Culture and Leadership during and after Corona – part 1

We’re working and living in this Corona pandemic. Everything changed almost overnight. We need to adjust to a different reality and come to terms with new visions of the future, shifting priorities, feeling anxiety or fear or worry, working from home, video-conferencing with colleagues and clients, washing hands all the time, checking our financial and physical status: are we still safe?
Organizations in many sectors will have to survive a brutal short term to access long-term options. But while survival may be top of mind today, thriving is the long game.

  • Where are you on the line of suffer-survive-thrive?
  • What have you learned to date?

It’s just so much! It’s the practicalities of moving to remote work overnight and being quarantined (with kids, pets, noise around) and video-calling parents and friends and missing so much that we took for granted.

Portal to a new world

It’s the uncertainty of the world that showed its current VUCA nature: Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous. What will emerge? A better tomorrow: a world transitioned to more sustainability, kindness, and connection? Or a harsh tomorrow: a collapsing global economy and suffering societies? Or a world that ignores and denies what just happened – clinging to old beliefs and ways of production and consumption.

How to go through the transition? The pandemic is a portal to a new tomorrow, whatever that will look like. For both individuals and organizations, it’s an opportunity to transform. As the novelist, Arundhati Roy says: “Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”

What is going on? Let’s check some of the aspects to date.

Self-leadership and change in corona time

Do you know the fable of the cricket and the ant? The cricket spent the summer singing while the ant worked to store up food for winter. When that season arrives, the cricket finds itself dying of hunger and begs the ant for food. But the ant disapproves of the cricket’s idleness and tells it to dance the winter away now….
I sometimes find myself torn between the cricket and the ant. What is wisdom? Should I relax now to be fully rested so I can face the challenges that lie ahead? Or should I use this quiet business time to make new plans, get chores done, write my next leadership book, record more video lectures to be ready when clients return?
The cricket and the ant are both right. It’s wise to enjoy the moment while you’re healthy, catch that sunlight, marvel at this extraordinary moment in time, working from home, and being close to family. It’s also wise to prepare for the future and create an inspiring vision to transition to a new economy – learn a new mindset and skills – find other opportunities – be resilient and flexible and ready for anything that happens next.

Useful reflection questions can be:

  • How can you improve your health at this time? With more sleep, meditation, sports?
  • How can you learn more?
  • How can you do a project that you didn’t find time for before (even chores in the house as cleaning out the closets can give satisfaction and a sense of control)?
  • How can you connect more and with whom? This is a time for relationship maintenance and improvement.
  • How can you prepare yourself for the transition into the future (if the pandemic is a portal)? What will you change?

Develop the Culture in corona time

Now is the time to influence the culture at work. The crisis causes a moment of truth for every organizational culture: is it flexible and ready to adapt? Or is it outdated and weighing you down? Do the positives or negatives surface…?

Right now, it might be easier to notice the go-to colleagues who are optimistic and helpful. As times are challenging, no one feels like listening to the complainers. Who are these “positive energizers”? Ask them to help you spread a positive perspective, practical help, and reach out to colleagues as much as they can. Ask them what they need to be at their best.

Notice what is emerging: do you see momentum, more agility, creativity, mutual support, and compassion, and connection? Or the other way around, with people closing off, staying stuck, complaining, offering excuses that they can’t be at their best due to working in a noisy home, and so on?
I asked one of my clients recently – look at what is present and what is emerging in the culture. It could be one individual (who needs practical help or coaching), but you could also discern a pattern in specific teams. Some teams boost their resilience and creativity while other groups deflate and get less and less done – while they all face the same situation. There might be positive spots in the organization – and you want to see how they do it and how they can teach the others to get un-stuck and more optimistic again.
My client nodded immediately. “Yes, some teams whine and complain, but I see some that are accelerating. Cool, how can we use that energy and help the other teams move on?”

Now is the time for dialogue and mending relationships. You might need to repair relations after the first crisis interventions are done. Maybe they were too fast, too abrasive, too much top-down. But in a crisis there’s not always time for asking everyone’s opinion and minding everyone’s feelings. Though it’s not the intention, mistakes can happen in a crisis. We’re humans under stress. Apologize, explain, ask, be open, be transparent, and vulnerable.

Now is the time for reflection – after the first crisis interventions are done. When we adjust to the pandemic reality, we find a temporary normal. We return to work, but some people might have more time, without commuting to work. Some organizations use this situation and deploy the online culture assessment as a kick-off to start developing a positive culture for the future. To reinvent themselves for a post-corona world. What will be different, what will be the same? Is our culture future-proof, or do we need to change?

Lead and develop Leadership in corona time

Now is the time to lead: employees and clients are watching leaders and organizations.
How do you deal with the crisis? Do you show kindness? Do you offer reassurance or a vision for the future? What do your initial actions convey?
Now people get to see who you really are – or that’s how it feels to clients and colleagues. What do you do in a crisis?
What have you been conveying to date – and is it time to improve?
If that could be better, use this time to upgrade your mindset and your skills with the online Positive Culture Academy. Become a positive leader who brings out the best in people and teams. Develop your power skills (a.k.a. soft skills).

BCG writes: “As the disease is brought under control, businesses will need to start the journey to win the new customer in the post-crisis world. Wars, contagions, and other social crises often shift attitudes, behaviors, and patterns of demand.”
It’s time to start brainstorming and make sense of the complex field.

“The trickiest aspect of this will be distinguishing between crisis-induced short-term changes and more permanent shifts. (…) To do so, companies will need to pivot from a crisis management mindset to a more creative and imaginative one.
Against this backdrop, two trends are already clear. The first is a massive acceleration of the shift toward digital platforms and channels. (…) The second is the enormous challenge for many parts of the economy to restore consumers’ trust. Entering a restaurant, going to a store, flying, or watching live entertainment will all entail heightened levels of anxiety.”

Work toward better organizational resilience: “The key characteristics of resilient systems are redundancy (buffers), diversity, modularity, prudence, adaptivity, and “social embeddedness.” To design such systems, companies will need to think in a different way about business, with a biological rather than a mechanical mindset. Classical business strategy focuses on the question, “How (relatively) good is my game?” In an uncertain, dynamic world, we must also ask, “How robust is my game, can it adapt, and how long will it last?””
I’m excited about such an organic mindset that honors positive potential, abundance, and flexibility. It’s what I teach in the online Positive Culture Academy.

Build your organization and its culture around a shared, meaningful purpose – that’s one of the suggestions to develop a more positive organization. This is more relevant now than ever before. As BCG states: “Our biggest problems—sustainably flattening the curve and rebuilding trust in the short term; global warming, growing inequality, and preparing for future pandemics in the longer term—are all communal problems, which cannot be solved by competing harder.”
I couldn’t agree more! Developing a positive culture with the elements Positive Awareness, Connection, Shared Purpose, and Learning is more relevant than ever!

In my next post, we’ll look at more leadership suggestions, as well as how to keep organizational change going in corona time.

© Marcella Bremer, 2020. All rights reserved.

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