6 Keys to Building a Post-COVID Culture

6 Keys to Building a Post-COVID-19 Company Culture with Amy Kelly

Global human resources and talent development executive Amy P. Kelly presents six tips for building a corporate culture post-COVID-19.  Given that we can’t return entirely to the old ways of working, it’s a great idea to step back and use this moment as an opportunity to rethink how we do business whilst protecting and developing our teams.

KEY 1: Adaptability and Resilience

Amy describes her Sustained Change methodology, whereby at the point of onboarding you ensure that potential employees are okay with working in an environment which is undergoing sustained change.  If the nature of that environment is made clear up front, you can ensure you hire suitable staff.

In most of the companies Amy has worked with, change has been integrated as a feature of their strategic planning and process management, with reviews and revisions on a quarterly basis.

KEY 2: Transparency in Communication

The days of corporate secret keeping are over.  In “The Energy Bus Field Guide” that Amy authored with John Gordon, they discuss how voids in communication are often filled with negativity, whether it’s speculation or resentment.  These days, employees want to feel involved in significant changes. 

Amy thinks it’s useful for companies to ask two questions: “What do we stand for?” and “What do we want to be known for?”  A major component of the answer to the first question is “We stand for our employees.” Part of that is recognizing that remote workers are just as valuable and committed to the company. 

Executives need to check their belief systems around remote working and may require a little bit of re-education around this, so that everyone feels supported and included.  When leaders demonstrate their belief and commitment in the remote working members of the team, this belief will prove contagious.

KEY 3: Corporate Alignment

The “What do we stand for?” question is vital because it helps leaders and their teams constantly check in with themselves and their plans to ensure they are still strategically aligned.  This sort of self-checking can happen in group meetings or one-to-ones; the vital component is to check that decisions align with the company’s values, which everyone should share.

If possible, it’s a great idea to task one employee, perhaps not on a full-time basis, to ensuring that these strategic alignment check-ins happen systematically and include both remote and office-based employees.

KEY 4: Choosing the Right Metrics

When running team building or development exercises, it’s important to have the right metrics to measure success.  Amy recommends the Kirkpatrick model, which has four levels:

Level 1: Reaction

This learner-centered approach assesses what those taking the training took away from the exercise.  A post-training survey may be used to determine this.

Level 2: Learning

At this level, you objectively assess what each learner absorbed, both with formal quizzes or assignments, or informal discussions.

Level 3: Behavior

Later, it’s vital to assess whether there have been positive behavioral changes in employees following the training.  Observation is the best method for assessing this element.

Level 4: Results

Finally, the training is measured against the stated corporate objectives for such training, using whatever KPIs were deemed appropriate.

For stages three and four, Amy follows up with managers and the company’s CFO to ensure they are getting value for their investment of time, energy, and money.

What Culture is (and isn’t)

Amy and John Gordon like to say that culture isn’t just one thing: it’s everything.  Culture is what employees think, say, and do.  It also isn’t static – it is dynamic and subject to change.  To ensure culture is at the forefront it is vital to integrate it fully into corporate strategy and answer the “What do we stand for?” question.

Key 5: Options for Inclusion

Given the difficulty of mixing remote working and in-office activity, as well as satisfying employees’ different levels of risk adverseness, Amy believes it’s helpful to provide as many options as possible and allow each employee to select the kind of involvement they are comfortable with.

Encouragement is always preferable to ultimatums, in terms of getting people to change their minds.  Part of Amy’s leader development program is to promote a holistic view of the different ways in which employees might choose to contribute and that all may be valid.

Key 6: Consistency in Challenging Situations

However, there will be some non-negotiable adaptations you’ll have to ask your employees to accept.  So long as you have communicated transparently and been as flexible as possible, employees should appreciate this.  Where there are difficulties with recalcitrant employees who have difficult home situations, don’t be afraid to have a one to one to ask how you might support that individual. 

Don’t lead with criticism but express concern and empathy and get the employee to communicate their difficulties clearly so you can assess what can be done to accommodate.  Make written records of these conversations.  The bottom line is that employees must perform their appointed roles, so it may be worth checking your HR policies are up to date with regards to hybrid working and what is expected from both sides.

Employee Assistance Programs and Benefit Programs can be good sweeteners when you need to ask your teams to embrace change and meet your preferences halfway.

Where companies are divided in terms of geography and politics, with offices showing different degrees of conviction to a program of change, the only solution is communication and patience.  Finding an instrument through which to discuss corporate culture, whether it’s a program, research findings, or a book, can be useful to broaden out the discussion.

Small groups may be more useful to implement change and take decisions on particular topics; larger groups are better for consistent communication, but less ideal for getting things done.

The bottom line is to understand that hybrid work has shifted the ways in which our teams interact and the types of work settings they value. By listening to their needs, leaders can create a dynamic and rewarding work environment.

Amy explores team dynamics more fully in her upcoming book, “Glue – A leadership strategy to bond and unite,” due out in December of 2021.