Culture comes first
by Thomas Hanes on Nov 17, 2021
The pandemic illuminated it for all to see: the businesses with strong cultures aligned around clear values are faring better, pivoting faster, and emerging in better shape.
While it's true that a strong culture was always a good predictor of success, the importance of culture rises in a world of dramatic change and uncertainty – and a world where distributed work is the norm.
Because leaders are now seeing the power of culture in action – or the drag of a misaligned or dysfunctional culture – the culture acceleration is on.
But creating and feeding a strong culture in a world of remote work is a real challenge – one that all managers are figuring out right now.
Today, culture isn't just an HR issue. It's a boardroom and HR and every line-of-business issue.
The next normal: Culture moves to the top of the boardroom agenda
Most of the companies we admire make culture seem effortless, as if it were just an inevitable result of strong leadership and mindful hiring.
But look under the surface, and you'll always see that great cultures are actively and consciously designed, built, and maintained. Great cultures come from investing in culture.
With the rise of remote work, many leaders we've talked to are more concerned about preserving and evolving their culture than any other issue. But, as the next normal emerges, they're discovering new ways to create and transmit culture.
- To accelerate your own cultural transformation, consider concrete steps to make progress on these issues:
- Psychological safety – Creating an environment where it's safe to share ideas.
- Experimentation – Building a culture that finds out by trying; one that's OK with the right kinds of failure and even celebrates mistakes.
- Autonomy – Pushing decision-making out from the center; letting culture and values guide decision-making instead of explicit rule books.
- Diversity – Discovering the magic that happens when you combine people with different backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences (see cognitive diversity below).
Of course, culture is far more than these issues, but we emphasize these fronts.
The next imperative: Invest in culture
Just as every company culture is unique, every company's cultural acceleration is different too. But a handful of issues are bubbling up a lot more in our conversations with customers and other business leaders.
It's time to invest in:
- Employee experience: EX is always a critical driver of success, taking new forms that don't depend on everyone in the office. And the lip service paid to 'work-life balance' is starting to turn into real action.
- Continuous feedback: It used to be OK to measure engagement by walking around or doing confined performance reviews to an annual sitdown. That's changing fast, and it's fuelling a boom in engagement apps and continuous feedback platforms.
- Employee-driven learning and development: As we decentralize, we're seeing learning programmes evolve from 'how to do' content toward 'how to think' content. Soft skills, informal micro-learning, and self-guided careers are all accelerating.
- Remote hiring and the global talent pool: Distributed work dramatically expands your potential talent pool – but you'll need to master remote hiring and create a great candidate experience.
- Distributed culture vectors: Culture doesn't just happen in meetings, over lunch and by the water cooler.
On cognitive diversity
Different people have different ways of thinking.
A striking dimension of post-pandemic conversations about work is a growing awareness of the value of cognitive diversity.
While often oversimplified to being about 'introverts' and 'extroverts,' the reality is far more nuanced.
The important thing is that the rapid shift to distributed work has shown leaders that different work modes advantage and disadvantage people differently.
- People who may not shine in a live meeting may prove to be absolute superstars in messaging channels.
- People who hate 'brainstorming' may be the best contributors in a 'brainwriting' session.
- People who love Zoom are no better than people who hate it. They're just different.
(Source: "Navigating the Disruption of Work: The five major accelerations
happening right now", slack, 2021)
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