Before the Covid spring of 2020, most organizations had a way of operating that seemed to work for them – hierarchical or collaborative, formal or casual, brand-related or generic. Then, almost overnight, as management teams scrambled to adapt to unplanned remote operations, new cultural paradigms emerged as organizations tried to translate in-person company culture to the online reality with no real context. As we live through the Great Resignation many organizations – large and small -- struggle to fill their staff needs, and many potential workers are sitting on the sidelines. Remarkably, we have seen a remarkable lack of cultural awareness as many organizations are responding by abandoning the emphasis on culture altogether while their leaders focus more on maintaining the status quo.
As we continue to navigate these new uncertainties and stressors, it is clear that the workplace has evolved -- intentionally or not. Organizations need to refocus on new ways to calibrate the workplace environment, maximize employee engagement and productivity, create an atmosphere of collaboration and teamwork, and improve customer relations in this new era.
Preparing for the Culture of the Future
A strong, engaging workplace culture is a common denominator among most successful companies, but it’s also something that’s difficult to define and replicate. When crafting a compelling culture, it’s necessary to identify where and why the expression of corporate values, purpose and practices are missing the mark. Questions to ask yourselves include:
Is leadership aware of the true extent of pandemic burnout and work-related stress among employees?
Are managers realistic about how employees feel they can be themselves, raise concerns and innovate without fear of reprisal or failure?
Do your company’s core business activities, including its processes and philosophies, support both your brand and your employees?
Does the company enable staff to connect with others who share their cultural heritage, life experience or personal passions?
Asking these questions is necessary to get at the heart of what culture means. It’s okay if the answers are not ideal. These truths become the starting point from which the management team can build and adjust the culture for the future.
Leadership and Culture
There are proactive steps leaders can take to repair or improve corporate culture and the workplace environment. First, the leadership team must welcome – and have the fortitude to acknowledge -- exposed gaps, incomplete opportunities and unaddressed questions to improve the workplace. Having spent more than two years in their homes or home offices, employees are increasingly demanding flexibility in the form of telecommuting and adaptable schedules that help maintain a positive work-life balance, and that needs to be reflected in the culture going forward.
Second, management must acknowledge employees’ concerns and strive to find ways to move beyond one-size-fits all assumptions and take workers’ individual needs into account. This involves one-on-one or small group conversations, confidential surveys, or engaging an outside consultant. The key to improving culture requires that management learns about the interests and conventions of different demographic and lifestyle groups beyond ethnicities and LGBTQ+ identification. These include, among others, single, married, with or without children, caregivers, veterans, and those with disabilities. Without judgment, leadership must uncover and address any unconscious biases throughout the organization and establish an overall offering of support, resources, and flexible ways of doing business in order to create an inclusive, employee-focused culture.
Third, leadership at all levels must be activated to deliver internal and external communications that bring the company brand and values to life. With multitasking and changing priorities, many managers may assume they’re maintaining consistency in their messaging during presentations, conversations and meetings, when the opposite might actually be true. One solution? Regularly provide managers with key- message documents to serve as a reference or guide. Collectively creating a roadmap for embedding the culture into practices, policies, recruitment, recognition and rewards is fundamental.
Thinking Differently About Culture
A successful post-pandemic workplace culture will elevate both internal employee engagement and external customer impact.
A relatively easy way to improve workplace culture is to change the standards and expression of productivity. Harvard Business Review discovered, for example, that today’s employees prefer working for a company that prioritizes quality over quantity, value over volume, outcomes over output. To motivate and retain staff, companies need to prioritize training and people-centric experiences to emerge from the pandemic in a stronger, more competitive position. When employees feel they are appreciated for the constructive impact they can deliver to your customers and your business, workplace culture can remarkably advance.
Another important step is to remove “us” versus “them” language which alienates employees. Referring to the organization as “us” and the individual as “them” separates the business and its culture from its employees. Management must see itself as responsible for modeling and delivering on cultural values, beyond simply guiding and measuring employees for their narrow roles. Instead, focus on the “we” and how everyone’s individual efforts help the entire team achieve success. “We” can accomplish anything.
Customer, Meet Our Culture!
Similar to communicating with employees, anticipating and understanding the needs and realities of customers is essential to ongoing brand relationships. Companies need to understand how customers’ lives have radically changed in the past year and offer relevant information, services, and products/benefits that add value to where customers are at this moment.
Pushing self-serving, tone-deaf marketing materials or offers can have a damaging effect on those relationships. Communications – marketing, sales, product or other – need to be curated with the same context, empathy and relevance as you’re devoting to your modern workplace culture. All communications must respond to what customers really want from your brand and the values you want your brand to stand for. The right messaging that welcomes a customer into the brand culture is likely to raise the value of your relationship.
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