Virtual meetings have replaced real ones, virtual conferences are the networking mixers, and many of us wonder why we ever put up with so much business travel. The Covid-19 pandemic has woken us up to one reality – we get so comfortable with existing work practices that it needs massive change to shake us up.
It is beginning to seem as though the world is going back to a state close to normalcy; many businesses have opened up, and a vaccine is finally on the horizon as I write this article. But how many of us ‘feel’ normal? Going back into the workplace, how many of us are ready to share food, shake hands, or hang around by the water cooler longer than necessary?
For many companies, these habits were an intrinsic part of their culture, and now these are the very activities that no one wants to be part of. Office annual days are at least a year away, as are the team tea breaks.
In a recent blog on strategizing well for 2021, we wrote that the pandemic did not collapse the economy. It simply highlighted the fault lines so much that some businesses on the brink collapsed anyway. In other words, it merely accelerated a slow process- we were already heading into a divided world and economic recession before Covid-19 hit, but now we’re squarely in the middle of these issues.
We can say the same about organizational culture as well.
It is wrong to assume that because more people shared cups of tea in a real location, there were no issues with culture in these companies. Perhaps lack of employee engagement (only 5% of the global workforce is engaged in their job), mistrust among colleagues, power plays, and more existed even before 2020 happened.
A Case For Leadership Alignment For A Strong Culture
As business leaders, it becomes increasingly important to notice these flaws and differences now. Isolation is a real issue, but it isn’t correct to assume that isolation is only physical. I like to think that at least two people are heaving a sigh of relief for every employee missing being at work.
For a leader, this is a wake-up call to realize that culture isn’t defined by actions alone but by the systems that support it. What sort of conversations are stimulated at the watercooler? How much complaining do we notice, as opposed to solutions and inspiration?
How many opportunities do we create for our people to grow, both for themselves and their organizations? What is the barometer for risk-taking in the organization?
Leaders today are uniquely empowered to create these new cultures and behaviors- knowing that older cultures were not perfect allows us to see the bigger picture. It has always been a fact that no matter what culture a company ascribes to (or claims to on its website), the actual culture that a team member feels comes from what is propagated by their direct manager.
This is a great time for leaders to influence their teams in a meaningful manner because now, the bond or link with your leader or manager is more critical than ever before. You might or might not run into peers and colleagues at the cafeteria, but you sure run into your team leader or manager “virtually” every day. Managers and leaders are perfectly positioned to pay attention to the impact of COVID-19 on the workplace, even if it means only in the context of their team.
Processes within the company need to support these changes as well. Performance management metrics set in 2019 may no longer be relevant. For example, how do you judge the sales team basis closures made if no one out there is willing to purchase? At the same time, other KPIs need to replace the current ones- expanding on the sales example, funnel building and nurturing can become a new, valuable KPI for the years to come.
None of this will possibly be easy- the pandemic is also forcing business leaders to get more in touch with themselves and their teams in vulnerable ways that they may never have bonded over previously. But we all know that tribes are formed basis a shared experience, and what better way to utilize the current adversity than to grow from it together?
Let us welcome, then, a culture of growth, resilience, honesty, and openness, and let us build businesses that find their roots all over again.
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