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The last six months have changed almost every aspect of our lives, especially in the workplace. Crises often highlight greater issues and misalignment within a company’s culture, but they can also serve as a catalyst for change. When we look back on 2020 in five to 10 years, we will likely see a pattern in the organizations that survived and those that didn’t.
The difficult times have revealed the important role culture plays in helping companies successfully make it to the other side of a crisis. Think of effective culture as a bi-directional, inside out model that starts with the self at its core, then moves to the team level, and then to the organizational culture. Ultimately, the organizations that come out of this year the strongest are the ones where leaders have not only taken steps to strengthen their team and overall culture but have also peeled back the layers to focus on the individual – including themselves.
Masks, temperature screenings, and virtual-only meetings may eventually disappear, but there are four keys ways that the global health crisis has permanently and positively changed company culture moving forward.
Stronger sense of community
The pandemic has led to a greater increase in humanity and compassion within people across the board. For example, most workplaces have become more understanding of all employees’ personal lives, as we’re now blended together more than ever before. Co-workers are quite literally seeing each other’s lives on display each day, and many employees are now expected to actively fill the role of parents, teachers, and caregivers on top of their day job.
There is, however, a stark difference between connectivity and genuine connection. In some ways, the virtual nature of most workplaces has us more connected than ever, but more video conferencing does not necessarily equate to more community.
As a result, business leaders have had to adapt and work to keep employees feeling connected in a remote world. If you’re in this position currently, one important thing to remember is that community is active, not passive. Great culture derives from great teams, so even though the dust will eventually settle to some degree – don’t let the magnified importance of human connection fade along with it. Organizations that have exercised grace and compassion during this time have likely unified employees in the long term, and this will hopefully spark a new perspective on workplace community long after 2020.
Greater emphasis on unity and adaptability
Adaptability in the face of adversity is critical, but unity will be one of the defining factors when we look back on organizations’ survivability this year.
The adage, “united we stand; divided we fall,” exists for a reason. Companies are being tested right now – especially between the pandemic, an upcoming election, and social unrest. Those that can adapt during a crisis may be the ones to survive, but those organizations that can increase in unity while adapting will thrive.
Crises can often bring about a complex combination of dissension and chaos. When rifts start occurring between employees, departments, or even leaders, dissent seeps in. Chaos ensues when there is a lack of clarity and heightened uncertainty. This leads people to begin moving in different directions rather than toward one unified goal. They may be adapting, but they’re not doing it together.
To create unity, be willing to cultivate a culture of psychological safety where your employees feel supported and free to express their different perspectives without fear of negative consequences to their image, status, or career. If and when your organization needs to adapt quickly, having that strong foundation of unity and community will help keep everyone looking in the same direction. This is true for both large-scale global crises and small-scale company shifts.
Departure from the “male, pale, and stale” workforce
Following 2020, topics related to diversity and injustice can no longer go unaddressed in the workplace. If you haven’t already, start initiating open dialogue on issues like racism, sexism, and lack of inclusion.
Will these conversations feel uncomfortable at first? Most likely. That discomfort generally stems from underlying fears of saying the wrong thing, sparking conflict, or encouraging political debates in the workplace. This is why it is important to peel back to the self-level of the culture model – leaders can examine their own fears and how those fears are stopping them from stepping into this potential discomfort. It is important because giving employees a safe space to express their fears, concerns and questions can help build trust and continue unifying your organization in the long run. The ability for leaders to have difficult and uncomfortable conversations is paramount and these conversations are no exception.
Beyond promoting unity, diversity affects your bottom line. A McKinsey “Delivering Through Diversity” Report found that gender and ethnic diversity directly correlate with profitability. Companies who are in the top quartile for ethnic diversity on their executive teams are 33% more likely to outperform those in the bottom quartile.
One of the greatest company culture lessons to take away from this year is that the quest for diversity cannot stop with just one conversation. It’s also important to develop programs and hiring strategies that mirror your goals. One way to do this is to implement regular education and training initiatives for your existing employees and leadership teams. For future employees, start widening the recruitment pool by avoiding biased language in job descriptions, creating a diverse interview panel, structuring your interviews so everyone is evaluated on the same scale, and ultimately creating a blind hiring process.
A renewed perspective on internal maturity
Following the inside out model, at the root of all crisis-fueled cultural shifts is our own maturity and capacity for growth. This includes fostering maturity in yourself and your team and making time for reflection.
Even during normal times, as humans we are hardwired with a defense system that works to prevent us from feeling bad about ourselves, which makes it all too easy to blame others. Especially in times of unpredictable hardships, this defense system is even more likely to activate, but we can use it as an opportunity to defuse it by recognizing our own shortcomings and biases. Realistically, no leader is going to come out of 2020 feeling like they did everything right, and that’s OK. The important thing is to come away with self-awareness, self-accountability, and self-acceptance.
You’ve likely felt your own ups and downs, had insecurities and anxieties triggered and struggled with how much is outside of your control. In the most challenging times, are you able to look at yourself with kindness, grow your self-awareness, and become more self-accountable? You can’t expect your team to learn from this year’s hurdles if you do not take the time to confront your own actions, defensiveness, and perspectives first.
Ultimately, use the difficult times to practice self-acceptance – the acknowledgment that you are ok and you are enough, right now, with all your flaws and imperfections. And then use that to empower your team to see the world as it is and succeed without self-imposed limitations.
While 2020 has been taxing across the board, it has also given us a prime opportunity to confront key issues in our society, in our workplaces, and within ourselves. Remember that culture comes from the inside out – taking the time to learn and grow from the challenges of the year will help you emerge stronger than before and have an increased ability to adapt when the next crisis occurs.