How can you recreate a strong company culture after a period of crisis?
How easy is it to maintain a strong company culture in the face of crisis? This is an especially valid question when you consider that often, culture-building efforts are sidelined in favour of survival. It stands to reason, implementing these activities during the early days of a global crisis such as Covid-19 would be like rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic.
A crisis doesn’t need to be global to be significant. For example, the sudden death of a senior and charismatic leader will send shockwaves throughout an organization. A serious accident at a factory can disrupt operations and emotions in an otherwise high-performing business.
When these crises occur, they affect more than just the people directly involved in the situation. There will be operational challenges that affect the way people work. There will be emotional issues too. Job security may worry some, while others may feel unable to deal with the increased workload.
But here’s the irony. Despite culture being deprioritized in favour of survival, these very changes affect organizational culture and change the working environment.
What is company culture?
At its most theoretical, company culture is the unspoken set of rules that define an organization. It’s intangible and will set two otherwise identical companies apart. Company culture is why some businesses struggle to keep hold of staff while others regularly celebrate 10 or 15-year tenures with their employees.
It has been said that 'culture is the soul of a company.' So, what defines this culture? What are the components of this rediscovered soul?
Believing that successful companies are created by talented people working together to accomplish common goals, company culture is more than just the workplace environment, It is the values and principles that guide how people work and interact together .
Company culture is expressed in any number of ways. The language used in daily working life reflects culture as do the values and norms you see displayed. The underlying assumptions and beliefs that employees have and the habits that leaders, managers and employees exhibit are also clear demonstration of culture. From dress code through to working hours, a company’s culture is there for everyone to see.
There are five dimensions that contribute to company culture :
1. Beliefs and values
Beliefs provide the guidelines for how people should act, while values give the motivation to live up to those beliefs. The most successful companies don't just talk about their values: they live them and share them with the world.
2. Attitudes and behaviours
Attitudes are also important as they affect the way we behave towards others. Behaviours contribute to company culture as they providea clear definition of what people should or shouldn't do
3. The physical space we occupy and how we use it
The physical environment is a major aspect of company culture as it defines how people interact and communicate
4. Annual events and traditions
These activities represent the history, values, sense of identity and culture of the company
5. The way we choose to lead
Leadership is essential for company culture as it determines how people feel about their organization and whether they are motivated
Does company culture really matter?
It’s easy to pass off company culture as a modern phenomenon; a fad that will be replaced by the next ‘big thing’ in a few years’ time.
But this misses the point. Every organization has a culture whether they choose to recognize it or not. By understanding and nurturing your culture, you can create a path for your business that supports your success in much the same way as a well-planned business strategy. Three of the most important impacts of culture are customer appeal, employee brand and employee resilience.
Consider a business such as Ikea. They work hard to attract the best employees and radiate positivity with a strong focus on nurturing this talent as you can read in this culture-focused article. This creates a strong level of customer appeal – even if you don’t personally enjoy the experience yourself, you probably know someone who loves a trip to Ikea and it’s likely you have at least one piece of Ikea furniture at home or in your office.
On the flipside, beer company Brewdog have been exposed for a series of toxic practices amounting to a highly negative culture with a weak employee brand. Recognised as an ‘avoid’ by freelance workers for some time, former permanent employees sent an open letter revealing the ‘feeling of fear’ which characterised the Brewdog culture. And that’s not all. There are also rumours of unethical financial practices. The result? Negative press and social media coverage and a reputation that leaves a bad taste in the mouth of future investors and current customers.
It is a common belief that , while some industry experts claim that even strong companies can be dragged down by a crisis if they have lost their company culture. This is not an uncommon occurrence , especially when new management or owners come into play
Company culture does more than attract or repel employee and clients. It also informs the way your employees behave. In a culture that has a strong degree of psychological safety, employees are more innovative and resilient. This means they’re better equipped to deal with crises and are more likely to bounce back ready to continue growing your business.
How can you ensure a strong culture when working remotely?
Remote working can be a challenge for any company that’s serious about ensuring a positive culture. Without the small interactions that make in-person working so easy, it can quickly create a splintered culture with siloed teams.
Managing company culture remotely is possible as tech companies such as Buffer demonstrate. With a 100% remote team, they work hard to ensure the culture that develops is in line with their expectations.
The key to remote company culture management is to be intentional. Choosing to engage in activities that will build and reinforce your culture will mean more progress than choosing to allow your culture to evolve at its own rate and in its own direction.
- Managers and leaders should schedule regular face time with employees and encourage employees to do this with one another. This continues the connectedness that employees value and ensures everyone’s contribution is recognised.
- Hold regular team communication events such as company-wide webinars to ensure all employees are exposed to the same messages in the same way. Tools such as voting or an event hashtag can amplify the event and increase engagement.
- Continue to recognise and reward employees for their work. Remote work can quickly feel unrewarding if employees are isolated and don’t interact with others.
- Aim to replicate the company rituals that form an essential part of your workplace culture. Perhaps it’s Friday cakeday or Monday team meetings. Either can be replicated in a remote setting, they just need a little more thought. If you need to, consider replacing these rituals with a more remote-appropriate alternative. The act of continuing rituals reinforces their importance and sets the ground for stronger inter-employee connection.
- Actively encourage casual interactions. The casual interaction is often a casualty of remote work. But with thought, this doesn’t need to be the case. Collaboration tools such as Slack allow employees to engage with one another in an informal, natural manner. You can set up different channels to allow employees to engage in the lines of their interests. Perhaps a sports-fan channel where employees can talk about last night’s match, just as they would in the office. Or how about a Yoga channel where employees who want to connect over a relaxing vinyasa can do so, just as they might in the gym next door to your usual office space. These relaxed interactions can help improve collaboration.
Bringing on new hires can prove a challenge when it comes to culture. For this reason, it’s essential to consider the way in which you onboard new hires. You can’t NOT experience a company’s culture when you work in a central location. But it can be more difficult to sense the culture when working remotely, especially for new and inexperienced employees. This could quickly impact employee retention if not addressed.
Adapting your onboarding process to take account of culture is essential. In the same way as you’d make sure new starters have access to the right software and contacts, you can take steps to ensure they feel the culture as quickly as possible. This could include:
- A new starter event – either in-person or webinar style
- A new starter channel on your collaboration software
- A buddy system where someone they wouldn’t normally work with takes them under their wing and introduces them to the ‘way things are done around here’.
How can you reconnect employees with your company culture after the pandemic?
After any crisis, a company’s culture may feel shaky. The social capital that a culture depends on – the relationships and casual interactions between individuals - will have reduced as employees dealt with the unfolding situation. The loss of social capital can affect employees in more than one way. As well as impacting working relationships, the isolation of lockdowns and associated loss of social capital has had a devastating effect on mental and physical wellbeing for many people.
It’s crucial to rebuild social capital. Gently and safely reintroducing social events and co-working gives employees the opportunity to safely rebuild those connections and share their experiences. By doing this you can start to rebuild the community that sat at the core of your company’s culture.
You should also ensure employees know that your company vision remains constant. As much as the details may need to change, by reassuring your staff that you still stand for the same thing, they understand that their mission and purpose remains the same. This helps them set their own direction for work and creates a shared future for you all to work towards
As much as a shared future is important, much of a company’s culture is built upon the company’s past. The stories of what built your organisation are a crucial part of who you are today. For this reason, it’s essential to acknowledge how the pandemic or another crisis has shaped the organization. You may have grown, or you may have had to lose employees. That’s now part of your story and should be honoured. By ignoring it you may lose the faith of employees who have suffered during times of crisis.
Company culture can never be ticked off a to-do list or passed over to be completed at a later date. It is your organization and the way in which you respond to this will affect future success. Take an intentional and committed view to understanding and evolving your culture and you’ll see positive results.
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