A Resilient Culture Prevails in Times of Crisis

If there’s anything the pandemic has taught us about growing businesses it’s that resiliency and flexibility are key for contending with disruptions. These traits must extend beyond operational processes and into the heart of a company’s culture. Creating a strong company culture isn’t easy: People must grow together organically. However, company leadership can implement a plan to help spur this organic growth, even amid external turmoil. 

Establish a plan with clear goals

Our company created a COVID pandemic-response plan with three succinct goals: prepare, respond, and recover. To prepare for the pandemic, we created a task force to update policies and best determine how to keep employees safe during the pandemic. To meet the “response” goal, that task force developed a resource center and regular communications updates. Currently, we are in the “recover” phase as we determine safe strategies for how and when to return to the office. 

Distilling a detailed plan into clear components focused on employee well-being helped generate company-wide buy-in and support. Hopefully, leaders won’t have to develop more pandemic-response plans. However, it is wise to establish guidelines or plans for any culture-building initiative. 

Because culture depends on the people within an organization, it must begin with clearly defined and meaningful guiding principles that map back to those goals. Surveys highlight what employees look for in thriving company cultures. Some repeated words in these studies include “transparency,” “collaboration,” “integrity,” and the concepts of caring and respect. Poll your organization’s employees to determine the values they hold closely. 

For example, our employees care strongly about family and the ability to have a flexible work/life balance and a family-first culture. To ensure employees feel this need is met, we recently expanded parental leave and offer flexible hours for school and other family events. We found our employees also feel strongly about being active members of their community. As a result, the company’s cultural plan has a goal of and emphasizes community participation. When our organization was forced to make sudden changes in the wake of the pandemic, we were easily able to ensure these values remained part of the prepare, respond, and recover plan. 

Encourage a resilient culture 

A company culture should always reinforce employee values and promote resilience. For example, our company was able to remain resilient in the face of the COVID crisis through crisis-response programs. Because everyone at our organization felt connected by shared values, they were able to trust that our response would be transparent and keep their well-being in mind. 

To help maintain employee well-being and safety, we:

  • Established a resource center: Maintaining a go-to source for health information, local regulatory agency information and wellness resources shows employees that their well-being comes first. 
  • Implemented an expanded PTO policy: When COVID struck, our organization paused limits on PTO cap accrual and made extended time available  to care for family members. 
  • Offered work-from-home (WFH) equipment accommodations: Long-term WFH may be the new professional paradigm. Embracing this shift by providing stipends to employees for at-home workspace improvements or workout equipment can help them move into this new environment more easily. 
  • Doubled down on health and wellness investments. In addition to workout-equipment stipends, we partnered with a local fitness organization to provide expert advice and remote classes for employees. They’ve leveraged those services to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars worth of wellness coaching. 
  • Maintained strong and consistent communications: Daily emails from the CEO along with weekly all-hands meetings to keep everyone up-to-date and connected are important. Similar communications arrangements can act as the proverbial glue holding individuals together in a cohesive unit. 

By extending these offerings and developing new policies, the executive team let employees know that their health and safety comes first. These changes helped ensure that the values employees care about, such as family and flexibility, were still important even during a crisis. 

Hopefully, not every disruption is as grave as the recent pandemic. However, even for smaller challenges, leaders can still learn from this approach to crisis remediation by implementing similar, ongoing offerings. 

For example: An employer-sponsored employee assistance program may provide counseling for marital, parental or financial problems, and/or assistance for specific conditions such as substance abuse, smoking and gambling. This program can include on-site personal development and/or stress management workshops, seminars, or classes. Community-oriented programs, such as employee-run charity programs, can be an ongoing activity that allows people to bond over shared values. If and when an organization experiences serious disruptions, these ongoing cultural programs can inform a response and recovery plan.  

Building culture is a continuous process

Once your organization establishes a plan with clear goals and implements programs to support that plan, it must continue to foster the company’s culture. Tools, such as regular employee sentiment surveys, can keep cultural goals aligned with employee needs. Leaders can otherwise encourage employees to share their experiences, and highlight the efforts and resiliency of employees both during times of crisis and during regular business activity. The only way to persevere through challenging times is to build an engaging, transparent and welcoming culture aligned with employee needs.