Culture That Thrives After The Pandemic
Karen Greenbaum, Forbes Human Resources Council Contributor, CEO and President of the AESC
The pandemic has placed the cultures of organizations under the microscope. Unfortunately, not everyone has liked what they’ve seen. If there is any positive to this crisis, it is that it has allowed us to see things differently and better understand where there are cracks in our systems, on scales both large and small. Through the crisis, organizational leaders have seen where they have gaps in their business models and among their executive teams.
What we recently gleaned from an AESC survey of C-suite leaders is that CEOs often do not have the same view of their organizations’ cultures as do their functional leaders. Boards and CEOs tend to see their cultures as critical and effective in attracting and retaining top talent. HR executives are also more likely to also see cultures through these rose-colored glasses. But as we look at other C-suite leaders — finance, marketing, technology — there is quite a different view.
As we move toward recovery from the pandemic, CEOs will want to reassess their strategies, talent and cultures to ensure all are aligned across the organization. So, what are the key ingredients for an organizational culture that will thrive in a world that will look different than what we have been accustomed to?
Combining flexibility with speed and responsiveness, agility is today’s most sought-after quality in both winning organizations and leaders. We live in an increasingly unpredictable world, and companies that have cultivated cultures prepared to weather uncertainty are the ones that will thrive in the years ahead. Organizations known for agility have been much better equipped to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic, while those less agile have flailed.
Agile cultures are nimble and much less hierarchical. They foster the flexibility needed to respond quickly and effectively to new competitors, unexpected market conditions and disruptive technology. Agile cultures embrace change — they are learning-oriented and unafraid of the unknown. Agile leaders are often described as “catalyst leaders,” meaning they elevate the performance of others around them through inspiration, motivation and an appetite for experimentation.
Often confused with teamwork, collaboration is not the same. While collaboration can be spurred by team-focused leaders, collaboration itself relies on shared values throughout the organization. Collaborative cultures nurture camaraderie, respect different points of view, reward wins and learn from mistakes. A collaborative culture is a selfless culture that strives to lift everyone to their highest potential. Strong communication is critical for a culture of collaboration. Collaborative cultures leverage technology in a constant quest for better communication internally and externally with their customers, shareholders and communities. During the pandemic, collaborative cultures have more seamlessly achieved business continuity through rapid adoption of virtual technologies focused on connection.
There are countless studies that demonstrate the business case for diversity. Diverse organizations simply outperform those where diversity is less prioritized. As a result, most companies have become more conscious of diversity and seek diverse talent. But diverse talent alone is not enough. To see the real power of diversity, an organization must also have an inclusive culture. This is often where companies miss the mark.
Cultures of inclusion instill a feeling of belonging, where everyone is valued, respected, and encouraged to participate and speak up. Organizations that are inclusive connect emotionally with their internal and external customers and celebrate differences. Trust is foundational to a culture of inclusion, supporting active listening and encouraging different perspectives. Psychological safety is an undercurrent of inclusive cultures that allows for a level of vulnerability. In some ways, the pandemic has allowed employees to fully “show up” and be their true, authentic selves, with virtual technology removing the veneer and bringing colleagues and clients into our homes. Inclusivity will be a requirement in a post-pandemic world. Organizations that want to become more inclusive must begin by making sure it is a core competency for their top leaders, as well as their executive and middle management teams.
Silicon Valley clichés often come to mind when people think of innovation. They tend to focus on the fun and the quirky — pingpong tables and incubation labs. While cultures of innovation do prize open, flat structures and maverick thinking, cultures that are truly innovative require exceptionally strong leadership and highly disciplined teams. This level of discipline is achieved through a balance of playful experimentation and a high tolerance for failure coupled with a great intolerance for incompetence. In an innovative culture, it is OK to fail and learn from a failure, but it is not OK to be incompetent. This characteristic means that cultures of innovation are highly candid, which requires a collective respect for differing points of view and a “speak up” mentality.
A culture that exemplifies agility, collaboration, inclusion and innovation must derive from a strong sense of shared purpose. In recent months, the business media has highlighted months the “purpose movement,” cast into the spotlight by the Business Roundtable to Davos 2020 and beyond. A new vision for the “purpose of a corporation,” one committed not just to shareholders but a broader set of stakeholders including employees, vendors, communities and our planet, is appearing to be embraced by C-suite leaders globally. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we do not and cannot live in a bubble. Our individual actions have consequences, and when united by a common mission, we are far better positioned to achieve success.
Those organizations best positioned to thrive in a new, post-pandemic climate will have developed cultures that are agile, collaborative, inclusive and innovative. Our future world of business will begin with purpose — a superpower that will deliver transformational breakthroughs for our companies and for our communities.
Photo courtesy of Shutter Stock.
This article was originally posted on Forbes.