7 min read
With so many competing priorities on leaders’ to-do lists everyday, it’s tempting to leave culture on the back burner while we focus our attention on more immediate or urgent tasks. But if you’re thinking, 'she’ll be all right,' know this: Nothing tests company culture more than crisis, uncertainty or change and we need a solid culture to support our people to withstand the pressure of all this uncertainty.
The strength of our company culture is tested in challenging situations, and like any muscle, culture needs to be conditioned and exercised if we want to keep it fit and able to withstand the pressure of changing working conditions, uncertain economic performance and all the external factors outside our employees’ control.
Think about a typical exercise routine. For me, I love exercise and staying fit, but I have bad days like anyone else. Sometimes I take a break. But I know that if I skip a few days of a workout, that can easily turn into skipping a week. And if I miss a week or two of exercise, getting back into a rhythm and routine is so much harder than if I’d just kept at it. It’s tempting to just give up.
Your company culture is the same way — it needs your ongoing commitment to stay a priority so it doesn’t fall flat.
If we drop the ball and stop prioritising culture now, then it’s going to be all the more harder to pick it back up and get back into shape when the time comes for employees to return to their offices or resume regular operations.
Instead of having maintained “cultural fitness” you’ll need to start from the beginning to rebuild trust, re-educate employees about your mission and the values that drive success, and reset their understanding about what makes your company unique and worth sticking around for.
The companies who’ll be well prepared for the next marathon are the companies who are cultivating culture now, even when people may not be face-to-face. As employers weigh up whether to continue working remotely in the future, strengthening a sense of belonging, community and connection is going to matter even more.
So the question for many leaders is how do you cultivate a community and a unique company culture when people are apart?
While outside factors have forced you to rethink how you do business, the fundamental reason your business exists hasn’t changed overnight. The “how” and the “who” may have shifted recently — think of local breweries that are swapping their craft beer festivals to provide hand sanitisers to hospitals — but your “why” hasn’t changed.
Now is the time to shine, in bright lights, and as often as possible, your company’s purpose, and why it’s important and worth getting behind. Having a clear purpose gives everyone the opportunity to find a connection with your organisation that is meaningful to them.
You can use a centralised platform to communicate your purpose, mission and values to new starters as you onboard new people, even if that onboarding is remote. We also have a Culture Book that is available online that goes through our mission, and what each of our values mean to RG employees from different departments and global offices.
Now is also the time to recognise employees who are making a contribution to progressing your mission, even during difficult times. For instance, MNF Group, a global communications and services provider, has a counter on the homepage of its employee engagement platform, “Launchpad” to remind its 400 employees of the Big Hairy Audacious Goal that keeps them working hard and focussed.
While employers have no way of predicting when business will return to normal, there are still ways to stand out as an employer who supports their people in practical and innovative ways, especially during a challenging time.
Few companies are in a position to offer a pay increase or annual bonus, but they are offering financial incentives through low-cost, impactful employee benefits.
Some organisations are using what they have to celebrate the efforts their people have made in recent months; Euro Garages Australia launched its employee benefits program “Booster” to 4,500 employees in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis. As a business, they didn’t think twice about launching an engagement program during this time — Peter Fotheringham, Head of Organisational Development and HR Projects at Euro Garages told me, “Times are tough but we still need to look forward and grow/support our team.”
Booster celebrates their "non-corporate" brand and Euro Garages' people. It’s bright, fun, exciting and is designed to build connection with all employees, regardless of role. The language is colloquial and the tone is fun and engaging, and it gives the business an opportunity to help employees make every dollar go further and support families who’ve been impacted by partner or family job loss.
Your existing rewards and recognition program might be another way to provide employees financial stimulus. If your program allows, employees who receive peer-to-peer recognition, manager or company awards that have a monetary value can redeem these to reduce or cover the cost of an essential or wish-list item.
In our recent webinar, MNF Group’s People Experience Manager, Emma Trehy, explained how employees were all rewarded with AUD $100 to redeem on any retailer on the Launchpad platform. Instead of having to organise home-delivered care packages or hampers that employees might not want, each individual could choose to spend their reward on something meaningful and impactful.
Now, more than ever, employees need to be recognised for the contribution they are making to support each other and their customers. We are motivated by small wins, and reminding managers to recognise their teams not only boosts morale, it might be an opportunity to financially reward them too.
Individuals who see the bigger picture and the part they play in it, are more prepared to play the long game and make the short-term sacrifice to achieve the long-term goal.
At a time when many Australians are looking for relief, finding creative and low-cost ways to support your people will be something they remember now and well into the future. By using this time to improve your Employee Value Proposition, you’re sending the message to everyone that whilst it might not be “business as usual”, you’re still committed to finding ways to make progress and provide support.
Your top-down benefits are not the only thing that makes your company stand out from its competitors. Your people are an integral part of your culture, and it’s important to bring those people together outside of the millions of Zoom calls and video meetings held every day (they’re draining!).
To cultivate culture, look for ways to encourage people to connect on a fun/social basis:
Publishing blog posts within your internal communications platform creates dozens of opportunities to give employees permission to be human, and have fun. Our RG Happy News is released every Thursday and is 100% dedicated to great news happening around the world. Our Group HRD, Rob Hicks, also launched his very own RG version of “Desert Island Discs” - each episode is published on boom! and we’re invited to learn more about employees around the world as he interviews them about their musical tastes.
We also have a Work From Home Tips & Tricks channel where employees share what they’re doing to get through this time, whether it’s gardening, home improvements, or baking family recipes. RG parents connect online to share activities to keep youngsters entertained during work hours (or even just photos of 1 year olds eating crayons… because that’s where I’m at these days).
My personal favourite #RGFUN initiative was the “5km Run Challenge” where our CEO, Doug Butler, committed a AUD $30 personal donation to a charity of choice for anyone who completed a 5km run or 25km cycle — not only did it felt great to be part of that community, it gave me a great incentive to get running again!
These micro-groups can bring your people together with shared interests outside work, and these are the bonds that keep your company strong and moving forward on the journey together.
As business leaders prepare for work in a post-COVID-19 world, strengthening company culture is going to give our people the best chance of survival long into the future.
The next phase will look very different and we need to consider now how we become culturally fit whether we’re together or apart. I’d love to know how you are cultivating your “cultural fitness” — don’t forget to connect with me and share your ideas.
Kylie Terrell is one of our Employee Engagement Consultants and is RG’s resident advocate for employee recognition. She loves creating “wow” moments and looking for creative ways to make her coworkers and clients feel special.
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