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Tuesday, October 27, 2020

CEO Insider

Company Culture Must Remain Front and Center During These Uncertain Times

With Covid-19 continuing to wreak havoc across corporate America today, many major companies are choosing to remain remote for the foreseeable future, If that’s you, don’t make the mistake of inadvertently putting company culture on the back burner. It is essential to stay diligent in maintaining and enhancing your culture so that staffers feel connected and remain committed to your mission.

Here is what you can do to put your company’s culture back on the agenda during these most tumultuous times:

  1. Craft your “new normal” story
    The game has changed. The pandemic has required us all to do things differently. Your business is no different. That said, you need to articulate what your business “is” and how it is to “operate” during these difficult times. Take care to describe how work is done in the new normal. Make the narrative as vivid as possible. Help your people understand their role and where they fit in the greater scheme of things. When that story is ready to be told, tell it. Be sure all personnel understand how you see the way forward as defined in your new normal vision.
    On his February 6th earnings call, for example, Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey described some of his vision for the social media giant, this way: “As we look forward, we’re reaching a talent pool that expects a lot more remote work…We should be building our company around that.” Clearly, Dorsey is signaling that Twitter’s  new normal includes a distributed workforce piping in from all over the planet.
  2. Reinforce the new culture on a pillar of resiliency
    Your people need to understand that you have their back. Some staffers may be frozen with fear or suffering from the prolonged anxiety. Help them to develop the skills and practices that they need to manage the stress that comes from working remotely. Provide necessary resiliency training and coaching so that they can learn how to overcome the new challenges that the new normal has introduced.
    Johnson & Johnson’s resilience program, for example, reported:
    “Employees experienced sustained improvements in their vitality, general health, and purpose in life as compared to baseline. Sleep, mood, vigor, physical activity, and blood pressure also were improved (as a result of the program).”
    Clearly, programs like Johnson & Johnson’s are needed to fortify an increasingly beleaguered workforce.
  3. Highlight the “potentials” of what buy-in delivers
    It’s a whole lot easier to become inspired if there’s something in it for you. Help your people understand how they can be successful in the evolving culture. Show them the potential that their buy-in will provide to them, as well as the business, should they choose to help you achieve the cultural imperatives outlined in your vision story.
    For instance, Santa Energy in Bridgeport, Connecticut, opened a school with a full-time certified teacher for their staffer’s children. The hybrid learning approach consists of both onsite and remote learning. The model is one that represents a shift in workplace culture (i.e., bring your children to work) and  it demonstrates an employer’s willingness to provide a much needed perk in exchange for continued employee engagement.
  4. Make common decency a centerpiece
    As I wrote in an earlier piece on decency, being decent requires that “we actually begin to live, and behave, by the Golden Rule.” The implication here is that it’s critical to center your evolving business culture around treating ALL of your stakeholders – customers, staff, suppliers, alike – in ways you would want to be treated, if the proverbial shoe was on the other foot. When you do, you will be taking a step towards being a business that can’t be ignored.

Southwest Airlines founder, Herb Kelleher, famously said “Think small and act small, and we’ll get bigger. Think big and act big, and we’ll get smaller.” Kelleher was known as an ambassador of decency. We need to adopt some of this kind of thinking and weave it into our COVID-19 culture transformation work.

In the final analysis, unprecedented times require unprecedented actions. You have to be willing to do whatever it takes to keep culture top-of-mind so that you can reignite your staffer’s passion for the business and eager to do the work at hand.


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James Kerr
James Kerr, founder at Indispensable Consulting, is a long-time management consultant, vision maker and leadership coach. For nearly 30 years, he has helped his clients re-imagine the way work is organized and performed. His latest book, INDISPENSABLE: How to Build and Lead A Company Customers Can’t Live Without, is his 6th business title. Kerr is an expert in leadership, strategy, organizational design and cultural transformation. James M. Kerr is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Follow him on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.