Leadership | April 21, 2020

Amplifying Corporate Culture During Crisis

I’ve learned that a crisis can be a great revealer for a company, especially when you see the effects it has on your team. The strength of the corporate culture that you’ve fostered to date will truly be tested during this time.

By Braden Douglas

The term corporate culture often loses its meaning through over-use. I simply consider it the collective beliefs and behaviours that determine how a company acts, thinks and feels.

  • In healthy corporate cultures, you see high performance, mutual trust, vulnerability and exceptional teamwork.
  • In negative corporate cultures, there are high levels of control and a lack of trust among team members and staff. This latter corporate culture is not conducive to attracting or retaining great talent.

In the current environment, with looming layoffs, pay reductions, increasing work demands and general uncertainty, employees are taking a hard look at their company’s culture and how it impacts their engagement and sense of security. Clients are also watching and listening, which means that now – more than ever – everything your team says and does play a role in how your corporate brand is perceived in the marketplace.

So how do companies reinforce a strong corporate culture during a crisis? It’s a question I’ve been talking to a lot of business owners, leaders and even marketers about. We’re all trying to figure out how to effectively maintain a strong, productive team while ensuring individuals feel valued and supported.

Here are some questions to ask yourself during this time. Are your staff underperforming? Or are they rising to the challenge? Do you see high or low levels of trust? Have you been able to support them in new ways to help them do their jobs under new challenges?

For me, I’ve learned that it comes down to four foundational pieces. These are the “four C’s” that I’ve found are key to amplifying a strong corporate culture during a crisis.

  • Connection. As a leader, and even as a marketer, you must be able to connect. That means having compassion and empathy for your employees, your customers and your clients. Connection means taking the time to ask, “what are they going through?” Remember that everyone is at different life stages. For most, this is a time of great financial pressure and uncertainty. As a leader, you need to have compassion for that and take time to connect with them. Ask, “How are you guys doing? How are you finding these new challenges? Is there anything we can do to help make your job easier?” Listening will go a long way in building trust and a sense of support.
  • Clarity. Your staff, and even clients, are going to say, “Well, what do we need to do?” After the initial shock, and as the situation starts to settle, they will be trying to understand how to best navigate this new and uncomfortable environment. Clarity creates calmness, as people understand what to expect and what the strategy is moving forward. As a leader, you must give that direction. Explain what they need to do, include the rationale behind your decisions and leave the door open for their feedback and opinion. You do not have to have all the right answers as a leader, but you do have to take the initiative to create clarity for others.
  • Communication. Once you have connected with your people, provided clarity on the strategic direction you need to take, you then need to communicate. And you need to do this often. At CREW, we’ve set up daily video huddles at 8:30 AM, where our entire office joins by Zoom and connects on a very human level. We talk about what our day looks like, what we’re excited by or challenged with. We have increased our touchpoints and meetings as a leadership and management team and are calling and communicating with each client personally.
  • Consistency. When and how you communicate is key to ensuring your team feels secure in an ever-changing situation. Make it clear when you will be communicating, how updates will be delivered, and what strategies you’re taking. If they know what to expect, even in a time of difficult announcements, it will go a long way to create a safe and positive culture. On top of our daily huddles, CREW sends weekly emails on the decisions and direction of the company. We also have monthly all-staff meetings and frequent check-in rhythms with each team member to make sure communication remains high.

Each of these tactics sounds simple, but in the chaos of dealing with a crisis, leading your team well can easily fall short. The more these characteristics are built into your company’s culture, the easier they will be to maintain when pressure mounts and time is scarce.

If you’re finding that this crisis is bringing light to a culture that needs a lot of work, it’s never too late to start building a strong foundation. Lead by example, and then offer ample amounts of trust, autonomy and opportunity. This crisis will bring out leaders among your team that you may not have seen before.

It should also bring out a leader in you that is stronger as a result.