Resetting your culture in light of COVID-19

The world has been grappling with the impact of COVID-19 on individuals, businesses, and society. In a short period of time, organisations have faced significant disruption and have had to rapidly re-evaluate their business and operating models to survive. 

The world continues to grapple with the impact COVID-19 is having on individuals, businesses and society. In a short period of time, organisations have faced significant disruption and have had to rapidly re-evaluate their business and operating models to survive. 

In the UK, we have entered a technical recession for the first time in 11 years and in September, over 1,700 employers warned the government of major redundancy plans.  Following the second national lockdown which took place in November and the introduction of tiered and regional restrictions in the UK, it is clear that the pandemic will continue to bring changes to businesses and how we work for years to come. One aspect that is likely to be overlooked or underestimated by businesses will be their organisational culture.

The culture of an organisation evolves over time and is heavily driven by the business’ priorities and values. When the focus of an organisation changes, a successful culture requires more than simply replicating the old culture, making adjustments to a few behaviours or implementing basic initiatives, such as weekly check-in calls with management. Instead organisations will need to critically assess how their company and culture have been, and will continue to be, affected by COVID-19 and how they can maintain or evolve their culture accordingly. Consider this a wholesale ‘reset’ of your organisations’ culture to make it fit for the future.

Our article explores how to navigate an organisational culture ‘reset’, during a time of uncertainty, by exploring the three core levers of an organisation’s culture.

While an organisations’ culture is shaped by its underlying beliefs, values and behaviours, it is also significantly influenced by the business priorities, purpose and vision. They all form part of the architecture that allows an orgnaisation to deliver its vision. Therefore, it is critical that the leadership collectively review how their recent business decisions might affect the vision and the culture, and consider what proactive actions could be taken to prepare for the future as it evolves. 

For example, has there been a shift in the central proposition or has the business model changed? Will the business be targeting new customers, entering new markets or exiting markets? All of these will impact the design of processes, use of technology or the organisation’s brand and could also impact values, behaviours or beliefs.

Review whether the implicit and explicit elements of your culture are still fit for purpose and consider whether they need to be redefined to support the new direction. For example, before COVID-19 an organisation may have prided itself on growing its customer base through attracting new customers. Going forward the organisation may decide to shift towards deepening its relationships with its existing client base and selling more products and services to them. As a result of this decision, the fast-paced acquisition behaviours that were developed and cultivated may no longer be helpful for this change in priorities. They will need training and role modelling from across the organisation to help them move to a culture which prioritises listening to its customers.

  1. Communicating this change in business direction within and outside of the organisation is key. 
  2. Leaders need to be able to translate the business change into the organisations’ values and behaviours, and provide clarity on what that means for employees in their day-to-day interactions, processes and attitudes.

The leadership, their behaviours and approaches to decision making play a key part in ensuring that the desired culture is lived every day. Leaders must be honest and transparent about any changes in the leadership structures and approaches for decision making. For example, if an organisation needs to be more agile as a result of Covid-19 this will impact how decisions are made and by whom. 

  1. A reduction in bureaucracy and greater decision-making power for managers should be publicised by leaders to illustrate the shift to a more empowered managerial team.
  2. By openly communicating any changes to the culture, it can provide employees with an opportunity to input into or influence the cultural building blocks. 
  3. In addition role modelling by management and senior leadership is also key to encourage and embed any changes in the behaviours and approached expected in the organisation.

Using emotive, person-centred stories to engage your employees and bring the culture to life is a valuable lever which can help maintain a healthy workplace culture. Many companies often think about the stories they want to tell their customers and their industry about themselves. However, the stories told to employees are far more important in boosting feelings of belonging or building the desired collective behaviours. As organisations re-evaluate the culture they would like to have versus the culture they had prior to COVID-19, it is important to consider the stories and underlying messages that should be told and how to tell them. 

  1. Think about the best way to reach your employees and build an emotional connection with the company culture and values to gain their engagement and input. 
  2. Think beyond the standard Zoom or Teams calls and devise creative ways to connect with your employees whilst maintaining a personal touch. For example, using smaller breakout sessions, rather than traditional meeting styles, to discuss company changes and allowing time for Q&A to help promote relationship building and transparency.
  3. Sending postcards or personalised emails can help promote feelings of inclusivity and importance. If done right, leveraging the principles of storytelling through communications can be critical in both creating and maintaining the desired company culture.

Conclusion

As we head towards a future world with Covid-19, however uncertain this may be, organisations will have a need to evaluate and redefine their culture. Although, this may be daunting, it is also an opportunity to define a culture that reflects the future of the business, works better for its employees and potentially provides a competitive advantage, in terms of attracting and retaining its employees.

By evaluating your culture through its component parts, what we call the ‘core cultural levers’, it will become clear which ones no longer support the new culture. Through evaluation, you will then be able to identify which aspects (either structural, behavioural, visible, invisible or invisible) need to be changed to support the future of the business. At Moorhouse we have experience of supporting clients through culture transformation and our new proprietary tool can assist with understanding your organisational culture and help inform future interventions. Before taking any action, consider the following questions:

• Does the culture still align with and support any changes to your business strategy, vision and goals?

• What role and skills will leadership need to drive and role model the desired culture?

• How can communications and technology be leveraged to introduce the new culture and drive engagement with employees? 

If you would like to understand more about our perspectives on and approach to culture transformation, please contact Avarina Vaughan and Elizabeth Adeoye.

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Authors

Elizabeth Adeoye

Consultant

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Avarina Vaughan

Manager

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