Culture and Leadership during and after Corona – part 2

What is going on in this Corona pandemic? In my last post, we looked at some aspects of self-leadership, organizational culture, and organizational Leadership in corona time.
Let’s look at employee engagement and the ability to change rapidly. Suddenly, organizations become agile! How is your organization or team doing? What to change and how to keep the momentum?

Hopeful is the Gallup research that shows “that companies are treating their employees better than ever. And employee engagement, a problem that plagues more than two-thirds of companies year after year, is actually going up”.
This is what Gallup’s Josh Bersin writes: “Once people started working at home, companies immediately discovered issues in social isolation, stress, and time management. Well the response has been amazing. Companies are teaching yoga and have group exercise programs online, at one company the chef is teaching cooking classes, and another has launched a “happiness challenge” for people working at home.”

Agility and change in corona time

Now is the time of rapid changes. What didn’t seem possible before, suddenly is happening. From keeping planes on the ground (can you believe it?) to shifting production from beds to mouth caps (as bed factory Auping did) to working from home and video conferencing. Everyone is learning! As one client organization told me: “We used to get skills training before using new software. Now we’re just thrown in the deep with collaborating online and video conferencing. Guess what? We pulled it off! I wouldn’t have believed this before the pandemic – if you told me that our organization would just experiment and do it, without training and a manual!”

Welcome to creativity, experimentation, trial-and-error, and being brave! Our quick crisis responses are influencing the current culture. Wow, we can be resourceful and super fast, if needed!

  • How can you amplify this vibe, these actions, this learning?
  • How can you keep the momentum and use this situation to stimulate innovation and collaboration?

I’m fascinated by this new ability to “get things done fast.” Gallup research confirms: Companies are building new programs in days instead of months, and two-thirds of respondents told us that they are prioritizing relationships like never before. This crisis can be the greatest learning experience we ever had. With an open mind, we can learn how to make our organizations more sustainable and positive for a healthy future.

Cut costs with empathy

Now might also be the time to cut costs. What if you have a financial challenge caused by this pandemic? What if your organization or self-employed freelance business is financially hit – even harder than you already are? For how long do you have to be brave? How much austerity lies ahead?
I can’t tell you – but I can tell you that your response matters. Your thinking influences your actions, and your actions affect the outcome.

Kim Cameron told me that his positive research evolved from studying the phenomena of downsizing: “Almost all of the downsizing organizations deteriorate in performance. This happens because conflict goes up, and morale, trust, and innovation go down. But 10-15% of organizations flourish after downsizing because of organizational virtuousness. They implemented practices like forgiveness, compassion, gratitude, and integrity. I found that those organizations were more optimistic looking at the future. They forgave the pain that was inflicted through the downsizing – instead of holding grudges and dwelling on the pain. The evidence over the last ten years is clear: if you implement virtuousness in organizations, performance goes up, customer satisfaction goes up, everything gets better.”

  • Can you cut costs with grace?
  • Can you be grateful and graceful to employees and clients?
  • Can you apply positive thinking and look for new opportunities or temporary solutions?
  • Can you be grateful for what you have?

Have you thought of the CEO as the Chief Empathy Officer? As Josh Bersin (Gallup) writes: “CEOs now see that there is no way out of this crisis without caring for their people first.”

Build trust and relationships in corona time

Now is the time to build relationships. Cameron’s research shows that positive relations add to the organization’s bottom line. Working remotely, it takes more effort to socialize. As McKinsey writes: “Teams need to make a more conscious effort to be social, polite, precise, and tactful — to ensure everyone feels just as safe contributing remotely as they did in person.”

Diana, who followed our online Positive Culture Academy, is one of the managers who works remotely in a sales team. They have part of the team in the field and the other part in the office. Based on the Academy, she made a few changes: “We do lunch parties, and we invite field staff to join in a video call. I allowed field staff a $10 lunch, so they can also eat something different and tell us about their lunch, and so on. It helps create a connection between field and office staff.”
“As I’m working remotely, I also sent a few Starbucks cards to people in the office and scheduled coffee and a video call with them. People loved it!” “We’ve seen a shift in the energy toward more positivity. The team is enjoying the more flexibility that we are giving them to connect with each other.”

When connecting on a video call, don’t just talk about work. Socialize! Now is the time to build that relationship with everyone in their living room, waving at kids, pets, or admiring the paintings on the wall. You get to see more of your colleague as a person.
You might ask “deeper” questions to consciously build trust.

For instance:

  • How are you taking care of yourself today?
  • What habit have you started, or broken, during the quarantine?What small things do you appreciate – what are you grateful for?
  • What do you miss most – what is the first thing you want to do when this is over?
  • What are some things you have realized that you don’t really need?
  • How do you want this experience to change you? How do you think it will?
  • What do you hope we all learn or take away from this experience?
    (Thanks Elizabeth Weingarten for the inspiration).

Or, geared toward the team or organization:

  • How can we come out of this pandemic as a better team or organization? What are our true strengths and unique selling points? Or how could we develop those?
  • How can we contribute to a better post-corona world?
  • What is our added value? What is our purpose and should we revisit it?

Many teams I work with share a virtual Friday afternoon drink these days though it’s more drinking than talking, as one team joked. “Only one person can talk at the same time. You’re more in a listening mode online than in the bar where groups of people talk simultaneously.” Yes, it takes learning. Learning to listen more to your colleagues – that’s great!

And you can have fun, too. During an online video call with a client team, participant Peter cloned himself. His laptop audio was bad, so he joined with his smartphone as well. It was fun to see two Peters on screen, and I acknowledged the wish to have “more people like me” in the meeting. We started joking about how to multiply ourselves and how to mute the others – anyway, you get it. I guess my working relationship with clients is different online than onsite. You need to listen well, mind nonverbal communication to coordinate who’s talking – and learn to be comfortable with silence.

When people aren’t used to video-conferencing, meetings tend to be too intense as no one wants to have a silence online, as if you need to be super-efficient online. While in onsite meetings, you can experience a natural pause or silence, gathering your thoughts. Don’t talk all the time. Wait for others to gather their thoughts, to reflect on what you just said. Listen to others, and reflect and pause together as you would in a meeting room.

And remember: culture happens all the time, in interactions. Every interaction offers a choice: you confirm the culture as is – or you confront and influence it…
What do you copy?
What do you stimulate?
What do you ignore (and, thus, tolerate)?
What triggers you to intervene?

How do you want to develop your team or organization’s culture in corona time? What do you need more of? What needs to stop? How would your team be at its best? How to transition into a great future?

Join the online Positive Culture Academy to learn more.

© Marcella Bremer, 2020. All rights reserved.

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