Creating a productive culture during tough times

During tough times, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep yourself and others focused. Our brain’s reaction to fear kicks in and we pursue a variety of options just in case.  Despite our brain’s insistence that we look at multiple opportunities and constantly explore new things, tough times are not the time to diffuse your energies. Focus, focus, focus!

Get clear on what excellence looks like for the next six months.  Define it, so all employees can relate to it and can make the right decisions moment to moment.  Once you have gotten yourself focused on the right things including prioritizing where you should spend your time and other resources, there are some core things you can do to keep employees engaged and aligned. To start, at the company or team level, make sure you have reconsidered the culture necessary to achieve quality based on the changes around you. Culture helps people know what to do and how to act. Remember that actions speak much louder than words, so it is the apparent behaviors that get translated into beliefs and drive behavior throughout the organization.  If you say one thing to employees, yet your action represents the opposite, you hinder a successful culture.  An aligned and positive culture can contribute significantly to an organization’s success and even more so in tough times. The behaviors of everyone can contribute to moving forward and reaching your destination points or they can slow you down at the worst possible time. An unaligned (usually unintentionally developed) culture gets in the way. 
Cultures poorly aligned to the elements of your strategic framework (why do we exist, how will we behave, what is our value to key stakeholders, where are we going, where are we today, where will we focus our energies) can be damaging and distracting. For instance, when a company needs all employees to become obsessive about excellent customer service due to tighter markets, increased competition or ever higher customer expectations, the culture has to support the employee behaviors necessary to achieve this obsession. This includes building policies and practices that allow employees to make decisions and take risks about satisfying customer requests immediately. For example, if a customer service agent is only allowed to operate ‘by the book’ in addressing customer requests, she/he risks losing a customer when they have a unique need and it requires three levels of approvals to have that need met. 
Leaving culture changes to chance is like abandoning one half of your strategic planning framework. It is like pretending that those darn employees and the way they get things done do not really matter to achieving success. There are some core practices and beliefs that drive high performance cultures:

  • Clearly define what winning looks like at your company
  • Measure what matters and what employees can relate to
  • Develop an ownership mentality
  • Enable and reward educated risk taking by employees that satisfies and retains customers
  • Nurture trust, by involving your employees

These are just a few.  I’d like to hear what your company does to create a culture of success during tough times.