Culture as a Key to Strong Performance in Turbulent Times

Peter Drucker, one of the most influential business thinkers of the 20th century, said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” 
Illustration: Getty Images, Kelsey Ige

This insight is especially relevant today, when so many business strategies have been sidetracked by the pandemic. Leaders have had to manage their workforces through closures, downsizings, disruptions, and the shift to remote work from home. Culture – the way people behave according to a shared set of values – has been critical to whatever efficiencies are possible during this turbulent period. 

It has been far from perfect. The current environment has companies publicly leaning into their brand identities as a way to continue relationships with customers and other key stakeholders.  Risks mount when the way businesses want to be perceived (their brand) grows inconsistent with the way they actually work (their culture). Recent incidents at Bon Appetit Magazine and the Ellen Degeneres Show drew public attention when employees openly criticized management for not living up to the brand being projected.  

Given the disruption of normal work structures and processes, organizational cultures are being tested. Accommodating the realities of work-at-home employees is necessary. A failure to adapt to the needs of parents with children at home, ailing relatives, financial worries and growing stress risks eroding employee commitment and increasing the dysfunction within organizations.  

Here are a few pointers to make sure this doesn’t happen at your company.   

Be Intentional About the Brand Identity Being Projected  

Your brand is more than just your logo; it consists of an entire identity determined by your values, mission, services, employees and more. It is not only who you say you are, but also who others believe you to be. It is expressed through your products and services. 

Align your organizational ethos, culture and operations to a single answer -– the purpose of what you do. Understanding why you do something is critical for unifying your employees under one culture, which results in your company developing consistent customer experiences.  

Invest in a Strong Company Culture  

Company culture has taken on an elevated role as a foundational structure to build trust and engagement, hold organizations together and keep employees committed to their work. Get clarity on the organization’s most important values and behaviors. Communicate them clearly. Train middle management to model them. 

Prioritizing internal communication, commitment and engagement can help project a brand’s distinct values and identity to a broader external audience. Your employees are your brand ambassadors and must have a clear understanding of the culture in order to put it to practice.  

Heed the Warning Signs 

If your internal culture is such that employees do not feel comfortable sharing ideas and speaking up, you have a looming issue. This is a major disconnect that is clearly a sign of dysfunction, which will harm your company’s reputation.  

If employees are not able to voice concerns and resolve issues through workplace channels, they will find other means to make their voices heard, particularly in the face of injustice. Company leadership should implement internal HR processes that provide employees with a means to voice their concerns and embrace these processes wholeheartedly.  

Be a Culture Leader 

Culture must be reinforced and demonstrated at the highest levels of an organization. This should be done formally, when making decisions on policies, and also informally, on a daily basis in behaviors big and small. For example, what content you choose to promote via social media, or how accessible you make yourself to employees.  

To ensure that external culture consistently aligns with a company’s internal culture and beliefs, leadership needs to engage in open and honest two-way communications with employees in all parts of the organization. Do not be alarmed by how different groups will perceive the culture differently. This is normal. The role of leaders is to build a comfortable consensus on what the culture is and how everyone can reflect it in the work they do. 


This Month’s Expert:
Lori Teranishiprincipal and founder, iQ 360  
Categories: Biz Expert Advice, Lifestyle, Trends