READ the September 2021 issue of our magazine: The Great War For Talent
The pandemic has fundamentally changed work and life. It has been a significant catalyst that has transformed our outlook on people, work, and culture. The new world of work warrants agility, adaptability, innovation, and customer-centricity as the critical components of work culture.
COVID-19 has upended the culture at work. Remote and hybrid modes of work have challenged how leaders and co-workers connect. With uncertain times still at the forefront – and hybrid work set to be planned by most employers over the coming months, a new approach to culture must uphold more inclusive communication methods with remote workers.
That is because, unlike pre-COVID-19 times, employees are no longer anchored to their desks. Instead, workers are now increasingly mobile, location-agnostic, and demand more flexible work arrangements. This calls for the consideration of adjusting policies and procedures moving forward.
As a result, the needs of workers and employees are getting complicated. So, how can companies create a vibrant culture where the best minds are connected and driven to perform at their optimum levels? It is crucial to focus on three critical aspects of corporate cultural transformation – talent, tech, and leadership.
According to a recent study by the IBM IBV (Institute for Business Value), “The traditional ways of assessing performance, of judging which businesses are worth learning from, were dramatically upended in 2020…The global pandemic and ensuing rolling lockdowns ravaged some industries and locations while boosting others. Moreover, the heavy impact of circumstantial factors meant that sometimes merely being in the right place was rewarded, and merely being in the wrong place was punished.”
For the survey, the IBV study applied a two-factor screen to the data provided by 3,000 CEOs. First, it identified those who reported high revenue growth compared to their peers over three years – from 2018 to 2020. About 20 per cent of respondents met that two-pronged standard of outperformance. Unfortunately, a similar-size group of respondents – also 20 per cent – reported below-par revenue growth. Second, IBV compared the responses of the “Outperformers” with those of the “Underperformers” – and saw dramatic differences.
“Outperformers entered 2020 with higher revenue growth than their competitors and have since widened their advantage – from a 5-7 percentage point difference in the annual rate of growth,” the study notes. “For organizations with US$10 billion in annual revenue, this difference in revenue growth is equivalent to an additional US$700 million annually.”
The necessity to figure out things on the fly has underscored another crucial capability: learning and adapting. This pandemic has demonstrated how change can affect our daily work lives in a split second. It has been detrimental to learn, grow, adapt, and change the way we “normally” worked, to better create a new “normal”. According to an article from Harvard Business Review, “There have been many calls for restructuring how work is done, including making more room for our families and questioning the real value of the eight-hour (or more) workday. Now is a time for companies to step back and re-examine which traditional ways of working exist because of convention, not necessity.” The question at hand is, “post-pandemic, can we create a system that fits real workers, not just idealized ones?” As we continue to fall back into pre-COVID times, it is important to consider all the pros and cons we learned from this pandemic to be willing to experiment and adapt to a new way of work-life.
Achieving an aspirational culture is the single most critical success factor for strategic HR transformation and digital reinvention. That involves reimagining strategy, operations, workforce, and technology. The organizational culture cannot be static. As it embarks on a digital reinvention journey, at the heart of that transformation is continuous and accelerated culture change.
Changing your culture is not a one-time event that involves an employee survey or a new foosball table in the break room. Culture change must be a deliberate effort to redefine how people think, feel, and act to drive business success.
The four dimensions of an organization’s culture are mindset (which is what employees think), values (how employees feel), behaviours (what employees do), and tangible (what employees see). These four factors collectively determine how employees experience culture in the organization.
“Only 10 per cent of HR leaders are confident their organizations understand the culture they currently have, as opposed to the one they want,” according to a corporate governance survey conducted by the US National Association of Corporate Directors. “The problem for many organizations is that their current culture is not aligned with their strategic aspirations, is not defined within the business, is not measured in terms of values, beliefs and behaviours, and is not leveraged, monitored or reinforced – either for new hires or existing employees.”
How can organizations best exploit digital innovation? The answer hinges on whether the corporate culture allows optimal exploitation of resources and tools – including HR tech tools, collaboration tools, engagement, and productivity monitoring platforms, digital whiteboards, smartphone chat groups – to reach out to employees and build meaningful relationships.
Top organizations solicit feedback and drive purposeful dialogue with their workers to build trust and make employees feel heard. Leaders are betting on the best tools and parsing data to understand workplace dynamics and organizational culture.
The path forward is to build a culture of engagement, ownership, and accountability among the employees. In addition, leaders need to reinforce critical aspects of their culture for their dispersed employees through innovative use of technology to create more productive workplaces, aligned teams, deeper connections and drive better business outcomes.
After all, strong company culture gets developed when each employee’s job is essential to the whole. Hence, organizations need to embed trust and transparency in the virtual working environment. But then, unfortunately, some organizations try to monitor workers ceaselessly and put them on a tight leash – more than they did during pre-pandemic times.
On the other hand, employees crave transparency as a crucial cultural factor. The pandemic has offered organizations the opportunity to spruce up their policies and reset aspects of culture by sustaining trust and openness. It is worthwhile to note that holding onto the best talent is about relationships, not perks. This pandemic has lacked social interaction and the creation and maintenance of relationships, so it is vital to make employees feel needed, wanted, and in the know.
Similarly, companies need to transform their learning culture. Since last year, we have seen a paradigm shift in employee growth and development as workers started working from their homes. Millennial employees are especially keen to work for companies that allow opportunities to grow.
The onus of creating a remote culture should not land only on the shoulders of tech leaders. Building a robust culture is a leadership challenge. The onset of the pandemic has tightened the partnership of chief technology officers and people managers, and this will only mature in the so-called new normal.
So, what should the leader, or the CEO, do? First, the CEO can start building support for “agile” by calling attention to how work has improved and identifying processes and incentives to hardwire the benefits. Second, to accelerate digital transformation, the CEO needs to step back and reassess roadmaps by monitoring plans for what needs to be done, by whom and when, from the leadership level down to the front line, and the assumptions about value and feasibility underlying them. If data and technology are now going to be at the core of organizations, this likely means building some degree of machine learning and/or artificial intelligence into the mix.
How can companies get started on resetting their digital cultures? Begin with the following steps:
- Stop avoiding the topic of culture. Be willing to explore and make radical changes in your company.
- Create the building blocks. Formulate a clear vision of your aspirational culture progression.
- Define in terms of values, mindset, behaviours, and the tangible.
- Know where you are. Identify the elements or dimensions present or lacking in your current culture.
- Analyze your strategy and competitive landscape; determine cultural factors that will enable success.
- Drive dialogue and discussion across the enterprise to ensure understanding.
As companies pick themselves up with new working arrangements, they need to revamp their work culture in line with their core values and ensure that their corporate cultures are adaptable. Exploiting technology to build the social fabric that attracts and holds the best talent together is the only option.
- IBM Talent Acquisition: Organizational Culture Change and Digital Reinvention
- 2021 CEO Study: Find your essential
- What Will Work-Life Balance Look Like After the Pandemic?