As organizations turn their focus to rebuilding and recovering from the COVID-19 crisis, or any crisis, one critical component to their company’s success and employees’ experience, that leaders may overlook, is culture. The coronavirus crisis has forced us to make changes in our day-to-day lives – from the way we way work, to our daily routines, and how we connect with others. All those changes impact work culture.

The way leaders adapt and respond to these changes can have lasting impacts on who their companies become. We know that crisis can bring out the best and worst in people, and the same applies to an organization. Some teams have rallied together and quickly pivoted focus to address new challenges and shifting demand.  

One example that I found particularly inspiring comes from a Sun in my Belly, a local restaurant in the Kirkwood neighborhood in Atlanta. The restaurant owner told the team they would have to change or close and, according to the manager, the team came together to turn the restaurant into a general store that sold needed supplies, fresh ingredients from Georgia Farms, and local products from nearby vendors that were forced to close (read the story here.) The restaurant team members pivoted quickly without losing sight of their culture and their role in serving the local community.

Other organizations may have tried to carry on with the mantra of ‘just do the same thing, virtually.’  While my day-to-day tasks and responsibilities as a consultant have not shifted significantly, my team and I deliberately came together to talk about how we were going to work together differently. Work did change to virtual, but we did not just ‘do the same thing.’ At Jabian, one of our cultural principles is ‘Balance what is right for the firm, our people, and our communities.’ During this time, ‘balance’ for my team translated to short breaks in the day to walk around the neighborhood block to reset and refocus. We looked at our cultural values and figured out the behaviors we needed to adopt to thrive in our new environment while continuing to support our business objectives.

Among the uncertainty, fear, and the human toll, espousing a policy of ‘business as usual’ can translate to a lack of empathy and understanding to employees. Organizations that have tried not to change may inadvertently hurt their culture. As a result, this approach may highlight aspects of company culture that impede productivity, engagement, and focus on the critical work.

With our current events and state of businesses, leaders have a unique opportunity to focus on culture. Many leaders have already begun to ask what they can do to address culture challenges that the crisis has amplified and to ensure their teams’ ways of working remain consistent with their business strategy. I believe organizations should take advantage of this inflection point and address how they can inject positive changes to their culture.

Leaders can start by asking themselves three simple questions:

1.     What’s working well in our culture?

2.     What’s not working well in our culture?

3.     How do we hold on to the good while letting go of the bad?

I think it’s helpful to define culture and what makes it first. I think of culture as ‘the way things are done,’ and it forms from a combination of a company’s values, employees’ mindsets – the assumptions and expectations about the world around us, and the behaviors – or the way we act driven by our mindsets or values.  

The graphic below highlights the impact of crisis on the components of culture:

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During and after a crisis such as COVID-19, a company’s values will likely not change but employees’ assumptions, expectations, and actions will look different, which in turn changes culture.

When leaders reinforce the mindsets and behaviors that align to strategic goals while minimizing or eliminating behaviors that do not, organizations are better positioned to achieve successful outcomes and better cope.

For example, leaders may want to reinforce and expand cultural attributes and behaviors such as:

•      Taking initiative in finding ways work differently and productively

•      Providing open, honest, and transparent communications

•      Helping individuals be their authentic selves

•      Mentoring, developing others, or creating whether in person or remote

•      Recognizing employees for their accomplishments and contributions

Conversely, if leaders observe any potential damaging culture attributes or behaviors within their organizations, they need deliberate interventions to minimize and remove them:

•      Managers lack empathy when personal circumstances, work, and home life collide 

•      Stated values do not translate to everyday actions

•      Employees resist change and challenge new thinking

•      Leaders punish risk-taking and mistakes to the point that it squashes creativity

At Jabian, we help clients understand how their company culture affects their ability to deliver their strategy effectively and define the unique set of mindsets and behaviors that will help them thrive. When companies focus on building a culture aligned to their business vision and strategy, leaders can expect better employee engagement and retention, stronger connection to purpose, an increased focus on innovation or continuous improvement.

To learn more about Jabian’s approach to culture change and how we can help your organization visit us here.