The One Thing Every Company Culture Should Have
Contributed by Kristen McAlister
There are many things I never thought I would hear my business partner say and most of them I have actually heard in the last couple of months.
I never thought I would hear, “We are going to order surgical masks to send to all of our engaged interim executives, employees, and their families.” We are a professional services firm, not a doctor or dentist office. The next call came when we were planning our second virtual happy hour. “Kristen, we are going to order chips, salsa, and margaritas to arrive at each person’s home just before our happy hour.”
I admire and respect my business partner very much for being able to think on her feet and stay consistent with our company culture, while adjusting to how we support it despite the current environment we are operating within.
I have heard a number of challenging business decisions being made over the last couple of months. The one constant I have noticed is when faced with a crisis, the company culture can be the foundation and the one solid rock that will carry the company through any type of change.
Culture is going to be an important topic over the next month. That includes whether the company’s culture has changed and how you are reinforcing that culture in your daily activities.
As you discuss whether your culture has or needs to change, evolve, or double down, there is one element that should be considered. The basic human need for inclusion. This is one of the leading indicators for how engaged (and productive) an employee is – is their basic need for inclusion being met?
The need for inclusion
I have a 7 year old son. There was an incident at his day camp last week that prompted me being pulled aside at pick-up for a conversation with the program director. It turns out there is another child in the program who tends to be adversarial and likes to tease a lot. For the first time, my son reacted to the teasing, and in a way that was not appropriate (fortunately words not fists were thrown). It was a reaction none of the teachers ever thought he would say or do and was extremely unlike my son who they refer to as a “sweetheart.” I discussed it with my son that night. He was able to clearly tell me that most of what the other child says is calling him names like “dumb,” “stupid,” or “little baby.” When I asked about what the child said that day, my son couldn’t get it out of his mouth. Each time he tried to tell me he started crying. What this child said was so disheartening and so hurtful, my son couldn’t bring himself to repeat it. As a mom, I was braced and ready for the worst.
It turns out the thing that child said that was so hurtful (far beyond being called names) was, “You aren’t invited to my birthday party.”
I retold this story to a friend of mine who is a family therapist. She explained that humans are pack animals. This is part of our survival. We run in herds. What happens when an animal is separated from the herd? It gets eaten. Even though being eaten or attacked is not a current concern most of us have, we still have an instinctual negative response to being excluded or separated from the pack and can go into fight/flight mode when this happens. Essentially, my son was so scared of being separated from his herd/friends that he went into fight mode. It in no way justifies his actions, but it does explain why he reacted the way he did this time.
Our businesses have gone through a similar herd separation the past couple of months. Our employees and teams have been separated from their herds both professionally and personally.
One simple example is a company that went from 3 offices to 300 offices as all of its employees were thrust into a WFH environment. Three herds of 100 were separated from each other.
Be Purposeful and Mindful
There is a leader who I have come to admire greatly. He has a couple hundred employees he leads and had to furlough about half of them recently. Over the past couple of months, he has made daily phone calls, sent gift cards, and has developed hand cramps from hundreds of hand-written notes.
Another amazing leader has been organizing game days/nights with his staff and their families. They were able to extend the inclusion beyond the staff working from home to their families as well.
When trying to figure out, “what should I be doing for my team(s)” and “how do I help them feel more engaged,” think about the herd analogy. Some have formed new relationships and found comfort. Most are wondering around, lost and scared, not knowing where the others are and what is around the next corner.
The simplest way to increase employee engagement is to increase their feeling of inclusion. Let your company culture be your compass and go get your herd together.