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4 Ways To Build Culture Virtually

4 Ways To Build Culture Virtually

You’re proud of your culture. Maybe you’ve won a few Best Places to Work Awards. People tell you that one of the main reasons they came to work there is your culture. And it’s a big part of why people stay. There’s a vibe, positive energy that’s almost palpable. It’s a fun place to be.

And then – the pandemic hits. All of a sudden, your people are all working remotely. In the beginning, you were doing weekly Happy Hours by Zoom and monthly Town Hall meetings, and you were so proud of how your people all demonstrated that “can do” attitude. “We can make it through this,” you thought.

How many more Zoom calls can you do? Some of your people are fried, stressed out from working in their living room, breaking up fights between their kids who still aren’t back to school and constantly need help with their homework. That culture you were so proud of? Well, it’s starting to fray around the edges.

So how do you get back in control of your culture, and preserve, manage, and even grow it in this new remote work environment, when your people aren’t together every day? Here are 4 specific things you can do.

1. Define with greater clarity.

First, define with more clarity than you may have ever done before, exactly what you want your culture to be. More than anything, driving your culture is largely a teaching function. And if you don’t have enough clarity about what you’re teaching and what you want people to learn, you’re not going to have much consistency.

While you may have a vision and mission statement and a set of core values, that’s not enough.Culture is largely about behavior. In fact, you might think of culture as the “set of principles that govern how people behave in a given context.” Where values tend to be abstract, behaviors are actions. And because they’re actions, they’re much easier to teach, coach, and give feedback about. They’re easier to operationalize.

Here’s an example to illustrate the difference:

Notice how much more clarity the behavioral description provides vs the typical core value. You can’t teach it effectively if you can’t define it clearly enough. Everything begins with that clarity.

2. Teach with repetition.

Once you’ve clearly defined the behaviors that drive your culture, you need to create a structured way to teach those behaviors over and over again. Remember when you were first learning to swing a golf club or to play an instrument? You had to put in tons of practice so that you could internalize the skills and make them almost second nature. It didn’t happen overnight. You can think of embedding culture in the very same way.

Remember that culture is driven by behavior, and we all know that the only way you get behavior change to stick is through lots and lots of repetition. It’s not enough to post your behaviors on the wall or the website. Nor is it enough to talk about it at your quarterly company meeting. Repetition is king. You need to create a way to talk about those behaviors at least every week, and better yet, every day.

By the way, the best way to do that is to build it into a routine like talking about it at the beginning of every meeting. When it becomes part of your routine, it’s easy to keep it going. In the absence of the routine, it’s too easy for your plan to eventually dissolve into becoming another “flavor of the month.”

3. Build a curriculum.

With your culture clearly defined in terms of behaviors, and your routines in place to ensure sufficient repetition, you need to build a “curriculum” around your behaviors. It’s one thing to articulate the behaviors that are most important, but if your managers don’t know how to teach those behaviors, or they’re all teaching them in different ways, you risk confusing people instead of helping them. Building a curriculum for your culture helps to ensure that your leaders, managers, and supervisors are all teaching the same thing.

What should be in your curriculum? A good starting point would be to address three areas:

  1. Teaching points
  2. Coaching tips
  3. Questions for discussion

“Teaching points” would include some of the key insights you want people to learn about that behavior. These could be insights, best practices, ways to overcome challenges, etc. “Coaching tips” would include suggestions for managers and supervisors on how best to coach team members on their performance on the behaviors, especially when people struggle with them. And “Questions for discussion” might include a list of good discussion topics that could be used to engage team members in thoughtful dialogue around your behaviors. The more people are engaged in exploring aspects of the behaviors that define your culture, the more they begin to internalize them.

4. Use technology to communicate.

The fourth key to managing your culture in this new world of remote work is to make maximum use of technology. With your people working remotely, you need to be far more intentional in your communication – when you communicate, how you communicate, and how frequently you communicate. Remember that you can no longer rely on the ad hoc conversations that used to take place when people were together. If you don’t plan and schedule communication, it likely doesn’t happen. And the more, the better. In the absence of sufficient communication, it’s easy for people to feel isolated and disconnected from your culture.

Thankfully, there are so many tools today that allow us to communicate with our teams pretty darn effectively, even when they’re remote. Between Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Slack, Yammer, and a variety of mobile apps, there are lots of ways to engage your people and to teach your culture. The sooner you get your entire team embracing these tools, the more effective you’re going to be at having people feel connected to your culture. Using technology to communicate is no longer a “nice to have.” Instead, it’s become a “must-have.”

So let’s review those 4 steps again:

  1. Define your culture in terms of clear behaviors. It all starts with clarity.
  2. Teach with repetition. You won’t change behavior without it.
  3. Build a curriculum so that your leaders can teach with consistency.
  4. Use technology to connect people to your culture.

Here’s the bottom line: While the pandemic will eventually be behind us, the trend toward remote work is here to stay. If your culture relied mostly on leadership by example, and people being physically together, you’re going to be at serious risk in this new world.

Those who succeed are the ones who up their game on culture by becoming way more systematic. You might think of it as building a “culture operating system.” In the new world of remote work, it’s an absolute requirement for success.

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About CultureWise
CultureWise is a valued Strategic Partner of CEO Coaching International.
Learn more about CultureWise in the video below. For more, visit CultureWise’s website here.

About CEO Coaching International

CEO Coaching International works with CEOs and their leadership teams to achieve extraordinary results quarter after quarter, year after year. Known globally for its success in coaching growth-focused entrepreneurs to meaningful exits, CEO Coaching International has coached more than 1,000 CEOs and entrepreneurs in more than 60 countries and 45 industries. The coaches at CEO Coaching International are former CEOs, presidents, or executives who have made BIG happen. The firm’s coaches have led double-digit sales and profit growth in businesses ranging in size from startups to over $10 billion, and many are founders that have led their companies through successful eight, nine, and ten-figure exits. Companies working with CEO Coaching International for two years or more have experienced an average EBITDA CAGR of 67.8% during their time as a client, nearly four times the U.S. average and a revenue CAGR of 25.5%, more than twice the U.S. average.

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