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Maintain and Strengthen Your Culture in Times of Disruption

Maintain and Strengthen Your Culture in Times of Disruption

by Nate Dvorak and Natasha Jamal

Story Highlights

  • Over half of the U.S. population is working remotely
  • Leaders must remind employees of the organization's mission and point them toward it
  • Employees must feel like their supervisor cares about them as a person

In light of COVID-19, the new normal is now remote and virtual work for 62% of the U.S. working population. Teams and organizations that once connected very frequently in person are now dispersed and working individually in an uncertain and evolving climate.

This shift will inevitably challenge the culture your organization aspires to create.

A strong, consistent culture is not easy to create during "normal" work circumstances. Only 23% of U.S. employees strongly agree that they can apply their organization's values to their work every day.

During a time of disruption, organizations need a plan to ensure they continue to create a work experience that is unique and valued by employees.

Workplace culture is inherently a social construct. It takes multiple people to establish norms, practices and behaviors around the concept of "how we do things around here."

Now, the primary social fabric for the vast majority of our workplaces -- face-to-face interactions -- has changed completely, putting the norms we've established at risk.

So, how can we continue to ensure our teams, and our entire organization, maintain and strengthen the culture we desire to create?

What can leaders do?

Leaders need to communicate and establish a narrative and dialogue with their employees. While stories may change, the same important messages need to be consistent.

Remind people why your organization exists and what it brings to the world. These messages can get lost as focus narrows to day-to-day tasks and accomplishments -- in fact, even under more certain circumstances, only four in 10 employees strongly agree that the mission or purpose of their company makes them feel their job is important. Beyond taking time to recommunicate the purpose of your organization, now is a great opportunity to show how that mission and purpose are being brought to life. Now is the time to motivate employees to recommit to the work your organization accomplishes each day.

Beyond a motivating mission, Gallup's global research has revealed four universal needs of followers:

  • hope: excitement about a better future
  • trust: belief that words will connect with actions
  • compassion: an understanding of others (of how they feel, what is on their mind, knowing you are listening)
  • stability: employees want to know some things will be consistent, even in times of immense change

Leaders should find ways to weave messages of Hope, Trust, Compassion, and Stability into their narrative and communications with employees.

Leaders need to communicate and establish a narrative and dialogue with their employees. While stories may change, the same important messages need to be consistent.

Think about the messages leaders in your organization are communicating to employees during this disruption. Before emails or memorandums are sent out, look to see if there are clear "messages within the message" that speak to each of these needs. Communications teams can also use this method when reviewing drafts -- highlighting examples of hope, trust, compassion and stability as they review and improve each successive version -- to ensure leaders are addressing the needs of their followers.

What can managers do?

1. Establish new ways of working: If culture is "how we do things," or even more specifically, "how we interact and accomplish our work each day," it is important for managers to recognize that this has shifted dramatically. This is an opportunity for managers to establish new ways of working -- new rituals, new practices and patterns, new methods of communication, partnership, and collaboration. In offices, much of this happens organically. In a new virtual or remote-work environment, managers may need to step in and proactively establish structure and new ways of working. This could include virtual team lunches and celebrations, brainstorming and whiteboarding sessions, video-based team check-ins, and using internal check-ins to learn more about work and personal needs.

Showing employees you care about them as a person, and not only as a producer of work, is critical during this time.

2. Check in on employees' needs: Many of your employees are suddenly working with more distractions, chaos and uncertainty. Some are sharing their space with multiple family members, others are dealing with healthcare uncertainties for themselves or their families, and still others are adjusting to remote work. Showing employees that you care about them as a person, and not only as a producer of work, is critical during this time.

According to Gallup analytics, four in 10 U.S. workers strongly agree their supervisor or someone at works cares about them. Organizations cannot risk this number decreasing due to workplace disruption.

3. Recognize your employees: Managers also play a critical role in recognizing employees. In fact, recognition is one of the most effective ways to communicate cultural expectations at the local level. Be on the lookout for examples of employees who are performing, succeeding and doing it in ways that continue to promote the organization's culture. Are there employees who are working particularly hard to create resources, communicate with customers, or share advice either internally or externally? Make sure these employees are getting the recognition they deserve in real time.

What can all employees do?

Finally, everyone could take time to reflect and remind themselves what they value most about their organization's culture. Is it a motivating mission? Opportunities to succeed together? Big challenges to tackle? Social connections and relationships you build with coworkers and customers? Opportunities to develop, learn and grow? Think about not only how you can find ways to continue to fill those needs in a changing world, but also how you can find opportunities to fill those needs for others.

Culture helps guide organizations during times of change, and there is no better test for the strength of your culture than a challenging, chaotic and uncertain time.

Learn more about leading through disruption and stay up to date on all Gallup's COVID-19-related research:


Natasha Jamal is a Senior Consultant and Culture Transformation Practice Manager at Gallup.

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