Guest Post: In Tough Times A Strong Culture Can Protect Your Company
How to motivate teams during times of crisis: lessons from leading global companies
Tech workers marching at Gay Pride San Francisco 2019
Guest post by Luciana Carvalho, VP of People and Performance at Movile
Surviving in the post-lockdown economy is going to be the most important test that many business leaders have ever faced. It is during such extraordinary times that we will find out if our management best practices are indeed the right practices for these novel circumstances and what needs to be adjusted.
A widely accepted tenet of management teachings is that building a strong company culture is very important because it acts as a strong foundation for the entire organization.
Companies with a strong culture have a competitive advantage. Daniel Coyle in his best-selling book “The Culture Code” makes the case that the secret behind highly successful teams is due to company culture. Coyle offers the example of Overture, which invented pay-per-click advertising. Google ended up acquiring Overture because its company culture allowed its teams to move faster and grow bigger.
We are about to discover if company cultures can keep businesses afloat during times of extreme crisis. Is a company’s culture sufficient to weather the storms? What are the factors for keeping teams motivated during extraordinary times with unpredictable outcomes? What can be done to strengthen company culture? These have become common questions within every type of organization.
I’d like to share some insights from my career, which I think can help strengthen company culture and improve the odds of survival during these harsh times.
Leaders are the example
It may seem obvious that leadership is important in times of crisis but it is doubly important because that’s when people notice it the most.
Gianpiero Petriglieri, a researcher in leadership, recently wrote an article about “toxicity of leaderism and … the harm it causes.” He argues for elevating the role of managers to leaders. It is “what we need most of all and yet continues to elude us. That is, competent managers who are entrusted to lead.”
Whoever does the job of leading will need to do it for the entire organization. They need to set the tone, the energy, and be able to communicate a strategy of moving forward to every part of the organization.
For example, among the CEO’s many leadership duties is being a “Chief Excitement Officer” because motivation cascades down from the top. And the CEO needs to be in touch with everyone: internally with staff and suppliers and externally with customers and investors.
As in wartime, employees instinctively look to their leaders for information, like should they be scared about their jobs or should they be vigilant about competitors? They need real information. It needs to be brutally honest because anything else damages trust.
I’ve seen this type of transparency in information become an important strategy in strengthening company culture during tough times ― and Brazil has had plenty of downturns and political instabilities; many more than in western countries.
Communication with staff can be done through open dialogues with the entire organization, or by adopting new practices that then become a future habit.
The easy accessibility of leaders during critical times is very important because it helps everyone in the organization stay on the same page and it shows we trust our people, which in turn makes them feel more secure.
Here at Movile, we make videos where our leadership openly explains our positions on key matters and is able to preempt certain questions. We share stories of both success and failure because we believe there is as much, if not more, to learn from failures compared to success stories. This transparency strengthens our culture.
Which brings me to my next insight.
Transparency as a strategy
Transparency brings to mind something that is “crystal clear,” but this is rare because in reality, we are always in situations where nothing is very clear. So you must equip your teams with as much information as is possible. Tell them about the strategies, the next steps, and the immediate short-term actions needed.
Transparency in information is an extremely strategic practice especially when it is able to spread out the decision-making within the organization; when it gives team members the confidence that they have the best information to make the right decisions.
Otherwise, during times of crisis and fast-changing events, teams can become paralyzed with indecision. Transparency in information empowers teams because they understand how to move the business ahead.
Management updates should be communicated in an open forum with easy access for employees who are offsite or in overseas offices. This brings me to my next insight about work.
From systems of control to systems of results
The global COVID-19 lockdowns have forced every company to adopt and adapt to remote work because most team members need to remain at home. Not everyone was happy with this new normal because few organizations had the company culture that was comfortable managing remote teams.
A new fact of life is the potential return of lockdowns as future infectious waves emerge. This means every company needs to be super comfortable managing remote teams in their homes, and having work processes in place that support their productivity.
Management needs to recognize the additional pressures faced by their staff who are working from home; especially in households with young children.
Our regular systems of control based on hours does not take full advantage of the flexibility of remote workers. It is best to let them decide on how to organize their work and shift a company’s management priorities towards a system of results.
Jim Ludema and Amber Johnson at the Center for Values-Driven Leadership at Benedictine University, wrote that it is important for leaders to “trust their team members and validate that trust by watching organizational productivity, not hours. This allows them to celebrate their team’s performance without micromanaging the time clock.”
And a system of results helps build a culture of meritocracy where results and not favoritism are rewarded.
Preserve the core and build out the base
These harsh times are the best times to examine your company culture and decide what is core to it. And, how it can be strengthened through new practices.
Here at Movile, we are helping our people adapt to the crisis and deal with the pressures of working from home. This includes advice and warnings about medical issues and recognizing the mental health issues around loneliness and anxiety.
We are also experimenting with various tools and processes because we’ve been forced to move all our office interactions into virtual worlds. We are still trying to figure out how to celebrate our successes with virtual champagne, and how we can virtually recreate those interactions during coffee breaks when we are not in the same building.
Adopt and adapt
The best company culture for these times is one that is highly adaptive and readily able to adopt new ways of working. During times of crisis, every company responds differently. There will be new rites and rituals and new habits established. New ways of winning will be found. And new practices such as transparency in information will bond teams together in spirit and purpose so they can successfully tackle hard challenges.
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Luciana Carvalho is VP of People and Performance at Movile, an investor in an ecosystem of leading technology companies it operates globally from its headquarters in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Carvalho is one of the chief architects of The Movile Way, a methodology taught at Harvard and Stanford universities for building high-performance teams and a culture that is encouraged to take risks, be fearless, and dream big.