Is Your Culture Strong Enough to Weather this Pandemic?

Culture matters. It’s the common thread, woven throughout our organizations, that sets them apart from each other and joins your people together. The values, sense of purpose, and behaviors that are essential to organizational culture help us to attract and engage employees and retain talented people when times get tough. While free food, ping pong tables, and fun events are nice perks, they’re no substitute for the shared values and deep sense of connection that a strong culture can sustain.


So, what are some ways to build and maintain culture, especially when so many of us are working remotely? Whether it’s during a pandemic or during more “normal” times, here are the building blocks for establishing a culture that will flourish:


1. Define it – If you haven’t already done so, clearly identify what your culture is and what you want it to be. Identify the values, beliefs, and behaviors that make your organization unique and bring people together. Work with senior leaders to assess which aspects of your culture are serving your organization and your customers, as well as the aspects of your culture that you want to leave behind. Once you’re clear on what you want your culture to be, communicate it and integrate it into the organization.


2. Evaluate it – Make the culture an integral part of performance feedback. It’s not just what people do, but how they do it, that reflects your culture. Include the desired behaviors and values that are part of your culture into your review process. Even if you don’t have a formal 360 process, invite peers, managers, direct reports, and customers to provide input about how your employees demonstrate the culture. You can also integrate the unique elements of your culture into your employee engagement surveys or pulse surveys throughout the year.


3. Hire to it – Identify the elements of your culture that are reflected in a person’s values and personality, and that are difficult to instill through a training program. Integrate those values into the selection process for new employees. One way to do this is to use behavioral interview questions to find out how the candidate has demonstrated those values in their life and work. A number of years ago, I attended a legendary customer service training program with Ritz Carlton. Ritz Carlton is famous for their customer service, and the value of “caring” is an essential element of their culture of service. As part of every employee interview, across all positions and levels, they asked candidates to share an example about how they have cared for others. Those candidates that embodied the value of caring were able to provide solid examples without too much of a struggle.


4. Promote to it – A high performer who achieves stellar results often gains visibility for those achievements. But that’s only part of the picture. It’s important to look at how that person’s performance impacts others inside and outside of the organization, and to consider how their values and behaviors align with the desired culture. If an organization claims a specific set of values, and then promotes people who are not in alignment with those values, our culture isn’t what we say it is. Integrating those key elements of culture into your talent reviews and succession process speaks volumes about what the organization truly values.


5. Multiply it – Do your core leaders know what is expected of leaders in your organization? More importantly, do they know how they should show up? The core leaders, managers, and key influencers across your organization are the force multipliers that build your culture. What your managers say conveys your culture on a daily basis. What they DO and how they show up to others is a mirror of your culture that reflects the behaviors that are accepted, appreciated, and rewarded through your organization. Equip your core leaders to be champions for your culture and inspire others through their words and actions.