As we move forward in the ‘new’ world of work, COVID lifted the veil on workplace culture, good, bad and downright ugly.

Have you ever felt that the valleys (not-so-great times) teach you the lessons mountain tops (business flying high) never could? For some businesses, this is the deepest valley they’ve ever faced.

A crisis tends to exacerbate and bring out people’s true essences. Organizations are made of people. People can strengthen or erode an organization’s culture by a single action, a single decision, a single word. The COVID-19 pandemic provided a behind the scenes look at organizational cultures as we see this played out in newspapers around the world.

I have found it is not the organization with the largest balance sheet, the most aggressive marketing plan, nor the biggest quarterly profits… but it is those with the healthiest cultures that emerge stronger after a crisis.

Too many companies bet on a cut-throat, take-no-prisoners culture to drive financial success. There’s an assumption that pressure and stress drive employees to achieve more. What these organizations don’t realize – or ignore altogether – are the hidden costs of an unhealthy culture: stress, disengagement, lack of loyalty.

Research shows that healthcare expenditures at companies with high-pressure cultures are nearly 50% greater than at other organizations, with almost 80% of workplace accidents attributed to stress. Unsurprisingly, disengagement is low when people aren’t happy or find meaning in their work. In studies by the Gallup Organization, disengaged workers have 37% higher absenteeism, 49% more accidents, and 60% more errors and defects. In turn, this results in people leaving, workplace stress caused by unhealthy cultures leads to an increase of almost 50% involuntary turnover. 

The coronavirus ‘valley’ has created a moment of truth for every company. Leaders are rightly asking themselves: Are our choices and actions reflecting our culture, purpose, and values that we espouse? We have seen companies with healthy lifestyles enjoy continued and even greater success during this pandemic such as Slack, Culture Amp, and Best Western Hotels. 

Photo by Campaign Creators on Unsplash

Culture doesn’t belong to one person, it doesn’t belong to the top leadership group, it’s something to share and co-create with your people. Use this time to reconnect with your purpose and values. When this crisis has passed, and you climb back on the mountaintop, will you look back with pride at how your company responded?

If the answer is no, then change it.

Culture, although intangible and nebulous, can be changed using a structured change management approach:

  • Define ‘as is’ culture state – gain a ‘warts and all’ understanding of what the culture is today.
  • Define ‘desired’ culture state – explicitly define the culture of tomorrow, what does it look like, feel like?
  • Gap analysis and action planning
    • Enlist top down support – is there visible and active advocacy from each area in the business?
    • Make the desired culture real – what visible indicators, rituals, symbols and behaviors demonstrate the desired culture? Provide simple Do’s and Don’ts for people to follow.
    • Alignment with organizational elements – have we integrated the desired culture to influence how we lead, how we hire, how we develop, how we reward, and how we retain our people?
  • Continuous improvement: What culture metrics are relevant and how will we measure them? Are we feeding the results back into the change program to drive cultural alignment? Are we learning from culture leaders within and outside of our industry?

Culture always matters, but it matters now more than ever.

Photo by LinkedIn Sales Navigator on Unsplash