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For a lot of business leaders, finding a corporate cultural identity post-COVID-19 is a real struggle. Whether you feel like things are just different, awkward, a little weird, or just not the same as things used to be, your employees are probably feeling it too. One thing is for certain, things won’t be the same as they were. A “new norm” has been created, and HR will be at the wheel when it comes to building a new company culture.

Why Did This Happen?

During the pandemic, businesses were forced to forget about company culture so they could face the reality of the situation, adapt, and survive. Remote work happened so fast that most companies jumped into it without a game plan. Front-line managers and HR leaders were scrambling to provide workers with what they needed to do their jobs. Everyone had to make tough decisions, navigate through challenges, and deal with stress. But for the most part, people got through it and got the job done.

So that brings us to where we are today. Employees are a little emotionally wiped out, but the show must go on. Now is the time to bring some positivity into the workplace. Here are some proven practices to rebuild and create a positive company culture.

Adapt to This New Landscape

Research has shown that while it is important to have a company culture that is strategically strong and aligned, that isn’t enough to get you through trying times like a pandemic. With some people working from home, some in the office, and new hires coming in, adaptability is the one thing that is going to help you in the long run.

A Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley study found that organizations with cultures that were strategically strong, aligned, and intensely emphasized adaptability performed better in dynamic environments. They in fact earned 15% more in annual revenue than those organizations in the same industry that did not emphasize adaptability.

Jenny Chapman and Francesca Gino, in an article published in the Harvard Business Review, said that “Cultural adaptability — which reflects your organization’s ability to innovate, experiment, and quickly take advantage of new opportunities — is especially important at this historic moment.”

To cultivate your company’s culture so that employees can focus on their work, Chapman and Gino recommend applying these practices:

- Promote and hire adaptable people. It’s difficult to make someone adaptable or resilient. Instead, find people that already have that edge. These are the ones that embrace putting out fires, see things from different perspectives, and aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves.

- Communicate your culture. Be the change you want to see. Show employees that you’re creating a new culture by having weekly forums, Zoom meetings, or other forms of communication that encourage transparency and embrace new ideas.

- “Doing good while being good.” This was the philosophy during the pandemic for the Washing, DC-based pizza chain, &pizza. By offering free pizza to COVID-19 patients, raising their employees’ wages, offering free Netflix access, and paying for their commute to work, they were able to retain their normal turnover rate.

Clear Communication & Total Transparency

Six months into the pandemic, MIT Sloan researchers found that Fortune 500 companies with good cultures before the pandemic actually experienced their highest culture and value ratings once the pandemic started. The highest marks employees gave companies were for communication and integrity. Under each of those categories, top team communication and ethical behavior scored highest.

Donald Sull and Charles Sull, the authors of the research article, said, “The top 50 companies excelled at transparent leadership, effective top team (senior leadership) communication, and clearly communicating strategy throughout the organization, and they fared well in employees’ general assessment of transparency throughout the company.”

Have a Structure in Place

Having structure or guidelines is often seen by employees as something that stifles freedom and the ability to pursue new and innovative ideas. But that doesn’t always have to be the case. After studying numerous companies over an array of different industries, Ranjay Gulati, in an article published in Harvard Business Review, says that “Guidelines are not the death of freedom if they’re well designed and well implemented. They actually support and nurture it by giving people a clear, positive, galvanizing sense of where the organization is trying to go.”

By creating a structure of norms, leaders don’t need to be told how to act. As some leaders like to call it, “freedom within a framework.” By trusting employees and allowing them to think independently, they can feel free to express themselves and find fulfillment.

For instance, tools like MetaSpark measure performance using data rather than feelings and emotions. Using this software, you can create a culture based on performance guidelines so that every employee knows they’re fairly evaluated. This will give them the freedom to complete tasks however they’d like, as long as those tasks are completed on time.

Also, MetaSpark enables you to see how well included employees are by their managers and peers, across the organization. By identifying those who are left out, and possibly identifying trends across the organization, you can ensure that employees are included and feel a part of your culture.

Recognition and Rewards

A positive company culture is one that has healthy competition amongst its employees. The benefit of recognizing someone’s standout performance with a reward is that it doesn’t negatively affect anyone else. If anything, peers see what they can expect when they perform well, and that can create healthy competition within the organization. Managers that reward good performance and behavior are important for employee morale.

However, incentive programs like bonuses rarely align to actual contributions and performance. These can create inflated performances in the short term, and suddenly performance will drop off. The traditional bonus structure is a boom/bust cycle. Instead, companies should always make their employees feel appreciated by continuously rewarding them. That can be by each individual task or project.

Nobody wants to come into the office (or home office) and work all day and all week without getting any recognition for their hard work. Where’s the incentive? But managers can utilize tools like MetaSpark so employees can earn points as they complete tasks on time. As their points add up, they can get rewarded for certain milestones with their choice of gift cards or donations to their charity of choice.

Just remember, like Rome, positive company culture isn’t built in a day. Don’t expect a complete cultural overhaul to happen quickly. But by implementing these practices one at a time, you’ll be on your way to having an adaptive company culture that’s sustainable and can get your team through hard times.

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