Why Culture Matters During COVID-19

BukelwaDuring COVID-19, a company’s internal culture is more important than ever to entrench resilience in a team. In times of uncertainty, a strong sense of togetherness, inclusivity and open communication channels are critical.

People need to feel prioritised, valued and emotionally supported. That’s where empathetic leadership is key. Passionate about Atmosphere’s atmosphere and shepherding the talent of tomorrow, Bukelwa Monqo, Director at Atmosphere Communications, exemplifies this leadership approach. Here are her insights into keeping culture central to an organisation’s DNA during COVID-19 and beyond.

Q: How did the culture at Atmosphere impact your career and personal development?

BM: From day one, I was always exposed to a culture of constant knowledge exchange. Whether I was receiving a brief, attending a weekly academy session, or catching up with my mentor as part of our mentorship programme – I was always exposed to award-winning managers who took great care in helping me unleash my full potential. My managers also led by example, so I would constantly be learning just by watching them.

Small things like always arriving to work on time, sticking to deadlines, applying yourself to your work and always over-delivering on what you’ve promised influenced me hugely and helped me become the leader I am today. I was also told from day one that I am responsible for my own career growth. It’s only when I became proactive about my growth and owned the full process that I started to thrive. When you are given free rein to create your own path, as well as the support to reach all your goals, it really empowers you to be the best you can be.

Q: What are the signs that the culture is failing within an organisation?

BM: Culture is the glue that holds everyone together during the good times and the bad times. But for it to be successful in an organisation everyone needs to be aligned on what the overall purpose is. If everyone on the ship understands what their destination is, they’ll share the same vision and goals.

Culture will fail when:

  • Communication is not free and having courageous conversations with each other becomes difficult (usually, when the internal communications are clear and free-flowing, and people are given a platform to voice their opinions there is trust in the organisation)
  • A lack of trust results in micromanagement; this can cause tensions that filter through to other parts of the organisation
  • Pressure builds too much. Healthy competition and acknowledging great work is good, but your employees must by no means feel as though they are always being put up against each other. This drives wedges between individuals
  • Bad habits creep in from the top. Ensure that your team leaders aren’t harbouring any bad habits that may bleed through to the rest of the team. Give them the support and coaching they need to lead by example and good character

Q: What are the metrics you use to know if the culture at work is thriving?

BM: I usually do a series of team buildings that at times force the staff to be vulnerable with one another to show that we trust each other with our feelings, opinions and ideas. The result is usually laugher and sometimes tears. That for me is a successful engagement. You need to create something that is more than a paycheque for your staff. People spend one-third of their lives at work, so a job is not just a job. It has a huge impact on one’s quality of life. When the culture allows employees to be themselves and express themselves the way they want, and we allow for a safe exchange of courageous conversations, that’s when I know we are doing it right.

Q: When in crisis, what three things can organisations do to keep the culture alive and boost morale?

BM:

  • Ramp up the mental check-ins: Provide your staff with all the tools and resources they need to remain as stress-free as possible. Look into enlisting an external business coach and trauma councillor on retainer and as a free resource to your staff or host virtual fitness sessions every week.
  • Put a rhythm into the internal communication:Depending on how big the crisis is, its important to have regular check-ins with your staff and to establish a rhythm to your comms. At least once a week, send an all-staff email that is simple, clear and transparent and make sure that you do a temperature check ahead so that you address all potential questions in that email. Assure your staff that you are a call or email away if they have any additional questions.
  • Reiterate your organisations’ purpose: When people buy into your purpose, everyone shares the same goal. In a crisis, it is important that everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet and has their eye on the same prize.  

Q: How does a crisis strengthen a company?

BM: The beauty of a crisis is that it stretches you and takes you out of your comfort zone. That is when you get to see who is on your team and people’s true potential and ability starts to shine. It is a time you start to notice the things you might normally ignore. I’ve seen unexpected leaders, sunshine souls, mountain movers, and SO MUCH MORE emerge from this dust. It has been wonderful to see just how resilient we are when we’re challenged with the unknown.

It’s a time when everyone is at their most vulnerable and you see how exceptional your colleagues really are. And when you see it, tell them. Keep the spirits high and keep it moving! Everyone deals with a crisis differently. Post COVID-19, it’s important that people don’t feel defeated and tired, but fulfilled, stronger and more united. Also, most importantly, even better prepared to weather the next storm.

For more information on how Atmosphere can help you navigate your communications during COVID-19 and beyond, contact us.

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