The lockdown is a great time for a cultural check-up

by | Nov 19, 2020

Back in June, in this space we used a metaphor of a famous motion picture we called “Under the Covid Sun” to talk about taking advantage of the COVID reset to make meaningful changes beyond just “getting by” through this challenging period. We suggested that companies use this period wisely to invest in stakeholder analysis, platform strategy, leveraging automation, cleaning data and honing program execution capabilities.  We hope you did.  And we hope that you are both remaining healthy and seeing the results.

Now, some months later, we are still under that COVID sun. We are beginning to realize that some of the ways in which the world has changed will be long-term. Consumers and businesses have a new level of  comfort with selling or buying most any good or service online, with the direct distribution of goods, with the power and pitfalls of social media, and with distributed work environments and working remotely at home offices.  Certainly, these changes have impacted how we do business and perhaps even with whom. There isn’t likely to be a full return to the “old normal,” so it makes sense to examine the changing culture of your organization as you continue to adapt and reset to our “new normal.”

Culture:  Who you are vs where you are

Given the reconfiguration of your business operations and staff distributions it is indeed an important time to do a culture check. Do you know what the business “feels like” now? Look at this from both an inside and outside perspective. What are the attitudes towards your business by customers and staff alike?

If your staff is far-flung or scattered now, they are likely to stay so for a while.  You may even be inclined to retain your present decentralized staff configuration as has been announced by some firms because the operational efficiencies are becoming more evident (such as reduced overhead costs).  In doing this, recognize also that your people will put up with a lot for a limited and known duration. But if the goal line keeps pushing a return to the “old normal” out to the future, you’ll need to assess the impact of making changes more permanent – yes, still under that COVID sun.

Have you let “place” overcome “values”?  Certainly, surroundings and circumstances can influence behavior.  Adjustments have been made for Zoom meeting etiquette and dress code norms, concurrent virtual meetings/schooling, flexible scheduling, distance selling, and industry conventions. Left unmonitored, these remote factors can lead to isolation, burnout and tanked productivity. Are you taking care of staff? Here are some things to monitor during your culture check.

Burnout. Recent press has highlighted this effect. Giving up commutes has translated into just more hours for work – with a consequential loss of time for mental ramp up and wind down before and after work.  It may not be healthy to switch from trading to cooking within two minutes for example. While some staff thrive, others report fatigue, depression and latent anger. Are you equipped to detect who is in which state and to act responsibly in either case?  Some tools we have seen include granting of surprise days off, regular water-cooler team chats (no business talk allowed) and temperature checks (emotional not physical).

Productivity. Note that more hours worked, as mentioned above, does not necessarily mean good, productive ones. Anecdotes run both ways in the current circumstances.  What impact do you see?  Based on what facts? If you have a data-driven organization with KPIs, benchmarks and histories, then congratulations – you have a basis to continue measurements, continue learning and continue tuning the business.  If not, add a measurement program to the priority list. 

Culture needs to be intentional. Culture: You have one, whether known or not, whether managed or not. Your staff certainly feel it and therefore your external stakeholders will experience it as well.  Without attention, you’ll get what you get, and a culture under duress can be detrimental to your business. To have an intentional culture, you must ask “what culture do I need and seek?

Much research has demonstrated that culture is first a question of values, backed by consistent aligned execution.  Decide who you are as an enterprise, communicate it, and then live this culture, inside and outside of the company.

Culture has many flavors.  As cooks know, the right ingredients in the right proportions under the right amount of heat yield stunning results.  Some examples of cultural patterns, possibly relevant industries and potential value implications are listed here for purposes of illustration only:

  • Transactional – Banking; Investment Analysis; in it for the money
  • Aspirational – SpaceX; Change the World
  • Command & Control/dictatorial – The Army, Process Manufacturing; Manage for results
  • Family – Koch Industries; Protect and grow

Culture work requires honest introspection, acceptance of objective inputs and top-down commitment.   To get started, try this exercise. Write out your cultural goal in term of “who” you want to be, define the supporting values of this persona, describe how that “feels” to stakeholders and compare your present “who” to what you’ve outlined. Finally, develop a plan to close the gap.

Takeaway.  Be wary of a culture that depends on the “where” as opposed to the “who.”  Your culture should transcend the confines of an office space or headquarters. Guard against the downsides in the present circumstances, which may be with us for a while. Let values prevail, because who you are will trump locations.  Find and grow your own unique and defined culture that is readily identified by staff and customers, and which can thrive both inside and outside of your organization.

We can help

At Mod Op Strategic Consulting, we bring proven, deep and hands-on experience to solve your most pressing digital challenges, while helping you develop an essential and wholistic view of your strategy, culture and execution needs. Covid-19 has indeed challenged all businesses to re-think what it means to “be digital”, regardless of where they are deployed, and while retaining who they seek to be.  Contact us today for a conversation on how we can build resilience and improve your organization’s ability to adapt and respond to the challenges ahead, preparing for your “day in the sun.”

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Mark Carberry


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