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Has COVID changed your culture?

Mark Winters - Rambutan Ltd

With many organisations and their employees returning to the office after Covid, now is a perfect time to revisit your organisational values and culture to see if they are still ‘fit for purpose’. For many organisations, people’s mindsets, behaviours and working patterns have undergone a seismic shift in the last 18 months. This means that now is the right time for introspection and a review of your culture.

What’s it all about

With people returning to work post-Covid, the world of work has changed. From flexible and hybrid working, and evolving working patterns, to office logistics such as ‘hot desking’ and employees being recruited during Covid who have never seen your offices – much has changed! You need to question your existing culture. Do your old ways of working still fit? Are your values and behaviours still relevant? Are you having a culture clash with this new post-Covid world?

Since culture is all about ‘how we do things around here’, the process of changing this can often take a while, although the pandemic may well have sped up culture change in the background. We believe that culture change is a full 360° activity. It must involve everybody in the organisation whilst at the same time being driven and role-modelled by the Executive Team. Culture must be rooted in clearly defined values and behaviours that are embedded in all internal processes.

Paint a picture

What you want your future culture to be must be rooted in the organisational vision and strategy. When describing the ideal culture that will drive and achieve both, you must firstly tease out and define the observable behaviours which reflect the post-Covid world before any culture change commences. These behaviours will help you understand where you are now and identify the gaps that need to be plugged. Ask yourself, ‘What impact has Covid had on our organisation and the way it works? How are people behaving differently now?’

Does your gap analysis show that you need to start from scratch, or have you adapted continuously throughout Covid? You could find your analysis just reinforces what you already know; that you’ve been working on your culture throughout the Covid period, you’ve kept a track of it, and you just need to tweak around the edges. Alternatively, you may find that you’ve changed significantly during Covid; adapting to a culture of trust with flexible and remote working being so successful that your culture has changed significantly, e.g. you may no longer need your current office space – downsizing or becoming permanently remote.

You’ll need to understand your starting point. Ask people to describe ‘how things are done around here now’ – both the written and unwritten ways of doing things and what behaviours underpin these activities. Having a start and end point gives you the solid foundation to understand what needs to change and if it’s evolution or revolution that’s needed. Involve as many people as possible to identify which parts of the culture still work well now (and need preserving) and which parts you need to leave behind. A fully robust gap analysis of what’s missing will more than likely lead you to a new set of organisational values.

Organisational culture is significantly influenced by the way senior leaders behave, so it’s vital to start with this group. Define the required behaviours (linked to the new values) of the future culture and work with the Executive Team (through coaching and other interventions) to ensure they are visibly and consistently behaving in the new way.

Bring it to life

Senior leaders are no different to other employee groups and should be rewarded and recognised for achieving their targets. Great role-models of new ways of working could be set behavioural targets (in addition to other performance KPIs) measured through 360° feedback, or employee opinion surveys.

An engaging culture narrative that’s linked to your vision and strategy story will help people understand what needs to change and why. As you’ve involved people in defining the new post-Covid culture, it’s also a perfect way to thank them for their involvement and keep them updated on progress.

If you really want to embed and work on your culture, since so much of it’s about behaviour, then the behaviours you identify need to be aligned with your values. Focusing on ‘what gets measured gets done’, these behaviours need to be measured, to show how both your leaders and managers, and every employee is living and breathing them.

Make it stick

Culture change is also about aligning all your organisational processes with the behaviours you want to see role-modelled. From recruitment to feedback, look at all processes that may run counter to the desired, future behaviours. Ask yourself questions such as:

  • Are we recruiting people with the right behaviours for the new culture? – when you recruit new employees, recruit against both technical competencies and your values
  • Does our appraisal/feedback system reflect the new values and behaviours? – when you give feedback and have regular boss chats discuss values, not just tasks and job actions
  • Is your financial delegated authority matching your culture? – if you have a value of ‘trust’ and you inform a senior manager that you totally trust them to make decisions and spend your money, but they need approval before they spend over £100, then there’s a mismatch!

Keep on learning

Your journey to changing culture may be a long and evolving one that takes quite a while, so it’s vital to check progress along the way. We’d recommend using a variety of behavioural measurement tools here from the quantitative, e.g. employee opinion surveys, to the qualitative, e.g. employee working groups and observation. However long your culture journey takes, don’t continue to measure progress just from your starting point. As your culture starts to shift, the world around your organisation will be changing too. Reflecting back to two years ago, before Covid, to see what’s changed from then to now shows how huge the change could be in another two years from now. Use the review process to understand how you might need to flex and adapt your behaviours and culture as you go along to respond to these external changes.

Very few organisations will fully return to how they were before Covid. The culture shift may only be small – a mindset change or a new focus on cleanliness and safety.

Seize the moment and challenge yourself to review your organisational culture now.

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