Coronavirus crisis: six impulses for a sustainable culture change.

The true strength of an organisational culture is shown in the way it deals with existential challenges. But, above all, by looking at how the culture learns from this experience – whether it goes on to develop in a way that makes sense. Six impulses that provide food for thought and stimulus for action in times of coronavirus – and for the period to follow.

Corona crisis - momentum for sustainable cultural change that makes sense

Change:When, if not now?

Quod erat demonstrandum: people and (organisational) cultures will only change – if at all – when there really is no other way forward. For example, if there is a serious crisis and traditional patterns of thinking and acting fail to solve the problem at hand, and therefore become useless. Can decentralised, networked and self-organised methods of working become the rule and no longer an exception? – It wasn’t until the virus-related rules on social distancing were introduced that it suddenly all became possible, pretty much overnight. This example also shows that it is often not technical problems that stand in the way (yes, the VPN connection to the company network usually works), but rather resistance in the organisational culture or of a personal nature. Where there has been a strong focus on maintaining control, trust has suddenly become the key factor (provided you don’t want to stick to your old principles and invest in surveillance software). Our proposal: make use of the coronavirus crisis, above and beyond crisis management, as momentum for the meaningful and sustainable development of your organisational culture. We (hopefully) may not get a better opportunity for some time to come.

Consumption may be no longer purpose in life

Values:Everything is changing. Isn't it?

The world after the coronavirus will be different. This is what people are saying. Yet just as many are saying the opposite. It will probably be the case that latent developments that were already underway will become stronger. Unbridled consumption to give our lives purpose and to provide meaning? After weeks of compulsory restrictions, perhaps some people will have developed a new awareness of the things that are really of value to them. And what they no longer need. All the more so as recognition is growing among rational thinkers that it is not only climate change but also the pandemic spread of Sars-CoV-2 and other viruses that are the unacceptable price for our lifestyle. Our proposal: Make sure that your organisational culture is prepared for a possible change in values in society, and examine your company’s value system. This may even mean making changes to your business model or to your portfolio.

Digitalisation:But this time properly!

No question about it: during the coronavirus crisis, more than ever before, it has been demonstrated that digitalisation can in fact be of great use and value to people (a promise that hasn’t always been delivered). Whether it’s a matter of virtual business meetings, digital learning, online shopping or even a virtual night out at the pub: in almost all areas of our lives, digital tools and platforms are making it possible for undesired physical contact and interactions to be replaced by virtual versions of the same. Online platforms that were previously viewed critically are now seen as the heroes of this crisis. And there are even some people who see the old utopia as having been realised, with the internet now becoming a place that can connect people for the better. What seems certain to us: on the one hand, if people have positive experiences with digital solutions during the crisis, this will also shape their behavior after the crisis. And, on the other, people have become more conscious of the value of human interaction in the analogue world. Our proposal: embrace digitalisation wherever this creates real added value for people. And, at the same time, create places and occasions which give people entirely real, in-depth and unfiltered opportunities to meet up.

Leadership during corona crisis - not just a question of strength

Leadership:Is strength really everything?

Crises favour strong leaders (as well as those who know how to put themselves forward as being such). For, in times of uncertainty, people long for the (apparent) security of a strong hand. Autocrats across the world are exploiting this situation to increase their power, yet this approach rarely leads to a crisis management that is of benefit to the people. It is our belief that strength in itself is not a value. But rather: the ability to provide people with clear orientation in the crisis and with a positive outlook for the period to follow; a value system that puts serving the people and their cause above satisfying your own ego; the ability and the willingness to communicate the meaning and the purpose of decisions in a convincing way; the ability to put yourself in other people’s shoes and to respond to their concerns with honesty (we call this cognitive empathy). We are convinced that these are leadership qualities that prove their worth, and not only in times of crisis. We therefore recommend that you use positive leadership experiences gained from the crisis to continue to develop your leadership culture in the long term.

A question of the system? Questioning the system!

Whether free-market capitalism and globalisation are part of the problem or part of the solution, in particular when it comes to the coronavirus crisis, is a subject of discussion as popular as it is controversial. One thing is for sure – if you stop questioning a system, it becomes an ideology. (The last system of this kind collapsed in 1989 as people felt that it no longer had any value for them.) We should therefore be allowed to question whether an economic system makes sense and is worth keeping in an unrestricted form if, for example, billions of people are brought to the brink of their existence – after just a few weeks of a shutdown. A system that can only be saved from complete collapse by injections of billions of dollars and euros in state finance. A system that, according to sociologist Hartmut Rosa, is like a “hamster wheel” that “turns and turns, getting faster and faster”, forcing people “into a mood of aggression towards the world”. We believe that it is worth giving consideration to corporate cultures and business models that do not bow to the dictate of unlimited growth and unconditional increases in profit, but that instead create sustainable value for people and for society as a whole.

Culture development is shaped by stories

Communica­tion: Tell the story of the crisis properly.

At some point, the crisis will be over and our memories of it will start to fade – the bad ones as well as the good ones. How we overcame the crisis. The things that seemed impossible beforehand that suddenly became possible after all. People who surprised us in a positive way. Heroes within the company in this exceptional situation. Memories of experiences such as those reported by Seat manager Christian Vollmer in his interview with the weekly newspaper DIE ZEIT: “In a major corporate group such as ours, everyone is very much focused on his own particular area. This has suddenly changed. The way we have managed to turn the company into a team in this crisis situation – a team that for many weeks has been able to forget all the squabbling and resentment and that, above all, has stopped focusing on individual success – has been a really great experience.” Such experiences develop a transforming power above and beyond the crisis if you pass them on and ensure that memories of them are kept. At all periods in history, it has always been stories that have changed and shaped cultures. Our proposal: during the crisis, generate the narratives that will be of importance for the ongoing development of your organisational culture – and that can bring about positive changes in your company and in the way it is perceived.

An idea that makes particular sense right now: our Value and Culture LABs.

Use the experience that you have gained from the crisis to bring about sustainable change in your organisational culture. In our individually-tailored Value and Culture LABs we can show you how – also online of course. Get in touch if you would like to find out more about the positive power of new value systems, a corporate culture that really makes sense, and communication that will shape your organisational culture!

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