How the Pandemic Might Cure Your Culture

As a Lead Consultant at The Frontier Project, I get to help companies activate and mobilize their cultures with new mindsets and ways of working. That means I see all the things they’re struggling to change and what’s getting in their way. And what I’m about to tell you could save you real dollars in consulting fees.

We’re in the midst of a pandemic, y’all. And that pandemic has, in one fell swoop, managed to do several really difficult things that I get paid to do for companies:

  1. Create extreme clarity, despite uncertainty  
  2. Coalesce previously siloed, territorial teams into a cohesive, unified front  
  3. Generate extreme levels of compassion, care, and gratitude among coworkers

I’m not trying to point to a silver lining at this moment and say, "Look at the bright side." But I’ve been on several client calls over the past week, and they’ve all communicated how proud they are of their teams and the things they’re seeing.

“People are getting the right shit done, fast.”
“Departments are sharing information and working together as one team.”
“We are all sharing this grief; we are seeing lots of love.”

They’re capturing these stories for us to tell after this is all over—stories of agility, innovation, human connection, and personal sacrifice for customers and colleagues. Stories that will show everyone that indeed change is possible, teamwork is possible, kindness is possible. In a way, this pandemic is curing some cultural ills. There’s nothing like a crisis to create clarity. There’s nothing more unifying than a shared enemy.

So why can’t we get it right in peacetime? There’s been a lot written on that, and the answers vary based on the organization’s unique situation. To some extent, if things aren’t that bad in our organizations, we’re not inclined to exert the energy to change them—something known as the endowment effect. We’d rather keep the devil (and comfort) we know. In other cases, egos and politics get in the way, and power and position guard control. We don’t move fast because we need consensus, permission, and peace. We shrug and think, “Nothing to be done–it’s just the way it is.”

To sum it up, in peacetime, we self-protect. And in crisis mode, we realize our own safety and wellbeing and everything that really matters is tied up and interconnected with others. We set aside egos, protocol, and politics. In crisis mode, we get together, and we get to work.

That’s why my job is to create inflection points for our clients, that much like this pandemic, shake them out of autopilot, help them distance from egos, get clear on purpose, and recommit wholeheartedly to a shared goal. That’s when real transformative change begins. So my encouragement to you at this moment is to notice all the ways your people are getting it right, reinforce it, celebrate it, and use it as proof (and as a catalyst) to build the culture you want, no matter the circumstances.

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