The last few weeks have caused organizations to reexamine their corporate culture through the lens of their current circumstances. Some of that has happened of necessity, as part of crisis response. But the choices of what to address, and how, demonstrate these cultures in action, signaling how they may evolve into the so-called new normal that’s to come. 

This week we convened Page and Page Up members for a discussion on how cultures are being evolved, sometimes organically and sometimes intentionally. The discussion was fundamentally about two different issues: how to manage and tap into cultural strengths to sustain the business now, and how to start thinking about very different cultural and emotional issues that can be expected down the road. One participant referred to both in saying, “There are things beyond our control, but we will focus on the things we can.” 

The landscape today:

  • On the current issues, CCOs are dealing with the challenges of diverse workplaces containing different job types in different regions, with different rules, norms and realities with respect to the spread of the virus. Local teams are being empowered to respond to their distinct circumstances, while a larger portion of the Communications function’s attention - perhaps 90% - is focused on internal communication. Companies’ existing cultures provide important glue, reinforced by daily, storytelling-rich communications (from senior executives and among employees).
  • The need for speed has driven more agile decision-making and a mindset of moving fast even if not every duck is in its row. One company that would have typically spent months preparing for the roll-out of a company-wide digital collaboration platform instead did it in days, troubleshooting issues as they arose. At the same time, “people are presenting in a more authentic way” as they work from home, producing more “digital rapport” and more effective communication. Pulse polling is helping these companies understand how culture changes are affecting factors like trust, communication, management and productivity and companies are seeing historic high response rates for these surveys..  

Anticipating new culture:

  • Going forward, the challenges will change. Most participants expect that the “new normal” will not become clear for an extended period, with protracted uncertainty regarding economic recovery, the return of demand and the sustainability of previous business models.
  • Most also expect an increase in remote collaboration, digital engagement and the need for increasingly Agile methods.
  • The coming year is expected to be intense and disruptive. One participant observed that companies will need to be thoughtful in dealing with employee grief, and another noted that the company will look very different in a year from now. Comms has the responsibility to make the new culture meet that change.

Special thanks to Maril MacDonald and Sherry Scott of Gagen MacDonald for leading the conversation, and to Tanya Baini of Coca-Cola Amatil and Whitney Eichinger of Southwest Airlines for sharing their experience and perspective.