Article by Ian Fuhr (Bizcommunity)
The last few weeks of any year are always characterised by exhausted teams who are looking forward to a holiday. This year we’ve been under more personal, professional and financial pressure than ever before, and teams across the country are taking strain. The challenge is that if businesses don’t focus on employees now more than ever, their staff won’t deliver a great customer experience.
Putting culture first in a post-COVID-19 world
Across the globe, we’ve experienced a collective trauma. No business is at fault for the pandemic and its repercussions, but this doesn’t mean that leadership teams are not facing varying degrees of fear, anxiety, resentment, frustration and even anger. Racial tensions have also come to a head, and many businesses are struggling to address the realities of racial polarisation.
Rebuilding the relationships between leadership teams, managers, employees and the business should be every organisation’s top priority.
Employees serve customers, and if they do not feel heard, respected and supported, they are unlikely to put in the care, focus and passion necessary to deliver exceptional customer service – and right now, customer loyalty is essential.
We’ve all experienced how customers are re-evaluating how they spend their money and who they spend it with. Companies that are not customer-centric will not continue to attract business. Any business that wants to avoid this should be putting their employees front and centre through a cultureneering philosophy. The customer experience will never be better than the staff experience.
Here’s how businesses can focus on putting culture first as we close off 2020 and head into a new (and hopefully better) 2021:
1. Choose a culture champion
At Hatch, we believe that every organisation needs a person who is solely responsible for culture. This individual should do whatever it takes to start culture initiatives and to keep them rolling. It’s too difficult to expect a line manager to concentrate on culture together with their other roles and responsibilities.
Some companies might use a person in the HR department. Others might hire a new individual specifically for this role, and others could nominate a candidate from within their current employee pool. Whoever takes on the role should be given a designation that really speaks to what they do. They should also genuinely care for people, the organisation, and know what’s happening with their colleagues. Our advice? Find that person and put them in the role, give them a clear title (such as culture champion), give them real responsibilities and watch them shine. They can then train line managers on how to treat people and support the business’s overall culture.
2. Empower employees to chart the business’s course
No industry or business has been left unscathed by the pandemic. Business owners are re-evaluating their business models, products, solutions and whether they are still relevant.
Businesses whose leadership and exco teams are locked in boardrooms trying to navigate this brave new world are missing a critical strategic tool, however. Employees often have the closest relationships with customers and on-the-ground views and experiences that can add great value to strategic discussions. Companies that tap into these experiences, ideas and diverse views won’t only find interesting solutions that can really take the business forward during this time, they will give employees a reason to buy into the business’s purpose and reason for being.
3. Focus on the individuals within the organisation
Invite employees to share how they have made a difference in a customer’s life today. Ask each employee to share how their specific job role makes South Africa a better place, and link this back to your culture. The important thing is to start the conversation.
There’s a great story about President John F. Kennedy visiting the NASA space centre and noticing a janitor carrying a broom. He interrupted his tour, walked over to the man and asked: “What are you doing?” “Well, Mr. President,” the janitor responded, “I’m helping to put a man on the moon.”
If you can inspire this level of motivation and inclusivity through your culture, you will build an incredible business.
4. Start with your purpose
Is your Reason for Being still relevant? Do customers need you? Do your employees feel supported by you? How is your organisation living its purpose?
COVID-19 has highlighted the fact that people are looking for reasons to believe. They need stability in an uncertain world. The culture you build and the consistent message that you share will help them find something to believe in and work towards. People naturally want to contribute to others. The right culture of service gives them that ability. The key is to link what they do on a day-to-day basis to a larger purpose.
For example, if someone is on a production line, show them the bigger picture. Who is the customer? What problem are they helping to solve or what joy are they bringing because of the important role they play?
5. Link purpose to core values
As the leadership team, it’s your job to entrench your Reason for Being throughout the organisation through your core values. Be careful though – you can’t state values and then not live by them. You must practice them.
Consistency is key – if you are not consistent, you will not win the hearts, minds and respect of your people. If you say one thing and do another, your people won’t follow you. It’s that simple. Look at every decision you make through the lens of your values. Are you aligned?
6. Finally, celebrate 2020
It’s been a tough year. Instead of only focusing on the hardships, however, are there victories that your team can celebrate? Everyone is looking for something to believe in – can your business be that guiding light and support system?