathy enter consumers’ minds. That said, in today’s digital world, those on the buying end need to be vigilant, leery, demanding, yet trusting, if they want to play in the same sandbox as the others. And those on the selling end, simply put, need to be transparent, ethical and scrupulous with their marketing and advertising—for the greater good.

The Perfect Combination

With the use of multimedia platforms, marketers design million-dollar campaigns, hire a plethora of creative professionals in the hope of eliciting an emotional tie between the consumer and the brand. By igniting an emotional reaction from the client, the marketer hopes to acquire new customers to purchase the brand’s products and services and retain current customers. However, the majority of this layout is highly dependent on the ability to affect and infer the consumers’ behaviour, meaning marketing mainly involves the use of consumer psychology. Although marketing campaigns are heavily reliant on the use of psychology, many businesses remain amiss to the benefits of implementing and considering a psychological component to their advertisements. Before we discuss the possible benefits of applying consumer psychology, we must first understand what it involves.

In a description of consumer psychology depicted by Dr. Lars Perner, consumer psychology involves several aspects, including: 

  1. How consumers think, feel, and differentiate between alternatives, whether it be products, brands or retailers.
  2. How a consumer is affected by socio-cultural aspects
  3. The behaviours executed while making a purchase
  4. How consumer motivation and strategies to arrive at a decision differ between products that vary in price and level of interest.
  5. And finally, how marketing campaigns can implement this knowledge to attract the consumer successfully.

With the use of all the aspects mentioned above, it’s possible that a marketing campaign can reach its consumers using psychology. But how exactly can they implement such ideas?

In an article for Fast Company, Robert Rosenthal, a distinguished German American psychologist, spent the bulk of his career investigating this question and describes five ways marketers can achieve this: 

  1. Run emotional ideas. Studies have proven time and time again that marketing messages accomplish more when they paint a picture of what the consumer will achieve with the product, rather than listing its components and features. Doing this, the marketer is essentially creating a new memory map tied to an emotion of hope or excitement, making it much easier to remember.
  2. Highlight your flaws. A large part of attracting or maintaining your current client list is the building of consumer trust, and this can be done by attending and addressing your product’s flaws instead of deceiving the consumer by hiding their existence.
  3. Reposition your competition. In an ethical and non-bashing way, reframe how the consumers view your competition. This can be done correctly by highlighting how your product can fill benefit a need in their life to a much higher degree, thus making your product the leading contender.
  4. Promote exclusivity. Understanding human needs is a significant benefit, and by understanding human psychology, you can target your customer’s ego by making them feel special if they were to continue in their purchase with your brand.
  5. Introduce fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Underline the possible consequences of their inaction. Loss aversion is an incredibly powerful motivational tool used in psychology that can be used to persuade people to purchase your product if it prevents negative outcomes.

The possible benefits of the intertwining of marketing and psychology are immense. However, there’s also a fragile line between ethical marketing and non-ethical marketing, especially when it comes to implementing subliminal psychological strategies. Several companies in the early 2000s had attempted to subliminally persuade their consumers into purchasing their product by flashing them a picture of the product below the threshold of human awareness. However, in recent years, the scientific community seems to be in consensus that this strategy simply does not work at a significant level. Nonetheless, the practice of psychology in marketing should always take into account the ethical boundaries that shouldn’t be crossed when trying to attract new clients. 

Strong Individuals

With work now defined by the global crisis of the Covid-19 pandemic, the current focus of companies is supporting their workforces—at home. Coupled with technological and safety needs, there is still an opportunity to engage in performance development that aligns with the employee and strategic needs.

“Tough times don’t last, tough people, do.” —Robert Schuller

How do we ensure employees continue to contribute positively to the organization?  How do we develop and nurture the right talents to move our organizations forward once we return to a sense of normal work?  We need to identify the agility and strengths of employees who have been key to our sustenance during the pandemic and translate this knowledge to continued talent development, to sustain and grow organizations to achieve better-than-expected results.

We often characterize strong individuals as having the following characteristics:

  • Relevant job skills
  • Trustworthiness
  • Motivation to work

Skill is the learning ability in people to perform a particular task and do something well. Strong individuals should have the ability to understand where they need to be, where they are, and how they bridge the gap to be there. They have the ability to align others to the future picture and influence them through effective communication. They are visible with a focus to execute and deliver expected results. Good analogy organizations and individuals can follow to develop these skills, is the sports analogy: Like an athlete, employees start by acquiring the knowledge needed for that skill, then create a routine to practice with a discipline to repeat the practice. Central to skill development, is action and discipline, as one moves from novice to expert. Good skills require practice and reflection—the continuous cycle of honing one’s craft to become an expert.

Strong individuals are trustworthy. In addition to the skills required for the job, organizations want to recruit trustable candidates; people want to deal with individuals who have integrity. The ethics and values of a person influence decisions, and are reflected in their behaviors. These values of integrity and trustworthiness, ultimately reflect on performance and results. If there is a disconnect, organizational performance suffers.

Strong individuals are intentional. They put their heart, mind and body into action. For a person to focus and deliver the expected results, self-preparation needs to be there. In both business and life, the strong person needs a balance between heart, mind and body.

Heart: Strong individuals provide emotional stability, and are grounded, due to their values and ethics.

Mind: Strong individuals do not make rash decisions; they are analytical and consider multiple options that align with the beliefs and values.

Body: Strong individuals are aware their actions reflect who they are; they know their visible responses and attitudes are evaluated by others. They also recognize the power of their actions in motivating others to achieve results.

Organizations can develop the skills of their employees, and perhaps influence their actions through motivation, and modelling expected behaviours. At the core of a strong individual, are the values and ethics that are key to their intentions and performance.  It is their integrity that is the compass that defines their work and, ultimately, the performance as an organization.

In reference to a recent quote I came across: CFO says to CEO, “What if we invest money to train our employees, and then they leave?” The CEO responds, “What if we don’t invest money in training our employees, and they stay?” As you can see, proper training and development programs are key to building strong individuals—and companies. Strong individuals, therefore, equals strong companies. The elements noted above ought to be in place, for greater success and ROI. And by ROI, I mean both Return on Investment and Return on Individual.

Remote Leadership

By Bilal Hamadeh & Dr. Susan Murray

The rapid onset of the coronavirus (Covid-19), is changing the way we live and the way we work.

The 2020 Covid-19 pandemic is expected to fundamentally change the way many organizations operate for the foreseeable future—and perhaps well beyond that. As governments and businesses, globally, practice social distancing, remote work becomes the new reality, to ensure the safety of employees and customers. While some businesses have ceased operations, whether due to authoritative directive, voluntarily closing, or functioning with a smaller workforce and limited hours, others have implemented work-from-home arrangements.

Not only is Covid-19 disrupting our daily lives, but it is also impacting how we manage our businesses. Traditional or typical behaviours, habits and practices have changed almost overnight, as leaders grapple with ensuring effective and efficient business continuity through remote offices or working from home. Like government leaders, business leaders have had to quickly adapt to managing the day-to-day activities of their organizations, remotely. Given this, effective management practices are now more critical than ever.

While health and social systems demand first priority, the survival and sustainability of businesses is equally paramount. With both short and longer-term impacts in mind, how do leaders continue to ensure the efficiency and productivity of employees? How does a leader ensure that delivering better-than-expected results, is not compromised?

Research shows us that in times of struggle and crises, human nature can steer us in two directions: 1) fear and helplessness, or 2) self-actualization and engagement (Gallup, 2020). If leaders provide a clear direction for a strong way forward, there is a known “rally effect” that translates to the resiliency of employees and, thus, better-than-expected results (Gallup, 2020).

This is a disconcerting time for employees. The physical team has disappeared, and they are now solo. It is this focus on the individual that is critical for managers. Each individual needs clarity surrounding their role and expectations, and the supports necessary so they can leverage their strengths while in a new-working-model situation. For individuals, it is vital for managers to clearly define how they fit into the bigger mission and purpose of the organization.

The relationship between the manager and the employee is even more critical, now. It is essential to know each employee’s individual needs and strengths, identify how their work contributes to business performance, how expectations are defined, and what accountability measures are in place.  This individualized consideration, coupled with high expectations, is central to better-than-expected results.

What does this look like?  What key managerial actions are central to creating excellence in remote performance?

Clearly define expectations and tasks

Maintaining a focus on organizational goals is fundamental. Each manager should create an organizational structure that can deliver the expected result, and clearly define the responsibility and the task for each individual, with a common purpose at the core.

With remote management, a manager’s skills in setting a clear task will help reduce any conflict and make it easy to align people and link the goals to what they do.

Individual KPIs

Individuals at home may get easily diverted in this new-working-model setting. The rules of engagement have changed. Managers have less control over work environments, and visibility is lacking. Thus, it is essential to create accountability measures. For each phase, set clear expectations and define Key Performance Indicators that are specific for each task and employee, recognizing their skills and competencies.


Constant, effective communication from leaders is fundamental to success. Coupled with messages of care and compassion, managers can use their remote platform to deliver and transfer information. Effective communication is a critical link between planning and successful execution.

Communication is challenging in person—and even more so, remotely. Leaders need to use simple words, a clear trustworthy tone and speak with confidence and empathy. Even more so virtually, a leader needs to connect with people. Likewise, the power of effective listening and responding is respected.  As a manager, ensure you allow employees to share their thoughts and ask questions. Provide time to make sure key messages are understood prior to the end of a meeting. In the absence of physical presence, the online medium of engagement, such as video-conferencing, allows the leader to emotionally connect with employees, provide an opportunity to share key messages, and align work toward a common purpose.

Discipline in Execution

This “new normal” for work demands a new level of execution. Discipline is required to create new daily routines and practices to deliver results. This requires a reset on the daily routines of the workplace, to adapt them to remote work, based on business priority.

For managers, part of this routine will include the virtual monitoring and assessment of the implementation, using KPIs. This frequent monitoring and gap analysis will quickly identify the need for corrective actions and changes if required. As well, it allows the manager and employee to identify and celebrate individual successes related to the goals.

As we navigate this time of global crisis, as leaders, we seek to ensure the overall well-being of our employees, our organization, our society, and ourselves. The complexities of blending work and life at home are creating new stresses. By taking care of, and supporting, individual employees through clear structures, expectations, communications, and routines, leaders create organizational stability and an opportunity to achieve better-than-expected results. It is in times such as these, that leadership is needed and valued most.

The Invisible Assault on Humanity

These are challenging times for all of us. The world is under attack by the Coronavirus Covid-19. I’m not going to sugar-coat it, it’s serious. It’s long-lasting. And it’s going to get worse before it gets better. And the financial woes we will all experience and endure will be monumental. But we’ve done this before with world wars, with the Bubonic Plague spread by fleas, killing 100+ million in Eurasia and Europe, during the 14th century, SARS, spread via respiratory droplets, killing 774, Swine Flu with 18,000+ deaths, and many others. But humanity has always prevailed.

As long as there are new cases of Covid-19 springing up daily, people will remain on the highest alert—to the point where they start to cocoon. Cocooning has been a typical practice by many when global outbreaks or terror-related incidents occur. Safety quickly becomes a top priority—for themselves and their loved ones.

In such a case, like the one we’re all living through now, establishments like restaurants and bars, hotels, air travel, gyms, sporting events, malls, among many more, take the brunt of it—some, to the point where they will no longer be able to weather the storm and will fold.

While most sectors are experiencing challenging times, the grocery sector, as razor-low as its margins are, see a surge in business because food is a necessity. And we’re seeing this now. So stockpiling occurs, based on fear and uncertainty, creating pandemonium. Others also experiencing sales spikes, as a result of government-ordered rules on retail, event and workplace closures, are e-commerce sites like Amazon and Walmart, home entertainment and streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, as well as eat-in services like UberEats and Skip the Dishes. If lockdowns with widespread fear and uncertainty continue for lengthy periods, home improvement companies like Home Depot and Lowe’s will also see a spike in sales because “cocooners” will up-build their nests with increased self-efficiencies, to stay safe, and avoid going out, altogether.

Covid-19 is still in its incline, and it is affecting us all. Consumers aren’t taking any chances; they’re planning on staying put—anywhere from three months up to, yes, 3 years, depending on the cohort and where they’re from. But generally, that’s the sentiment. In this particular case, younger cohorts such as Gen Z and Gen Y, are less impacted, for some unknown medical reason, and therefore, do not feel symptoms like their older counterparts, especially the elderly, 70-plus, who are at highest risk of contracting the virus, and often, sadly, lose the battle. This is where we see the statistics on TV; it’s mostly the elderly. Education, and heeding government and healthcare professionals’ orders and recommendations are absolute key during this time. Not doing so has—not can—dire consequences.

Italy, so far the worst affected outside of China has a death toll in the thousands. One reason is because many younger cohorts have their grandparents living with them. As earlier mentioned, youngsters do not typically feel sick, so they go about their daily life as they normally do. BUT, unbeknownst to them, they are infected with the virus, and consequently, are infecting their elders, and more often than not, death is the result.

As well, Italy’s death rate at the time of writing, tallying 2,978, is also based on those with underlying health issues like diabetes, hypertension and cancer. Based on my sources and readings, it appears northern Italy’s delay to impose complete lockdown measures and containment, earlier, across its own epicentre, Lombardy, may be significantly contributing to their high death rate. Consequently, this has overwhelmed their healthcare system. As a result, Italy is now on track to surpass China in terms of fatalities. Italy has a small fraction of China’s population, whose death rate, so far, tallies approximately 3,000. Relatively speaking, this puts Italy a country mile ahead of China in terms of deaths. This is how serious the situation is, folks, and how seriously it must be taken.

Further, Italians—as all humans are by nature—are very social people. As such, some are still gathering with friends in piazzas, and unknowingly, spreading their infection, further exacerbating the situation. This, when the masses are trying so hard to avoid spreading it; and where the government is spending billions to help mitigate its effects, and ultimately eradicate the virus. Florida is experiencing the same thing for mostly the same reasons. Twenty-five percent of their population, like in Italy, who has the second-lowest birth rate in the world after Japan, is over the age of 65. Their beaches, right now, during March break, are filled, again, with younger kids. Such sites need to be closed off to ensure total containment. Any leaks in the system could have dire consequences in Florida—and well beyond, further spreading the virus.

To combat Covid-19’s effects, today and in the foreseeable future, governments are planning stimulus packages; private companies are discounting their services; those who can, are continuing to pay their staff, banks and governments are reducing interest rates, temporarily covering customers’ mortgage payments for six months; mobile service providers are removing data-overage ceilings, as well as offering free data, and the list goes on. And it needs to. Because we are all in this together: every person from every corner of the planet. So it behooves us to stick together—even if it means virtually, for now—to help overcome this invisible assault on humanity and come out whole on the other side.

Are—or were—businesses prepared for this, like a country would be, after dealing with similar-type situations like SARS and the Swine Flu, for example? Toronto, Canada, experienced the highest amount of deaths during SARS, including front-line workers falling victim to the respiratory-plaguing virus. But we learned a lot, since. And we have prepared ourselves for such events, to help us better and more successfully navigate them. If companies did not have the necessary contingency plans in place to prepare for this, they should have; it’s happening more often. Needless to say, lessons learned. So starting now, going forward—in perpetuity—they all need to. Because it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when it will happen again.

Frontline workers in medicine, transit, policing, retail, emergency, and many more, are working day and night—all fully committed to helping mitigate and hopefully halt this virus, while in so doing, risking their own lives and families. Respecting them and what they all do—for the greater good—the least the rest of us can do is respect what we are asked to do.

Everyone needs to heed the rules, keep abreast, understand the gravity—and the very high price of ignorance. Let’s stick together. Let’s do this together.

Stay safe. Live on.