How the Corona pandemic reveals your true Company Culture

Over the last 1,5 year our world has been heavily impacted in many ways by the Covid-19 pandemic. Many things that we took for granted and that are just part of the usual way we do things were all of a sudden not so obvious anymore. For Companies, this disruptive event has put enormous challenges on the table. The Covid-19 pandemic has for many been the Black Swan Event*, that nobody expected to occur, causing a huge mind shift and change in how the world works.

When you are driving on a road with a big bus and a Black Swan suddenly and unexpectedly crosses the road, it is very likely that you will not be able to avoid it. When you are driving that same road with a motor cycle or a bike, you’ll probably start to swivel, trying to stay in the saddle. Whilst many CEO’s and Managers have put great effort in adjusting their business approach and revisit their short and mid-term strategy, taking immediate actions to stay in the saddle while facing the new challenges, the impact of the existing Company Culture has more than ever shown it’s significance. How has your company culture helped or hindered you in these unprecedented times?

The way people act and interact when there are no rules that tell them what to do, that is what Culture is all about

Company culture can be defined as a set of shared values, beliefs, goals and practices that characterize an organization. Company culture refers to the attitudes and behaviours of a company and its employees. We see it in the way the people in the organization interact with each other, the values they hold, and the decisions they make.

If you’re asking yourself, what is my company culture like, take stock of what you’ve seen during this crisis: how have people reacted on the changes they were facing? Have they put their energy in collectively finding the best way to cope with it or did each department, team or even individual employee worked their own problems, for better or for worse? Have people been creative and open-minded or were they mostly grieving about what could not be done in the usual way anymore? Did your leaders find ways to keep their teams motivated and engaged when business results were deteriorating and/or even more workload and high pressure was overwhelming the team? Was there a climate of trust and commitment or did all the mandatory telework make leaders feel they were not in control anymore?

I have seen fantastic examples of company values coming to life even stronger than before:

  • Determined to help their customer, sales engineers were setting up demo equipment in their own garage and running virtual demo meetings with the customers from their home
  • Production operators together with Health & Safety instructors using all their creativity to find safe ways to keep production going and care for the health of the employees
  • IT teams taking ownership and walking the extra mile in equipping the organization and it’s people to work from home every day
  • Leaders empowering their team members and together finding the best way to solve problems, cooperate and stay connected as a team
  • Organizations reinventing their training approach and installing a new learning culture that is accessible to all employees

And sure, I have also seen other examples, where company values such as accountability or trust  remained idle words or instilled practices overtook from the desired cultural values.

In times of crisis the true culture in the company comes to the surface and has a huge impact on how your organization reacts to the situation. It’s worth considering the value of some lessons learned.

Use this experience to do a retrospect with your teams. What can you learn from this? Which company values that you have been writing about on your website and that you have been promoting at every employee event have showed their true face in the past months at all levels in the organization? What behaviors and attitudes have helped you most to face the Black Swan on the road? What practices should you get rid of for the future to stay performant in your business?

Black Swan Events are so rare that they seldom happen. Maybe it is time to revisit this definition. Look ahead and imagine new problems on your road, disruptors like the already occurring shortage in supply, increasing employee absenteeism and turnover, severe weather events or other natural disasters. This is a good time to evolve your business practices and company culture to be adaptive in the face of growing threats. And ask yourself: how comfortable am I being uncomfortable?

* Although the author of “The Black Swan”, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, argues that epidemiologists have been warning of pandemics for many years and therefore the outbreak of Covid-19 is not a Black Swan, he recognizes that what is a Black Swan for some, might not be a Black Swan for others.