Sustaining organization culture in the pandemic & beyond

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It is now given that the post-pandemic world of work will be hybrid. While it has unlocked new ways of defining work, put digital transformation on steroids and created new value, it has also thrown up some tough challenges for companies; like what happens to organizational culture. These have also helped us to ask critical questions about work and purpose.

The situation has created an interesting opportunity for employers to help people figure out what really matters to them, help them find more purpose in what they do. In our company we have found that people are actually living the organization culture. When the crisis hit us, employees automatically coalesced into volunteer groups in many countries, which mounted an incredible effort to help those of us who fell ill. Every employee family was reached out to with any support they needed.

When we think about culture, we think about a common set of behaviors, plus the underlying mindsets that shape how people work and interact day to day. We saw this in action during the peak of the pandemic. Organizations prioritized employee health and safety as paramount, and showed that they genuinely cared for their people. I believe that nothing else could have underscored the company’s culture in any better way. It reflected that the company truly believed in its culture statement, that has always hung framed in its walls.

The pandemic fast-tracked three interwoven transformation genres affecting every industry: the embracing of digital technologies, the creation of new business models, and ushering in new ways of working. There is an underlying connection between these three kinds of transformations – it’s to do with the organization culture. In the beginning of the pandemic, most companies were worried whether this glue called culture will withstand the onslaught of the virus. Let’s see what happened.

Most companies, specially those that had been readying for a digital transformation; had set out on a journey; had transformed themselves; or were born digital natives, enjoyed increased productivity and efficiency. Companies realized that a cultural foundation was the common factor that helped them sustain and even improve their performance during this period of near total remote work.

Trust, as always, was a critical element of culture as physical supervision of work was replaced with management by objectives. Companies in which people trusted each other performed better than others. A recent study by Boston Consulting Group found that companies that focused on culture were five times more likely to achieve breakthrough results in their digital transformation initiatives than those that didn’t. I noticed that our organization culture of keeping the world always connected, became the pivotal piece in ensuring that the world economy did not come to a standstill; that families were still able to connect with their loved ones, even when they were physically distanced and locked down for long periods.

Some of the stories of our people in the field trudging through extreme weather, risking themselves to reach essential medical supplies to those who needed, working tirelessly to keep the communication channels alive, were simply inspirational. Humanity had never faced such traumatic times in the last 100 years, but it was also a time when our culture stood the test of time.

We realized that the bedrock of culture will help us survive and thrive even through the most trying situations in the future, if we continue to nourish it through our behavior, through living our values and understanding that the purpose of being in business is not just to make profits, but to help transform society, change lives, and create sustainable solutions for the planet.

While customer-centricity will remain the focus of organizations, employee health & safety have become equally important, a collaborative mindset that even encompasses teaming up with competitors, sustainability, and an attitude that fosters continuous learning to stay relevant even in the most rapidly changing technological and economic environment, have all become the essential elements for defining organization culture during and after the pandemic. Finally, we must realize that culture is a marathon and not a sprint. It’s a continuous effort that needs to start right at the top through demonstrated action, and only then it will permeate throughout the enterprise.

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