“People are returning to a different place—or are in a different place, post COVID,” says Scott Blanchard, president of The Ken Blanchard Companies®.
“This isn’t about a return to work. It is about the return to performance,” says Stan Slap, New York Times bestselling author and CEO of the global culture consulting company SLAP. “Do it right and this transformation can serve you and soar your business. Do it wrong and it will stall you and stay with you.”
Examine and Reignite Culture Relationships
As leaders put the finishing touches on strategies for bringing back their workforce, whether in full or in some new form, Blanchard and Slap recommend examining and reigniting the relationship with your employee and manager cultures.
“A successful strategy isn’t just planned well; it is implemented well,” says Slap. “‘Implemented well’ won’t be decided by your enterprise plan. The success of your return-to-work plan will be decided by your employee and manager cultures. If they want it to happen, it will happen. If they don’t, nothing will happen.”
“That requires a closer look at your current organisational culture,” says Blanchard. “How is it feeling and what is it considering with the return to business performance? You've got to get that right.”
“You need your cultures to roll with you, protect both return-to-work and future-of-work strategies, and evangelise them to others on your behalf,” adds Slap. “Your employee and manager cultures will give you whatever you want, but you have to give them what they want first. It is not the responsibility of your cultures to understand the business logic. It is the responsibility of your business to understand the cultures’ logic. Get this one thing right and you’ll be unbeatable in any market you choose to own.
“Securing the maximum commitment of your employee and manager cultures is the essential focus that will allow your company to return to full performance. You need resiliency, trust, focus, and urgency from your employee and manager cultures. Your cultures need certainty, belonging, energy, and purpose from you.”
The Role of Leadership
“A culture exists to protect itself,” says Slap, “so it places a premium on the surety of its environment. This need is even more acute given the extraordinary uncertainty that it has experienced and that is exacerbated by a return to work. Your culture is reentering this environment and norms differently than it was forced to exit from them. And so the return to work isn’t only a matter of bringing your culture back to your company. It is also a matter of bringing your company back to your culture.”
Resetting and resecuring your relationship with your people is the first order of business, adds Blanchard.
“You've got to fill those tanks again. You need to renew the belonging between the culture and the company. You need to create the kind of emotional energy that produces faith, resilience, and urgency.
To resecure that kind of commitment, Blanchard points to a weekly message he shares with the company via email every Sunday evening. Although the message was originally designed as a way to keep people informed about the impact COVID-19 was having on the business, Blanchard plans to continue the practice for the foreseeable future.
“We are on week #63 now. I share everything I know about our business performance and plans. I also share what I don’t know. The goal is to provide clarity and transparency so that people feel well informed.
“It requires a balanced approach. I think you can get in trouble if you're forcing an agenda too quickly. And I think you can get in trouble if you’re not trying to move in some kind of a direction. It's a dance with the culture.”
“Your culture deals in the real,” adds Slap. “It knows you don’t have all the answers. And it doesn’t mind bad news as much as it minds whether it can trust who is giving it the news. Empathy, honesty, transparency, and commitment to move from a bad place to a better place together are all real leadership behaviours. A culture is never more united than when it is aroused, by either inspiration or attack.”
Pivoting into the Future
“Return to work is not a physical location issue; it is an emotional commitment issue,” says Slap. “Your culture needs meaning and purpose that reinforces its positive sense of self. This is not soft stuff. It is the stuff of hardcore business results. It is what will reattach your existing culture to the company and rapidly attach new hires.”
Both Blanchard and Slap encourage leaders to think through what a return to business performance means for their organisations.
“We're not going home to whatever work was like before,” says Blanchard. “We're pivoting into the future and reorganising ourselves in a way that takes advantage of new realities.
“There are two things that we do know for sure amid these uncertain times,” says Slap. “The first is that they won’t last forever. The second is that the story of how you stood up to them will. You’re going to be living with that story for a long time. It’s time to start writing it so that it ends the way you want it to.”
About the author:
David Witt is a Program Director for The Ken Blanchard Companies. He is an award-winning researcher and host of the companies’ monthly webinar series. David has also authored or coauthored articles in Fast Company, Human Resource Development Review, Chief Learning Officer and US Business Review.