• Sabrina Bonet, Director |
4 min read

Why company culture is more relevant than ever

COVID-19 has brought the importance of human contributions and interactions into sharp focus, pressing the pause button – or perhaps the stop button – on life as we know it. When it comes to work, it is falling to HR professionals to help companies navigate the new environment, and it has become clear that quick fixes and temporary measure simply aren’t going to cut it. The New Reality is affecting how employees deal with clients, make decisions, work and interact with each other: a fundamental reshaping of company culture is in the works.

In successful companies, there’s a strong connection between strategy and culture. In fact, strategy is the main driver of cultural change. As business objectives shift, your ability to deliver on them will be determined by your people’s motivation and ability to succeed. Simply put, your culture and strategy must be in sync.

Companies have long relied on face-to-face interactions, improvised discussions in the hallway and in-person management to build an authentic culture and engaging workplace—until COVID-19. Now, the working day is made up of long hours of solo work, and management through online meetings or intensive one-on-ones that leave many of us exhausted at the end of the working day. In such an environment, existing cultural challenges – like collaboration, ethics and compliance – have only become tougher to handle, and this is what makes cultural change key. Culture is what shows employees how they should utilize new tools and engage in new ways of working. It is what drives performance and excellence.

Culture change: no magic wand

For many HR and business leaders, navigating the New Reality is tough enough: reshaping culture on top of everything else can seem daunting.

With this in mind, we have brought together practical actions you can take to improve your culture. Draw inspiration from these five suggestions to make culture a key driver in your organization, and a potential differentiator tomorrow.

Create a culture vision

Start by defining what great culture looks like for your organization.  Focus on what you want team members, customers, and other core stakeholders, such as suppliers and communities, to say about your organization both during and after COVID-19. To get started, engage the organization’s leadership team in articulating where the company will be one year from today. How far will it have progressed with its strategic ambitions? These conversations, and the insights that come from them, will form the basis for defining the target culture that your company aspires to.

Learn from behaviors observed during COVID-19

Use this time to go out into your organizations and learn about the new practices and behaviors that have been adopted during COVID-19. Which ones are useful? And which ones are not? Conversely, you can also examine behaviors that pre-date COVID-19. Are they as culturally important or as necessary for success as you once believed?

Engage the broader organization, from leadership to intern and everything in between

Take both a top-down and bottom-up approach to get leaders and team members to adopt culture change. Leaders can demonstrate their commitment to the journey, and willingness to act. Employees can contribute to the solution and feel listened to.

Ask leaders and employees alike to identify one or two specific habits they want to start adopting in their working routine. To create personal accountability, make sure leaders commit to these actions and communicate them to their teams.

Articulate desired behaviors

Move the focus from generalized aspirations to specific actions to ensure that your vision goes from theory to practice. Be specific about how people should act, and respond, when projects run into issues and discuss how they can maintain momentum when times are tough. Make sure that, for every aspect of your vision, you identify two or three desired behaviors. Otherwise, teams and individuals come up with their own interpretations, and they may not be aligned with your initial intentions.

Align cultural levers

Adjust organizational levers to drive and reinforce the behaviors that you would like your people to adopt. Identify existing drivers that no longer serve your objective and get rid of them. Instead, create new levers that accelerate change and sustain your redefined culture. Make sure that your organization’s structure, KPIs, tools and processes, such as recognition and rewards schemes, support the culture you’re creating. All these play a part in helping your new culture stick, but changing these levers is not without risks. Keep the communication lines with your people open and correct the course if necessary.

Make people want to change

Purpose and culture are the heartbeat, and the DNA, of every organization. Getting them right turns strategy into reality, whereas, getting them wrong can be disastrous. Now, more than ever, HR professionals, and leaders, have an opportunity to intentionally shape their culture for recovery and beyond.