Challenging times put culture to the test. Leader’s decisions are scrutinized. Employees immediately judge whether actions are in alignment with the values of the organization. 

Ten years of positive culture can dissolve overnight if values are abandoned when crisis hits. People can also lose trust in leaders when decisions:

  • take longer than expected
  • don’t take into consideration all valued stakeholders
  • don’t come from a value system of compassion and support

On the flip side, Glint research has identified three characteristics of workplace culture that support resilience during challenging times. One caveat—if you don’t already have momentum in these three areas, this is a make-or-break time. Carefully consider how you communicate and act to encourage resilience.  

Glint insights on culture and resilience

In February 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic was erupting in the U.S., Glint conducted a study asking participants from hundreds of organizations to rate their organizational culture on a variety of characteristics. Those same participants were asked to rate how effective and resilient their organizations were. 

The findings were clear. Organizations that are most resilient are those where employees readily observe the stated culture and values in action. 

In fact, employees at these organizations were nearly 11 times more likely to believe their organization would bounce back from setbacks quickly. They were also eight times more likely to believe they could continue to be productive in uncertain times. 

Three cultural characteristics (or common behaviors) were identified as the biggest drivers of an organization’s ability to be resilient. Employees at organizations that are strong in these three cultural characteristics are 4.3 times more engaged compared to those who are not. Understanding these characteristics can help you develop and reinforce the culture needed to navigate difficult times now and in the future. 

Three signs your culture is resilient

1. People know how to manage conflict. 

During uncertain times, people react in a variety of ways. Some may aim to keep their heads down and ‘lay low.’ For others, tensions run high and conflict can seem inevitable. One response is flight, the other is fight. Creating a culture that helps people constructively settle differences is vital to organizational success.  

Glint’s research suggests that the most resilient company cultures are those that are good at conflict management. What does that look like exactly? In these organizations it’s common for people to 

  • interact with each other in a direct and constructive way
  • work hard to understand others’ point of view in a conflict
  • focus on reaching alignment even on difficult issues

To make this a reality, teams must experience a sense of psychological safety, in which individuals feel a sense of belonging, are able to openly express their concerns and ideas, and see that their opinions are solicited and valued. 

Organizations that fail to establish psychological safety or manage conflict during challenging times can be paralyzed in their decision-making. Or they make less than optimal decisions because of an inability to openly discuss alternatives. 

2. People take timely and decisive action. 

Execution is paramount in a crisis. Leaders may discuss and plan for a variety of scenarios, but they must take decisive action along the way. Cultures that are most effective in challenging times are those where it is common for people to 

  • make timely decisions
  • effectively balance short- and long-term demands
  • reliably deliver on commitments
  • efficiently get things done

While some may view no action as better than the wrong action, this can actually have the opposite effect. People can become frustrated when leaders wait too long to respond in a crisis or take action only when absolutely necessary. 

On the other hand when swift and decisive action is taken, employees express feeling proud, appreciative, and energized by the quick and caring response. 

Values can be used to visibly and proactively guide decision-making in times of distress. In Glint’s research one of the strongest drivers of resilience is living the stated culture and values. Without using a consistent set of guiding principles, decision-making can be erratic and unpredictable, actually creating more stress for those involved. 

Certain decisions—especially those related to physical or emotional safety and health—should be addressed immediately, even if they are not explicitly called out in the values. Delays in these types of decisions can have substantial and negative impact on employees’ trust in leadership. 

3. People support each other through change.

The final characteristic of an effective culture in challenging times is that people support one another through organizational changes. During a situation such as the COVID-19 pandemic, many changes can occur at a rapid pace. Employees may suddenly be working remotely, dealing with a new family situation, or adapting to new workplace practices to keep employees healthy and safe. 

Organizations where people have built a muscle to support one another will be best equipped to respond to the multitude of changes introduced in challenging times. 

From an organizational perspective, this could mean having the needed resources in place or getting the right resources quickly. For managers and teams, it can mean having frequent, honest conversations about what support people need. Finally, from an individual employee perspective, it can mean feeling cared for and supported and having the ability to reach out to connections or express feedback and needs. 

Understand your organization’s culture today

How do organizations and leaders create the kind of culture needed to effectively respond in challenging times? 

One thing is for certain, organizations that are best positioned to respond to a challenge like COVID-19 have been reinforcing the right cultural attributes long before this virus hit. For these organizations, managing conflict, taking timely action, and supporting one another through change comes as second nature. These ways of working are so prevalent as part of the cultural fabric that people don’t think of behaving any other way. 

To learn more about how Glint can help you build a resilient culture, contact us.