As we’re slowly and cautiously starting to reopen and navigate our “new normal”, there are a lot of frank and potentially difficult conversations and work to be done. What is your work culture going to be like as laid off employees are brought back? How much trust is there between staff and leadership? Is everyone going to continue working remotely from now on? Organizations have an unprecedented opportunity to embrace the positive (and maybe unexpected) changes and learnings that have emerged through the past few months and recalibrate their strategy and culture to make the most of the new normal. We’re starting a two-part series on Re-Solidifying Your Culture in the “New Normal” and sharing tools to help you address and navigate these questions.
Workplace culture is your organization’s strength and competitive edge. A strong and healthy work culture is what makes people – the ones running, building, innovating, and bringing in money for your company – want to join your organization, stay, and thrive. COVID-19 has made us all reconsider the traditional parameters and format of work and made us innovate to keep things going. Last week we shared 3 ways to bolster your culture through purpose and compassionate leadership. There is currently an unprecedented opportunity for organizations to take the tests and insights of the last few months to build an even stronger and healthier work environment and culture to empower your people to stay and thrive. Here are 3 ways employee empowerment can help re-solidify your workplace culture.
1. Empower and Engage Your Employees
Many leaders have been collaborating with their teams by being transparent about the situation and working with everyone to brainstorm ideas and solutions on how to move forward. Transparent, open collaboration empowers employees to bring diverse perspectives, experiences, and ideas to leadership, be engaged with the work and future of the organization, as well as help the organization be strategically agile.
This approach empowers employees to be invested in the collaborative success of their organization, prevent leaders from feeling isolated and solely responsible for the future of the organization, and allows for greater opportunities for innovation and adaptability. By engaging your employees, you will be creating a culture of shared ownership and responsibility throughout the organization.
To explore whether you are empowering and engaging your employees, start by asking yourself and your team the following questions:
- Are employees involved in important discussions about the future of our organization? Are they able to provide input and insight to help leaders make decisions?
- What does empowerment look like in our organization?
- Do employees have clear boundaries within which they are empowered to make decisions on their own?
- Are the skills of our employees valued and being developed?
- How are we building the skills and capabilities that we will need to be successful in the New Normal?
2. Cultivate Innovation and Adaptation
Many organizations have made changes to their behaviour and structure in order to support their employees and ensure organizational resiliency and sustainability during COVID-19. Some common changes included enabling and transitioning to predominantly remote work and flexible work hours. But rather than rushing to return to exactly the way things were before – e.g. no remote work allowed – leaders and organizations should continue listening to and engaging with their employees to see what COVID-19 induced changes have actually boosted employee work/life balance, fostered innovation, and more. For example, if some of your employees are thriving with remote work, what changes could be made to policies to allow for greater work/life balance and the ability to work remotely (part or full time) within your organization? Organizations should continue listening to their employees to understand what the best and most effective way is to evolve and thrive in the new normal.
An important element of identifying opportunities for innovation and adaptation is creating a culture where your employees feel empowered and comfortable suggesting alternatives to the status quo, and where they are encouraged to experiment and learn from their mistakes. To consider how your culture is cultivating innovation and adaptation, start by asking yourself and your teams the following questions:
- Are we receptive to new ideas and suggestions? If not, what is the barrier?
- Are changes being communicated well and where do we meet resistance?
- How can we be more proactive about driving change?
- What happens when mistakes are made? Do we blame people?
- What can we do to learn from our mistakes and encourage more innovation?
- How do we get feedback from customers/clients and what do we do with that feedback?
- Are we meeting the current needs of our clients/customers? Will we be able to meet their future needs? How can we serve them better?
- Are we meeting the needs of employees to help them feel engaged and valued and productive? What changes can we make to policies and processes to support employees better?
3. Support Mental Health
Mental health matters. But so often it is pushed to the sidelines and kept in the dark. People are at the core of an organization, so it’s important not to just ask how we can make our organizations more resilient, but also how we can make our employees more resilient. Empower your employees to take care of their own health by not only recognizing and treating mental health seriously and providing resources for mental health within employee benefits, but also engaging with your employees to understand what their current work/life balance is like and what you can do to improve it.
To define or develop your strategy for supporting mental health, consider these starter questions:
- How do we support work/life balance?
- What resources do we have in place to support individuals who are struggling with their mental health?
- What are we doing to remove the stigma around mental health?
- How can we support the resilience of our employees?
- How could we raise more awareness around mental health issues?
- Are there mental health options within our employee benefits program? Are these communicated regularly to ensure employees are aware of these resources?
The past few months have been hard for all of us and most likely will continue to be for the next couple of years as we handle the tumult of a global pandemic. But we still have an opportunity to come out stronger if we come together and strive to empower our people to help make a difference both internally and externally.
As we move into the “new normal”, it’s important to reflect on the last few months and communicate with employees to learn about their experience and what they would like to see going forward. This could be done informally through one-on-one or team meetings, or more formally through internally or externally conducted culture assessments and engagement surveys. Now is the time to work together to re-solidify a culture that supports both your people and your organization.
If you have questions or would like advice on how to move your organization forward with your culture and people at the forefront, you can schedule a 30 minute pro bono consultation with Gillian Harper, Organizational Development Consultant at Realize Strategies.