In the scale up world, we hear a lot about culture. While the term may bring to mind perks such as pool tables and happy hours, true culture goes deeper. It forms the fabric of your business and makes a big difference for your bottom line. Research continually demonstrates that employees with a strong connection to their business’s culture are more engaged. Businesses with great cultures attract the best people, too.
A definition of business culture is an organisation’s shared behaviours, values, and assumptions, all of which take a while to cultivate. Culture doesn’t happen overnight.
For CEOs, the COVID-19 crisis is creating an unprecedented challenge: how to maintain their hard earned culture when most employees are working from home, some for the first time ever. Leaders must find new ways to uphold their culture, which typically leans heavily on face to face interactions in an office.
Below are a few expert backed strategies to ensure that your culture initiatives don’t get lost during the coronavirus pandemic.
Reflect on your purpose and values
As circumstances change and you navigate one week at a time, continue to reflect on your company’s original purpose and values. Ask yourself whether today’s decisions align with them. In some instances, that might mean pivoting on your business strategy in order to carry on during difficult times.
For example, take Best Western hotels. When cancellation rates soared in early March, they decided to start offering accommodations to medical personnel, low-risk patients, and at risk individuals. With these repurposed hotels, the chain made 15,000 of their rooms available and, importantly, managed to keep some of their employees working.
That decision was guided by two of Best Western’s values: service excellence and being a good member of the community.
Create a culture grounded in trust
When faced with a difficult situation, the best leaders take the opportunity to regroup and build a better version. If employees are suddenly working from home, that requires implementing new office procedures, including how to communicate and support each other; how to work more effectively; and even fun stuff like virtual coffee breaks and happy hours.
As you re-create your culture, keep in mind the importance of establishing trust.
In short, a well-functioning business needs a culture of open communication, in which employees feel comfortable telling management what is and isn’t working in today’s work environment.
Leaders can establish an atmosphere of open communication by practicing transparency, remembering it is not a sign of weakness to share developments based on the latest information, even if that means having to change course sometimes.
Communicate with your community
With Covid-19, some brands have risen to the occasion to offer comfort to their customers and followers. People remember when you care about them and are respectful, even when the news is bad.
A great example of this is Sophie Allport, where they communicated clearly why they closed their doors temporarily:
“Closing the doors to Sophie Allport was the most difficult decision we have ever had to make but it has given us time to introduce the measures we need to keep everyone safe.
One of our core values is to ‘Show family values, to our staff, customers and suppliers’ and this will always remain a priority for us. We are extremely proud of our staff for all their hard work and understanding over this uncertain time.
We’ve had such an incredible amount of support from all our customers, and we want to say a massive thank you. You’ve all been so kind and understanding, and we hope that you will continue to support us along this challenging road the world faces.”
Show employees that you care
Leaders must find creative ways to show employees that they’re looking out for them as human beings.
As an example, a CEO of one of my clients is connecting to her team on a personal level by setting up a weekly chat session for everyone to speak openly about the virus. It’s an hour-long, weekly video chat that’s on the entire company’s calendar. Here they speak about what’s happening where they live, share support tactics, and any interesting articles we’ve read. If your company is too big for one group video call try using Zoom’s “breakout” function to divide employees into smaller groups.
"When faced with a difficult situation, the best leaders take the opportunity to regroup and build a better version"