Transforming Corporate Culture and Driving Performance in the New Workplace

Returning to the office in the wake of the pandemic will pose a lot of tough questions for businesses everywhere. Ultimately, it will be organizational culture that drives competitive advantage and performance. A new report by Waterstone Human Capital offers five drivers of culture transformation to help optimize performance. Let's take a closer look. 

September 1, 2020 – As organizations begin to look at the matter of if, when and how they will transition back to traditional workplaces, leaders are fielding a number of questions: What will the office look like? Will it be safe? Will it ever be the same again? Can we have a high-performance culture with so many people working remotely?

“We know that some team members will happily return to offices, while others will choose to visit the office as needed, and yet others will continue to use their home office as a base of operations,” Marty Parker, president and CEO of Waterstone Human Capital, said in a new report. “The impact of these changes on corporate culture cannot be overlooked; nor can the fact that now more than ever, organizational culture will be the driver of competitive advantage and performance. Your culture will differentiate your organization more than anything.”

Mr. Parker said that to successfully take advantage of the changes underway, leaders should consider the following five drivers of culture transformation to optimize performance:

1. Plan for the Change: Culture by Design

How do you define your culture today? “Knowing your current culture is key before embarking on any kind of transformation,” said Mr. Parker. “This starts with an inventory of your organization’s values and the culture or behaviors that represent those values. Once you have defined your culture, take a step back and ask if that culture is the right one to support a workplace undergoing enhanced safety and security measures, more remote workers, or even a balance of remote and physically present workers who co-exist.”

“The best place to start is with a planning exercise that we call culture curation or culture by design,” he said. “It involves envisioning the ideal environment and the behaviors required to help your organization move towards that environment, while still supporting the strategy and business imperatives. Once you see the future, you can look at your current behaviors and see where there are gaps. Identifying these gaps is critical to future success. And our experience tells us they are often found in the behaviors that leaders exhibit.”

2. Leadership Competencies and Training

We know that leadership behavior drives culture and that culture drives performance. “Thus, ensuring you have the right leadership behaviors in place for the culture change you envision, and ensuring those behaviors are being measured, is critical to successful culture change,” Mr. Parker said. “As an organization, you need to honestly assess if you have the right leadership competencies and attributes to support the evolution of your culture. Sometimes this happens through competencies design work, but it should always be followed closely by an assessment of the current leadership team against your re-established competencies.”

Marty Parker is CEO and founded Waterstone Human Capital in 2003. Waterstone is a retained executive search firm specializing in recruiting for fit and a cultural talent management organization which provides leadership development, succession planning, cultural assessment and cultural alignment consulting for entrepreneurial-minded, high-growth organizations across North America. Mr. Parker has provided expert commentary on the impact and importance of corporate culture and human capital for CNBC, the National Post, Canadian Business and Profit, and has appeared on Canada AM, BNN and CP24.

In today’s environment, leadership and management training programs are in demand as organizations look to fill the gaps created by changes in how we work. For example, Mr. Parker said that some organizations are “looking for programs to help them build better coaches and communicators within their organizations – people who can engender trust and ensure their teams work effectively and collaboratively whether in-person or remotely. Others are looking for programs focused on soft skills – helping them develop their emotional quotient, lead with empathy and compassion,  and understand the individuality of team members who may strive to find meaning in their work and be recognized for their contributions (no matter where they’re located).”

Mr. Parker also noted that leaders must be selected and developed for their ability to put individual needs in the context of organizational objectives and culture, while being able to navigate the new world of remote and on-premise employees. “This is not an easy task,” he said. “Google’s Project Aristotle gives us a great insight into the attributes of high-performance teams, and Waterstone’s own research into high-performance cultures provides great insights for leaders. High performance teams drive high performance culture, and in our changing work environment leaders with great soft skills and the right training will thrive.”

3. Leadership Measurement and Impact

“We know that what gets measured gets done,” said Mr. Parker. “But to ensure we’re creating an environment of physical and psychological safety, it’s important to look at new measures of performance – leadership’s impact being one.” He asked: How can leaders support the development and achievement of their team members? Do team members feel like their leaders enable a culture of higher engagement?

“We know that net promotor scores accurately measure whether team members promote their organization to friends and family; perhaps it’s time to measure whether they feel they are being effectively led, developed, coached and mentored to drive higher results,” Mr. Parker said. “A more inward look at measuring leadership capability and impact will be the trend and will help people grow internally. Regular pulses to teams, skip level discussions and the help of strong people and culture measurements are the answer.”

4. Building a new employee experience

Historically, organizations were developed using a physical environment and an “earn trust” model that featured office hours, face time with your team, and (often) mandatory team-wide meetings held in-person. Mr. Parker said that the “internet, high-speed digital networks and telecommuting disrupted that philosophy, but COVID-19 has accelerated the shift to the remote workplace and a “give trust” model. As we transition into the next phase of work, a give trust model that equally considers the experience and needs of at-home workers and in-office workers is required. This is the largest transformation of the workplace that most of us have experienced, and it requires careful consideration.”

Do team members need to work in the office? When do they need to be physically present? What is the role of physical workplaces? How can leaders give trust and still ensure high performance when they can’t physically see or manage employees?  “Again, this requires planning, training, the development of leaders and the enhancement of digital collaboration/connectivity tools,” Mr. Parker said. “But it is being done. Work/life balance has quickly become work/life integration and the organizations that are adept at supporting teamwork and collaboration, building connection to culture and recognition, and leveraging communication both virtual and on-site team members will win.”

Mr. Parker said that the power of place is important, but more as a tool than the solution to building and sustaining culture. “The office will still be the workplace for many, but for many more it will simply be a meeting place,” he said. “It will be helpful for culture building, a place to share ideas and think creatively alongside others, a break from the home environment when needed, and a place to host meetings; but, it will no longer be required as an operational hub for full teams. Think of the office like locker room for a sports team—it is where relationships get built.”

Related: Five Things to Consider When Creating a Company Culture

In Jeanne Meister’s book, The 2020 Workplace, the new and enhanced workplace experience is described as a critical differentiator for employers. “Workplace experience is the application of user experience to the workplace, and it now requires leaders to re-imagine the physical, digital, and cultural aspects of work,” said Mr. Parker. “This employee as customer mindset requires a total re-thinking of the moments that matter to each segment of employees – those starting their first day on the job to those exiting the organization. Work needs to be as frictionless, digital, and personalized as the rest of our lives – and, the experience must be consistent for both in-person and digital employees.”

5. Safety and Personal Wellness

The specifics of reopening the workplace will differ between organizations, said Mr. Parker, but one constant is this: leaders must address the new realities of physical safety based on industry and jurisdictional requirements. “And remember that safety doesn’t stop at the physical space – leaders must also create a psychologically safe work culture,” he said. “Tolerance, compassion and understanding individuals’ needs and comfort zones will be critical and should be considered core leadership behaviors. Leaders and organizations need to look at safety in the context of a movement towards personal wellness and its impact on performance. This includes physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health. Ensuring support, benefits, systems, and offerings allow workers the same access to these benefits, no matter their work location, will be a challenge.”

“There is a silver lining to the changes brought on to workplace culture by COVID-19, and that is that with some planning and forethought organizations will be more focused on their evolving culture and the new and enhanced integrated employee experience,” said Mr. Parker. “We have the opportunity to focus on building higher impact leaders, with exceptional soft skills who are adept at unlocking the power of their teams.”

“Paradigms will shift, old practices will be left behind, but culture will continue to be the key differentiator in driving high performance,” Mr. Parker said.

Related: Why Total Well-Being is the Biggest Culture Shift to Happen in Decades

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor  – Hunt Scanlon Media

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