When people predicted ‘a new world order’ in March 2020, not many of us knew or could foresee what that really meant.
We said we’re in this together, or that we’ll get through this. And while the world was busy making promises, some leaders in companies of all shapes and sizes looked at their conference room walls. These rooms would stay empty for the foreseeable future, but their wallpaper held something important, something that we assumed was, “the way things are always done here.”
These wallpapers hold something exceptionally significant- they are the physical signs of every company’s values and beliefs.
- “Be Human First”
- “Always Ask Why”
These aren’t just statements on a wall, but representatives of a company’s overall culture. The statements represent resilience, ambition, empathy, and curiosity respectively. For leaders, these aren’t just words- they’re personality traits. Companies hire and retain people for these traits more than they do for the technical skillset.
And in a post-pandemic world, these are the traits that can either build or break trust in an organisation and its core values. For example, a company that asks people to adapt, while not giving them the systems needed to do so, is stretching reality a fair bit.
Likewise, an organisation asking for empathy needs to demonstrate this very trait with better support, job security, and access to resources when people need it the most.
Plus, culture isn’t just a good-to-have, nor is it an abstract concept that everyone repeats but no one understands. Culture is the very foundation on which a company grows and scales new heights. It is the collective behaviour of its people. All conditions remaining constant, companies with a strong culture tend to perform 15% better in their annual turnover, than companies that have an abstract notion of culture.
Today, let us discuss what culture really means, and how it can be adapted to a post-pandemic world.
1. Culture as a nurturer:
Eventually, every set of values comes down to two priorities for any business- strategic relevance, which in turn contributes to business success, and strength, which represents how much pressure it can withstand in trying times.
For example, the hardest-hit industry during the pandemic is hospitality, and a Marriott and an AirBnB have reacted to the situation differently.
While there is no right or wrong way to make these decisions, standing by the values that people already know these companies for has served them both well.
Eventually, every cultural attribute needs to nurture the longevity of the business, and the wellbeing of its people. Going back to the empathy example, empathy for everyone in the value chain reinforces brand trust during tough times, while also giving all stakeholders a safety blanket to help tide them through.
2. Culture as the new rulebook:
Leaders in a business are often tasked with upholding its culture, but never is the pressure on them as high as it is during crises. By promoting certain people, a business is also reinforcing their behaviour as positive.
People pick up on these cues.
If a manager is promoted despite unsavoury behaviour, the team perceives this as positive reinforcement of that behaviour.
Likewise, if a manager displaying the company’s values is demoted or discounted, people sense the dissonance between what is said and what is done.
What culture does, then, is to serve as a guidebook for what behaviour is acceptable and what isn’t in a post-pandemic world. As businesses reset their priorities now, looking to their culture can give them a sense of integrity and help them make some tough decisions with greater ease.
Moreover, what gets reinforced now gets carried into the future.
With these tenets in mind, here are a few things leaders can do to realign expectations and make these decisions by prioritising their culture.5>
- Take your company’s culture to heart. Use examples and instances of having practiced this culture in your team meetings.
- Let the knee-jerk reactions to the pandemic now make way for culture-driven decisions, Make culture your North Star.
- Always keep an eye out for employee behaviour that is positively reinforcing your culture and reward this behaviour. However, mind the gap between cultural significance and toxicity. Ambition can quickly become anxiety and belief can soon begin to look like 16-hour workdays.
- Make employee enablement a core priority. During tough times, people always look for growth and betterment opportunities, and the first resource they turn to is often their company. Give them the tools and opportunities they need to grow.
- Start with yourself. While the pressure placed on your shoulders is huge, so is the reward for getting it right. This is your chance to be the leader your people look up to, and remember for several years to come. Use this opportunity to demonstrate more of the values that you wish to reinforce.
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