Organizations work hard to create and sustain a great culture.  Many leaders that I speak with who are contemplating a workplace transformation project, talk about the need to retain their culture following the change, seeking assurances that it won’t somehow become lost because the workforce has adopted a more activity-based approach to work, location and collaboration. This concern is understandable. As Peter Drucker said, ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast.’ And getting a great culture takes leadership and effort. If it is damaged, it can take years to repair.

What is corporate culture?

It’s not the values written on your reception wall, nor is it a measure of how friendly everyone appears to be.  Organizational culture is the shared understanding of ‘how I need to behave to be safe, survive, and thrive around here.’ And it flows from the leadership of the organization.

Have you ever seen people’s behavior change soon after a new President, Prime Minister, CEO, or Head Teacher arrives? Exactly that. The leader’s values and behavior ripple throughout the organization as people observe who thrives and who doesn’t, adapting accordingly.

Five ways to protect corporate culture in a hybrid working world

  1. Role modelling

The first step in protecting your culture as you adapt to a hybrid world is to retain faith in yourself as a leader. As a role model of the culture, what you do will transcend the physical work premises provided that you remain connected with your workforce. That sense of personal connection between you and your people, be it through intranet blogs, online town halls, or weekly or monthly video updates, helps keep everyone pointing in the right direction.

  1. Icons

Take time to understand what typifies your culture, and then infuse all elements of the employee experience – including recruitment, on-boarding, performance management, communication, and development – with icons of that culture.  So, for example, if part of your organizational culture is built around great customer service, you might want to incorporate images of people interacting throughout the workplace. You may also want to include customer role-plays in your recruitment process or place a special emphasis on developing customer service skills when training new and existing employees.

  1. Alignment of external brand with internal culture

Make sure that your external brand aligns with your internal culture. We all instinctively know when engaging with an organization whose people don’t ‘live the brand promise’ that something is out of alignment. Don’t try to be one thing to the outside world and another internally.

  1. Clarity

Ensure your managers are clear about what is valued, what good looks like, and, importantly, how they themselves can connect their people with the culture through the ways they behave and the expectations they hold.

  1. Simplicity

Great culture is simple to grasp. Develop principles rather than policies. This may mean, for example, that rather than creating a list of rules that account for every possible eventuality in the workplace, you articulate clear principles – such as ‘do no harm’ or ‘treat others with respect’ – that align with your culture and that help guide your employees through challenging situations. People respond better to themes than they do to overly detailed rules.

  1. Trust

Finally, remember it’s not about a set number of days in the office. Focus on outputs and outcomes rather than trying to manage inputs. For great culture to thrive – particularly in a hybrid environment – knowledge workers need to feel empowered, with a strong sense of ownership. This sense of ownership is borne out of the trust you place in your people – trust that they understand what needs to be done and that they will deliver.