Culture in Uncertain and Chaotic Times

By Rob Wolff, Vice President

For the majority of us, this is definitely NOT business as usual.   In our own ways, most of us are struggling to identify and adapt to a “new normal” and that brings with it numerous challenges. For some, the changes are subtle and low impact, while others are in full “reinvent the wheel” mode.  Where does company culture come in and what role does it play?  I’ve noticed a number of things after working with several of our business owners and CEOs since the start of the pandemic.

For Leaders

Back in early March, I added a statement to my email signature that comes courtesy of Lee Kaiser – “It’s not how you lead in a crisis; it’s how you lead every day that gets you through the crisis.” Every day I see a new article or receive an invitation to a webinar that’s focused on “Leading in Times of Crisis” or something similar. While there are definitely areas that need focus and adaptation during times like this, these articles and webinars make it sound like there’s some quick fix that’ll make navigating unknown waters faster and easier.

Each of my clients already made the decision to intentionally focus on and manage their company’s culture well before the Covid-19 crisis.  They’ve been very clear about what they want and need their teams to focus on, and have been very specific about how they want their teams to work with each other, with customers, and even with vendors and suppliers.  They’ve been practicing it and teaching it over and over, so when the world around them changed, the core elements that drive success were baked-in and have become like “muscle memory”.  As leaders, they’ve invested the time, energy, and resources to teach their teams so that they’ll be prepared for just about anything. The team that understands what behaviors drive success, and that works together very effectively, is better prepared for change than the typical organization.  Leaders drive this level of clarity and understanding by making culture a priority.

For Teams

According to Gallup, 62% of the American workforce is now working remotely/virtually. I’ve hosted Zoom meetings for several clients to offer their teams some social interaction while exploring the role of their company culture during the pandemic. As regular readers of this blog know, we help companies define their culture in the form of behaviors (or, as we call them, Fundamentals).  We used these virtual meetings to discuss and review how their Fundamentals did or could have helped them with some of the unique challenges that they’ve been facing since they and/or their own customers have had to change how they work.

A common theme among these groups was that although their place of work or method of interaction may have changed, having a clearly defined set of Fundamentals to guide their actions and activity made it easier to deliver consistent results. It was easier for them to adapt to the change in workplace or method because the “how” of their work didn’t change.  When there’s extraordinary clarity about what’s expected of you and what you can expect of your teammates, it’s then easier to maintain your focus on delivering results – despite whatever changes you’re experiencing.

I also saw that team members who struggle with change and uncertainty found comfort and stability in using their Fundamentals as a guide. While every set of Fundamentals is comprised of common sense, logical behaviors, people often find it difficult to focus and think clearly when under pressure.  As we worked through examples of pandemic-driven challenges, I saw case after case where employees used their list of Fundamentals as a literal checklist to ensure they were driving the best possible outcomes. In follow-up discussions with Leadership, I heard that employees who would historically struggle without direct guidance were now more engaged and thriving, despite the change all around them.

Change is inevitable. Sometimes the change is subtle and sometimes it’s extraordinary.  Having a clearly defined and widely understood company culture provides stability and direction – no matter how turbulent the waters. When it comes to what’s really important, you may have to change and adapt, but you don’t necessarily need to reinvent.

If you’d like to learn how practicing Fundamentals can create more clarity and stability for your organization, click the button below, join us at our annual Culture Summit in October, or check out our recently updated website

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