A strong, aligned organizational culture is critical for any business’s success, and it doesn’t happen by accident. It’s defined by the values and behaviors demonstrated through actions. Organizational culture is the heart of the organization. While organizational cultures have been put to the test with the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, it’s important to look at the big picture in the present and plan accordingly for whatever changes may come. As leaders, we must turn the lens inward and consider the lessons we have learned about ourselves during these times where answers are not always available. When we understand how to shift in all areas of our business and personal lives, we’re better prepared to handle another crisis if and when it occurs. This requires new ways of thinking, adapting, and working.
Before the pandemic, our daily behaviors, interactions, and processes looked different in the work setting from where they are today. Many organizations followed the “this is the way we’ve always done it, so why change?” type of mindset. Additionally, it was our day-to-day, face-to-face interactions that allowed us to connect with our peers and colleagues from a social perspective as well as from a collaborative work environment perspective. For example, many of us had all those face-to-face meetings, various greetings in the hallways, whiteboards with project timelines, walls with core values, shaking hands, networking, and being social. Now, most of these interactions happen across a screen. Another major area that was commonly overlooked were contingency plans.
Many organizations did not have a solid plan in place for what happens when a crisis, pandemic (although we may never have prepared for this), major disaster, and people issue occurs. Prior to the pandemic, many leaders took for granted the way work was completed, who completed it, when it was completed, and so on. This all shifted quickly as organizations responded to the COVID-19 crisis.
Post CrisisWhile it’s difficult to define what “post crisis” or “after” might look like, especially as we are still going through it, organizations have already begun to adjust in ways that were once unfamiliar. For example, decision making looks a lot different as we account for different circumstances, leaders are learning to navigate their teams differently (with many working remotely on a full-time basis), and implementation of new technology is at an all-time high. Knowing how quickly things can change, it’s important to recognize the effects a crisis can have on organizations so that we can prevent, plan, manage, and recover. Being prepared ensures employee needs are met while driving business objectives forward. Below are some areas to consider.
Stay Connected Through CommunicationWith companies forced to learn how to communicate more frequently, effectively, and remotely, many people recognized they couldn’t rely on the former watercooler cascade of information. This has allowed for new cadences of communication at all levels of the organization, especially with the increase in technology. Whether your organization has returned to work in person or is continuing to stay remote, develop a plan for new and efficient ways to communicate with your team without having to be face-to-face with one another. Note that this doesn’t mean add more meetings to the calendar. It means finding ways to check in, pass along information, and stay connected in an efficient and effective manner. This will help your culture stay strong and help people connect back to the larger purpose and organization.
Be Transparent and VulnerableIt’s a myth that leaders have to know the right answer or have an answer in the first place. If this pandemic has taught leaders anything about communication, it’s that vulnerability and getting uncomfortable with saying “I don’t know” are valuable. Even though leaders may not have all the answers, the personal connection created though vulnerability and transparency go a long way in developing trust and loyalty. This is important for leaders to remember regardless of whether there is a crisis or not. When leaders share moments of vulnerability, it helps encourage connection, transparency, and trust throughout the entire organization, even when there are unknowns.
Reinforce Core ValuesWhen it comes to decision making, core values can be used as a guide to support the overall vision and keep organizations on track. It’s easy to question if we’re making the right decisions or to make a decision out of fear, especially in the middle of a crisis. By using the core values as a guide or anchor, decisions are made in an honest and transparent way, all while staying true to your organization’s culture. Review your values and actively reinforce them. After a crisis, using these values to guide people decisions is extremely important for organizational strategy and day-to-day actions and will be the key to rebuilding a high-performing culture.
Put People FirstWe are all going through things in our personal lives. COVID-19 and racial injustice, just to name a few, have made it obvious that employees are deeply affected by factors that occur outside of the office, and leaders have witnessed the effects. Increasing awareness and sensitivity by encouraging difficult conversations, listening and learning from one another’s experiences, and being present each day are some examples of putting employees first. Leaders who tune into this and leverage empathy will leap forward in employee engagement and retention, and employees will bring their discretionary effort every single day.
Organizational culture is an evolution. It can morph and change with your organization. But the strength of your organization’s culture can help you determine how quickly you bounce back from a crisis. Remember, employees need to feel connected to your culture. As you begin to think about your organization’s next evolution after the pandemic, ask yourself, “Does this align with our culture?” and “Is this who we want to be?”