Culture Drives Employee Response to Crisis

Over the last couple of months, I’ve learned firsthand that how an organization responds to a crisis reveals the true character and strength of their culture. So I want to share the details behind these revelations and how they can help you shape company culture.

In October, one of our manufacturing partners lost an employee at the hands of another employee. You can only imagine the anxiety, fear and grief that rocked this 240-person organization. I recently had a conversation with the company’s CEO, Rob, to understand how this tragedy affected the team.

Rob confided that the entire team has been amazing through it all, sharing hugs and tears. Within days, employees had organized a walk in memory of the team member lost and the family to help defray funeral costs. What’s more, the company matched all monies raised dollar-for-dollar.

Rob acknowledged if they didn’t have the culture in place that they do, “We would have lost a number of employees. There is no book on how to manage and react to difficult situations. It is moment by moment, open communication from every direction (internally, with customers, with our industry) for the welfare of our employees and their family members.”

He continued, “We have invested in developing a strong culture and it has kept our team together, created camaraderie and trust. This incident amplified the empathy and compassion we needed to see our way through.”

“Since the incident, each morning the leadership team is in the parking lot at 6 a.m. to greet employees and we’ve brought in grief counselors. Working every day to check-in on team members and understand how they’re doing. Our leadership has been and continues to be fully engaged with each and every team member on an ongoing basis, valuing them beyond the work that they do.”

Takeaway: The company’s response to crisis is a reflection of its culture, committed to demonstrating with actions, not just words, that it cares about their people.

Last month driving down Mainstreet to my office, I watched a huge American Flag being raised across the entire street. Curious, I walked down the street and talked with the officials managing the process. I learned that this was the day the Hopkins assistant fire chief of Hopkins, who has lost his life in the line of duty, would be laid to rest.  The officials also apologized for the disruptions that might occur between 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. as they were expecting riggs from all of the firehouses around the west metro. My curiosity was on overdrive and I made an appointment to talk with the Hopkins fire chief to learn more about the culture of this almost all volunteer fire department and the firefighting community.

The fire chief, Dale, shared that cards and letters had been coming in from all around Minnesota and the entire country. This is the way the fire departments roll. “We take care of our people from the new guy on the block to retirees, from our own to neighboring departments. We are always here for each other,” he said.

Improve corporate culture and drive employee response to crisis - remembering Hopkins assistant fire chief event

Dale echoed what Rob shared, “If we did not have a strong culture we would not be able to weather the fatigue that comes with our work. We honor people and treat them the way we want to be treated. Our retirees are welcomed into the fire house to help new hires understand the history of the Hopkins fire department and what it means to be a part of the larger firefighting community. We have many traditions that build camaraderie and lead by example at all times.”

Takeaway: Cultures as strong as these don’t just happen. Intentional actions create a place where people truly want to work and find meaning in their contributions. As seen through the Great Resignation and Quiet Quitting, people have reevaluated priorities and have shifted expectations about their work life.

Here are five nuggets to help you strengthen your culture:

Communicate with purpose and often.

Communicate how employees’ work connects to your organization’s purpose. Consider a “waterfall style” – communication designed for each level in your organization from senior leaders to individual contributors. Ensure the most important communications are communicated multiple times through multiple methods.

Recognize people for contributing to your company’s purpose.

From a hand-written note to a call-out in a staff meeting, from a pat on the back, to a meaningful tangible token. McKinsey reports among the top reasons people leave is not feeling valued (54%) for their contributions. Ensure connection activities like recognition are an integrated part of your culture. Recognition is not a “top down” action. It is best when it comes from all directions. Encourage employees to recognize upward since leaders need to feel valued too. And to be recognized by one’s peers is exceptionally special since many are sharing the same responsibilities.

Authentically “know” your people.

When companies and their leaders truly understand their employees, they develop a much deeper empathy for what employees are going through. Pair that empathy with compassion and determination, and demonstrate you authentically care about their professional contributions as well as their personal interests.

Flexibility & connectivity

The last few years have brought significant change to how and where work gets done. It’s critical for leaders to find the right balance between the “in-office” experience and flexibility to work from anywhere that still creates connectivity and a sense of unity and purpose that humans crave. Establishing policies, practices, and expectations that give employees flexibility in their jobs and opportunities for employees to connect with one another to build community will deepen personal fulfillment and engagement.

Personal professional growth

Growth and development opportunities beyond promotions and pay increases matter. Consider one-to-one mentorships, skill-building training, and opportunities to work on special projects. Your people will grow, providing you greater opportunities to create tiers within existing roles and promote them to new roles.

Takeaway: Strong cultures are built in small moments over time that create the big picture. A strong culture your team will feel like they belong, find meaning in their work and forges connections with other employees. Furthermore, an organization’s positive, public response can shape the perceptions of customers, partners, and the community.

If you are ready to take on shaping a stronger culture, don’t plan your next moves in a vacuum. Make a cross-functional team part of the process to create balance.

If you’re interested in some support, we’re here to help. Let’s start a conversation. Call 800-742-6800 or email today.