Nothing guides your company’s overall direction like the culture you establish. Your culture is made up of what you do, how you act, and the values you hold dear. It also encompasses the way you do things – the practices and procedures you put in place to do the best work possible. It should permeate every aspect of your organization from top to bottom. And while culture is important, it’s also essential you know how to maintain and empower your culture during the most challenging of times.
2020 has been challenging in one way or another for every business, no matter what industry it’s in. That’s why it’s so vital to recognize that your company’s culture may have to continue to adapt to rampant changes. The pandemic has put up obstacles for many, but the companies who are able to maintain the right culture find themselves being able to thrive.
In the face of so many seemingly competing priorities, how do successful companies keep culture at the top of their organizational to-do list? Let’s take a closer look at three actions you can adopt to help empower your culture during a pandemic.
Communicate the importance of having a purpose
Your company no doubt has an overarching purpose that every single person within the organization is driving toward. It’s what aligns all your disparate teams. Ultimately, everyone should have the same general objective. But within your organization can be multiple teams, departments, or agencies that have varied and distinctive roles. They’re all vital to the health of the business in their own way, but they have different goals. For example, your business development department won’t have the same individual team mission as human resources or recruiting. One looks to win new business while the other tries to attract talent. Both have your company’s best interests in mind but have different tasks to help achieve success.
Your company’s purpose is a major part of its culture. It’s what motivates everyone within the company. That’s why your culture should emphasize the following:
- Understanding your company’s purpose
- Having clarity of purpose around your specific team within the company
- Maintaining a working knowledge of every other department’s general purpose
This accomplishes a few things. First, it keeps everyone’s eye on the ball. The pandemic has made it much harder for team members to focus. Working remotely combined with other concerns can make this a real challenge for everyone in your business, no matter how organized they can stay. Making it a top-down priority for teams to continue understanding the company (and their department) purpose helps emphasize why it is the team members are doing what they’re doing. It reassures them that their roles have meaning and are necessary for larger-scale organizational success. People respond to change best when they are learning and they have a higher purpose.
So how do you communicate the importance of having a purpose? By making a point to socialize it at multiple touchpoints with your employees. That means repeating it in several forums, including:
- Individual virtual team meetings
- One-on-one performance reviews or conference calls
- Virtual all-hands meetings
- All-hands emails or other employee communications
This may seem redundant, and it is, but in this case, repetition can be a good thing. It reinforces that your team members and overall organization should maintain your focus on the task at hand, no matter the state of the world around you.
This doesn’t mean you can’t allow your employees some flexibility in these trying times. Quite the opposite – showing flexibility in the face of a pandemic is precisely what’s going to allow you to continue producing at a high level. But by emphasizing the importance of having a purpose, you’re establishing why it is you’re continuing to plow ahead, no matter the external circumstances.
Clarifying your organization’s purpose – as well as the purpose of individual teams within the larger organization – will remind everyone what the ultimate goal of the organization is.
Coach for organizational learning
Every company has different qualities they look for in their employees. Yours may vary by industry. One quality that every organization should look for in all employees is the desire to pursue lifelong learning. The concept of lifelong learning is when a person seeks education on a variety of topics, no matter their career level, age, or professional station. Whether they’re 16 years old or 96, they always look to add new, valuable skills and information to their own personal skillset.
How do you encourage and foster this as a company? By coaching for organizational learning. Offer your employees corporate training or offer to pick up the tab for it. Help them expand their intellectual horizons on the skills that will help them (and your company grow) professionally. This doesn’t just help your organization. It also helps your team members become more “employable.” They’ll become even more well-versed in their position, and potentially grow the skills needed to take on new ones.
As an example, consider that you have a team within your organization with no management experience. By offering some type of leadership training, you then equip everyone on that team to be a manager or leader in the future. That doesn’t mean they’ll all get the opportunity to manage within that particular team – timing and circumstances may render that impossible. But it opens up the possibility that you can move them to other teams that need a manager. It only makes everyone on the team more valuable. They’ll know more and as leaders, can help pass their learning on to other members of the team not yet trained in that specific skill. You can also encourage shared learnings between team members and reward them for pursuing this.
Including organizational learning as part of your culture is a good idea at any stage of your business, but it’s particularly crucial during a pandemic. Having a company willing to educate and train its team members allows your organization to become more adaptable. Consider the now seemingly simple skill of videoconferencing. Before the pandemic, you may have had a fraction of your team who feels comfortable not just operating video conferencing software, but actually running a virtual meeting. Now? It’s quickly become a necessity for just about 100% of your organization. By having a culture that promotes learning, you give your team members the tools to learn these essential, yet practical skills. In turn, your company will be stronger for it.
Turn to a diverse set of personas to manage change
During the pandemic, change has been unavoidable. Just about every organization in every industry is dealing with some sort of adaptation or change as they adjust their business practices to a new normal. Typically, this has meant many companies end up having to react to unforeseen changes they didn’t anticipate. In handling these changes, they’ve needed to get creative, applying innovative solutions to uncommon problems.
That’s why your company’s culture should include leaning on a diverse set of personas to manage change. You’ll want to build skills in areas like storytelling, anthropology, collaboration, decision-making and experimentation. Different personas will help with the development and execution phase of new ideas.
You’ll also want to have the team members with the best ideas contributing to solving the new issues you’re attempting to tackle. Tap into the knowledge and experience of your employees with different backgrounds, races, ages, and levels of professional success. Great ideas can come from anywhere – whether it’s the 30-year veteran or the new hire right out of college.
Looking for innovative solutions from a wide range of employees also helps your team members feel heard. A 2019 Gallup survey discovered only one in five employees feel as if their opinions count at work. Let’s say those numbers are true, and companies are only listening to 20% of their workforce. Think of the great ideas being left off the table that could lead to much more positive outcomes for your organization by listening to the unheard 80%.
Encouraging a diverse set of personas to provide feedback gives everyone at your company a seat at the table. Certainly, this will enhance your innovation and create a safe place for new ideas. There will come a time when someone in your company’s leadership has to make a tough decision on their own. But there are many times when opening up a problem to multiple, diverse voices can give you a much deeper perspective on how to solve it. You may find your team coming up with solutions that otherwise you may have not considered.
The bottom line on empowering your culture during a pandemic
Having a strong, well-defined culture is always vital to your company’s success. During a pandemic, that need grows even stronger. Your culture can act as your company’s north star. It will help guide you when times get turbulent. There are three major actions every company should take to help empower this culture, including:
- Communicate the importance of having a purpose
- Coach for organizational learning
- Turn to a diverse set of personas to manage change
By following those three best practices, you can maintain clarity with your employees. You can help them grow their skills and become more effective in their roles. You also expose your company’s leadership to a wider, more diverse array of opinions to help solve new problems.