Organisations have surprised themselves by the speed with which they are responding to the crisis. Pecan research found 75% of leaders had seen a positive impact on their working practices. Ways of working that they had attempted to introduce into their culture for years, such as flexible working, product innovation and agility, have suddenly got traction and they have achieved the unimaginable in weeks rather than months (or years).
These early improvements to workplace culture are having a significant knock-on effect. Three quarters of respondents reported a positive impact on engagement (79%), effectiveness (71%) and customer experience (70%). As lockdown eases and businesses start to find their ‘new normal’, this is an encouraging sign of performance potential across UK organisations.
To embed healthy new habits that have emerged during the pandemic it is essential to bring them to the surface, examine them, the reason behind them and the impact they are having.
It is easy to slip back into old habits when the crisis passes, however. There is a limited window of opportunity to bounce back and transform before old cultural norms start to reassert their grip. Beware the learnings from the 2008 crisis – it is the organisations that are willing to reflect, learn and proactively adapt that will thrive in the future.
HR professionals have experienced enormous pressure over the past few months, adapting policies, processes and working practices in record time to enable remote working at a scale not seen before. The coming months are likely to be just as tough as redundancy programmes begin (or continue) and furloughed employees transition back to a blended home/office workplace.
Wise leaders will take this opportunity to build learning into the organisation’s future culture. Our research highlighted five positive themes to consider.
The five key themes
- Customer (re)focus: organisations that may have lost focus on their purpose and true value to customers have reconnected. By listening harder, engaging them more fully and innovating more quickly, they are building advocacy that will last.
- Democratisation: historical power imbalance between hierarchy, gender, age, ethnicity, office location and personalities are significantly reduced when working together online. New voices are being heard, with the potential to make workplaces more inclusive and accessible.
- Caring does count: more leaders than ever have been showing they care about employee wellbeing through their actions. They are seeing the benefits through phenomenal commitment, flexibility, and productivity.
- Agility at last: having strived for greater pace, productivity and responsiveness over the past few years, mindsets have shifted enormously regarding the art of the possible. Practices such as short-term, bite-sized goal setting, little and often communication, and regular reviews are helping teams achieve more with less.
- Redistribution of time: through lack of commuting, online development, and more focused and efficient meetings, leaders are saving hours a week that can be redirected into either their wellbeing or alternative work endeavours.
So how can HR leaders take learning from this crisis to evolve their organisation’s culture and maximise future performance?
Six steps to making good habits stick
Old habits are deeply engrained, especially when they have become part of an organisation’s cultural norm. We tend to notice them when first joining an organisation and then we ‘acclimatise’ and stop noticing how we are following the same patterns of behaviour. To embed healthy new habits that have emerged during the pandemic it is essential to bring them to the surface, examine them, the reason behind them and the impact they are having.
- Stop! Prioritise taking even a small amount of time to reflect as a whole organisation or team-by-team. How have we changed our ways of working over the past few months? What has the impact been on our wellbeing, our productivity and our performance? How have our mindsets and behaviours shifted? What has been the impact for our customers?
- One step at time: what will be most important to our future success? Consider the five positive themes. Which ones are the greatest priorities for us? Identify two or three habits that will really make a difference and pick the biggest priority. Once the team or organisation has nailed that one, come back and work on another.
- Own it: engage employees so they can own the change. Involve them in steps one and two and give them space to explore the benefits for them and their team. Everyone knows how hard it is to stick to new habits – all those New Year’s resolutions that we’ve long since forgotten are testament to that. Research suggests it takes at least two months’ practise to make them part of day-to-day working. So, encourage honesty – what’s in it for them? How much effort are they willing to put into making it stick? Can they quantify the benefit they will get? If they are not bought in, have that conversation and understand what it would take for them to commit.
- Do it now: there is no magic pill that will make new habits come easy. A team must commit, at least to the first one or two steps, and go for it.
- Plan to fail: assume that good intentions will go off track, other priorities will come along or old habits will creep back in. Encourage teams to put all the support mechanisms in that they can to encourage success – visual reminders, diary notifications. Organisation-wide support such as communications, celebrations, ‘cheerleaders’ or coaches will all help keep people accountable and notice the early benefits.
- Review and learn: diarise when progress will be reviewed, ideally after about four weeks. Knowing this review point is planned will help people commit and stick to new habits in those tricky early days.
We’ve all learned lessons from lockdown that can help improve our future performance, but only if we take these critical steps. The lessons can be learned at an individual, team or organisation level to increase performance, customer focus, wellbeing or diversity.
Culture evolution involves creating a movement – encouraging shared beliefs and ambition. Consider which of your existing initiatives will benefit most from culture evolution and frame the conversations in that context.
Interested in this topic? Read The future of work: how Covid-19 will change working culture for good.