Navigating Organisational Culture in an Ever-Changing Landscape

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‘Now is the time to consider your organisational culture in a new light, along with everything it was pre-Covid-19’

It is without a doubt that the business world has changed. The global working environment that we will return to will never be the same, and this is a reality that many companies are still coming to grips with. Despite most countries entering or emerging from unprecedented isolation during a world-wide pandemic, there are opportunities to be leveraged and accomplishments to be celebrated when it comes to how companies have stepped up. This is not to forget or disregard the immense suffering and loss of human life, and the cost to the economy, to jobs and to families that have resulted from this un-precedented situation.

A new way of working.

2020 has seen global digital adoption progress at a rapid rate; most organisations were required to shift to remote working within a matter of days and have continued to evolve their remote working practices on a daily basis . We also consider that the approach to flexible work has been revolutionised, as some workers now face a multitude of roles in addition to their substantive role such as a teacher, and/or a care worker (which I am sure no one predicted would happen in 2020) that demands a fundamentally different approach to working. Although this shift was necessary and has caused varying degrees of stress, challenge and uncertainty for people, we believe this change will have huge benefits in the future. These benefits will not just be for the workers who demand more flexible arrangements to do their work but allow most workers the ability to approach their work when, how and where they want. This concept and goal is echoed by Peter Acheson, CEO of Chandler Macleod Group, who wants to cultivate a company where this is normal, still with the importance of team cohesiveness and social connection but providing the flexibility that is desired.

We could go on and on about all the fantastic work that is being done around the globe, but at the crux of it, these changes about the ‘way of doing things’ is organisational cultural change in its rawest form. On a global scale the landscape is changing, but it is important to note that on an organisational level, this is changing just as rapidly.

Organisational culture is defined as ‘the way we do things’ at work. It is created and based upon messages that are received about what is expected, accepted and encouraged in order to ‘fit in’. An organisation’s culture has the power to facilitate or impede its strategic ambitions. Where an overwhelming amount of research indicates that organisational culture has direct and indirect impacts upon metrics such as employee engagement, productivity, turnover, organisational performance and customer retention, to name a few. Clearly it is an immensely important concept, where a performance-enhancing culture can not only be an enabler of your strategy, but also a competitive advantage.

Why should I care about culture?

You may be wondering, why you should care about organisational culture at a time like this when there are limited resources, the economy is halted and there is minimal focus and demand around these types of organisational development activities. Well, whether you know it or not, your company has changed dramatically, and with that comes a forced “new way of doing things” which must be navigated and managed by organisations to avoid any unforeseen negative effects on your existing strategy and value direction. Without careful management, the organisational culture that emerges may lose the positive aspects that are core to the identity of the organisation.

These are unchartered waters, where employees, managers and leaders are concerned with getting through this time and not with what they are returning to. What this means for businesses is that there may be a loss of control resulting in an abundance of performance-limiting behaviours that alter a culture fundamentally. Time needs to be taken to recognise and consider the following:

  1. Take the time to watch, listen and understand how the organisation is operating now

  2. Are there behaviours, values or things that are occurring that are different to pre-Covid times?

  3. What do you like, and what do you not like about what has changed?

  4. What aspects of the ‘way we do things around here’ are no longer important post-covid?

  5. What positive aspects of the ‘way we do things around here’ will help the organisation to thrive in this new world?

Culture in action.

Senior professionals and executives we spoke to, echoed the sentiments outlined above, emphasising parts of their existing culture that will help people navigate through this time. Focusing on upholding rituals like birthday celebrations, work anniversaries and virtual morning teas to continue to support social connection. Another company was focused on increasing accountability, providing more instruction and clearer expectations for leaders across the business to own culture change in their area, without the pressure primarily on an internal team driving change. For Peter Acheson, this was working towards a shift in no longer relying on people being physically present in the workforce to monitor activity, but to instead focus on outputs as remote working does not allow the line of sight most managers had in the world before remote work.

“Trusting in our people is a key foundation of this culture but creating structures and processes to support the results-based change is also required.” Peter Acheson, CEO of Chandler Macleod Group.

These are stories of how leaders have considered their culture pre and post COVID-19, and although they are still operating in a remote workforce model, significant thought has gone into the organisation they want to build. What these leaders and professionals want to continue to endorse, or to stamp out, regardless of where the workers are located.

Where to from now?

When those questions above have been worked through and considered, then comes the question of how do we communicate, support and endorse the type of company and culture we want to have? Again, it is different to pre-pandemic times. In talking to leaders and organisational development professionals, it is clear that the original methods of culture work need revising for a remote workforce. Why? Because common methods of culture change practice usually involved the initiatives within the four walls of an office, with workshops, posters in break rooms, leaders on the floor talking to people and groups, and so on. It requires resources and face-time to communicate change and this is something that is different now.

In talking to our clients and leveraging our experience we have created the list below of some ways to remotely endorse and communicate culture change:

  • Leverage technology to talk about the aspects of culture that are being focused upon, with regular reminders to all employees

  • Celebrate the small wins, and encourage managers and employees to come forward when they see positive behaviours aligned with the aspects that are being worked upon culturally

  • Empower managers to call out behaviours that are limiting, and not in line with ‘how things should be done around here’, and manage tensions between the old and new way of doing things

  • Leaders be present with social check ins to increase visibility and endorse cultural messages virtually

  • Continue to use cultural symbols and rituals that existed before COVID-19 in a remote and safe way

  • Use different mediums to communicate; for example, emailing cultural focus areas, company wide screen savers, generating infographics with key messages

  • Empower employees to own their mindset, behaviour and values around culture – as everyone is responsible for culture change

  • Consider all the seen and unseen cultural messages, updating documentation or messaging that no longer aligns to your vision for the future

If you would like to discuss ways in which your organisation could manage or pro-actively approach organisational culture change please contact

Brought to you by the Innovation and Product Development Team at Chandler Macleod People Insights.

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