WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOUR EMPLOYEES ARE NO LONGER CONGREGATING IN THE OFFICE? IT’S TIME TO PRIORITIZE CULTURE IN THE NEW WORLD ORDER.
How about those articles where they pose a bunch of probing questions and don’t give you any answers? Lame, isn’t it? Well, I’m about to do the same thing. In my opinion, though, I have a good excuse – we all were slapped across the face with a pandemic over three long months ago and are in the midst of navigating circumstances the living generations of our world have never experienced. What will change, what will stay the same?
There’s one area I believe will be a new challenge for almost all organizations looking to survive and grow in this “new abnormal,” as I like to call it. In a word: Culture.
Now, if you don’t believe people are the reason work gets done, you can stop reading because then culture really doesn’t matter.
CULTURE IN THE ‘OLD’ WORLD
I arrived at the office mid-morning on a Friday in March, before the stay-at-home order was ever enacted. As I walked through the lobby, I noticed people gathering, talking, and laughing in the common area, as they often do. Some were collaborating on projects, hovered over laptops, others were just enjoying a loaf of banana bread that one of the employees had made with their own hands. I saw people warming up breakfast in the microwave and putting their lunch in the community fridge, wondering if it was too early to fire up the popcorn machine (it’s never too early). I saw three of our conference rooms full of people writing on whiteboards, passing the dry erase marker back and forth, presenting an outline agenda to power through for the next hour. In the not so distant past, our atrium was full of people in the office for an all-company “town hall” meeting. As part of that event, we announced our core value shout-outs to celebrate those employees who exemplified one of our five core values over the last quarter. With each of the five award recipients announced, there was clapping, whistling, hootin’ and hollerin’. I could hear every sound because no one was on MUTE.
That is culture. That is corporate identity. At Concord, we are proud of ours and have refined it over the last 17 years. Yet, we are faced with a new challenge, like many of you, and are spending considerable time deciphering how to maintain this culture in a world that is becoming increasingly more distant. We can and will do it, but it takes some thought, planning, and desire. It’s easy in a very connected world to take for granted those things that put your company’s culture on the map. Now is the time we will all be reminded that a company’s identity is a primary reason people continue to walk through the front door. I mean, the paycheck is nice, too.
So, what if we no longer walk through the front door? How will your organization create a metaphorical “home base”?
Let me throw out a couple of considerations as you’re building your culture in the new world order.
TIP #1: START SMALL
We think one of the secrets is to start small. If you try managing through generic mass communication, you’ll miss it. Corporate communication is often sterile and doesn’t make any of us feel like we’re really part of something special. For an illustration, consider those universities where the lecture was held in an auditorium with 200+ students and then the next class was 15 students gathered in a small classroom, facing each other and engaging in dialogue guided by the professor. Maybe you were nodding off from Thirsty Thursday in either case. However, you can’t argue the fact that building relationships in those smaller classroom settings was a whole lot easier. Likewise, with your company’s culture initiatives, start small. Encourage groups to gather. Not just work groups, but shared interest groups, too. Perhaps use surveys to understand the interests within your organizational walls. Put all of those fancy collaboration tools to good use and help your people connect on a more meaningful level than their morning scrum meeting. Again, if we’re trying to differentiate, just having small ‘work groups’ doesn’t cut it. We have to find ways for people to really connect and build relationships.
Again, if we’re trying to differentiate, just having small ‘work groups’ doesn’t cut it. We have to find ways for people to really connect and build relationships.
TIP #2: EMPLOY THE RIGHT LIEUTENANTS & LEAD BY EXAMPLE
As a leader, make sure you have the right lieutenants to ‘lead from a distance.’ They know how to engage with people, communicate effectively, and balance the need for humor while getting tasks done. In practice, to me, the lieutenants see and do the little things. For example, your virtual Teams meeting starts at 2:00 pm, and people are trickling in until 2:04pm. Yes, there’s the “be prompt, ‘cause everyone’s time is valuable” mentality, but perhaps the latecomer was trying to solve a big problem for a customer.
TIP #3: COLLECT & REVIEW YOUR DATA
Now, for some of you big, global companies, you’ve been leading/managing/operating from a distance for years. Maybe the challenge for you is to understand the data you already have sitting around. For example, of those you’ve allowed to work remotely, how well have they kept connected? If you allowed 3,000 people to work remotely, how many stuck around? What’s the turnover of your remote workforce? What percentage of those workers are promoted or lead teams? Do your remote members boast a better or worse retention rate than those who walk through the front door most days? This is the type of data that your human resources leaders can help you gather, understand, and act upon since remote work has and will continue to explode as a result of the pandemic. If your HR team does not have that data or doesn’t know how to get it, perhaps you need to give Concord a call.
So maybe, instead, you or your lieutenant take advantage of those first four minutes and get the group loosened up and ask a fun question to start some chatter before diving into the agenda. If you’ve been on a call where everyone was sitting silently on mute waiting for the “late party” to join, we can all admit it’s awkward. We can and should do better than the awkward silence. Little things, but they add up to culture…and they start from the top.
No matter how big or small your army, if you want to keep the soldiers fighting for you, you’d better get them connected and figure out what makes them tick.
You can talk all the generational lingo you want, but one thing is certain – people value and want to be part of a good culture. It’s a collective effort to build and maintain culture – leaders can help facilitate, but the entire organization needs to take part to make it stick.
At Concord, we’re working hard to make sure our culture maintains its differentiation. I’m sure we’ll drop the ball occasionally, but we’ll pick it back up. I encourage you to do the same.
Have a blessed and adventurous summer. There’s lots to see in the world that won’t put you or others at risk. At least not at risk from catching a virus, that is.