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Building a Corporate Culture in Uncharted Territory

The combination of a global pandemic and our world’s renewed focus on racial injustice has completely upended what it means to build and maintain a corporate identity.

Unprecedented calls for unity, commitments to diversity and open dialogue are widespread, yet virtually no one is in the office, and employees across the board expect varying degrees of change from their management teams. Executives are embarking on changes that would be difficult even without the added challenge of remote work.

It has long been known that employee engagement is the key to success. This was true before the pandemic and the wave of social change sweeping the world. Time and time again, research has illustrated that there’s a correlation between employee engagement and performance outcomes such as profitability, productivity, customer perceptions and employee retention.

The truth is that we don’t yet know how to create employee engagement with a remote workforce under stress. But the principles and values that underpin all good management are likely to hold true. We’ll just have to find new ways to put them into practice. Here are some ideas that are likely to hold true, even—perhaps especially—in times like these.

Stand for something

The most important step you can take right now as a leader is to formalize your brand narrative and align on what your team stands for in this new era. Hiring a head of diversity or publishing a LinkedIn post saying you stand against racism far below the expectation your organization now has.   It’s critical to be ultra-specific, genuine and relevant. The clearer your mission is, the easier it will be for employees, and the general public  to buy into it.

Talk with your employees. Understand what’s important to them, and invite them into the process. The quickest way to deliver a disingenuous narrative is to restrict your conversations to a few executives on the senior management level, and then broadcast that message to everybody else.

Create a resource hub

Particularly in times when we can’t meet in person every day, your content truly becomes your culture. Invest in internal hubs that your employees can visit on a regular basis to read about company initiatives, publish their own feedback and connect with leaders. Consider AKQA’s platform dedicated to antiracism, or the comprehensive, actionable information that organizations like End Your Silence have been publishing. Brands that will thrive in this new world are the ones with their finger on the pulse of societal issues. Delivering a regular cadence of content, whether it’s a website, a byline or a large campaign, is the best way to achieve that.

Be the gold standard for your industry

Don’t wait for your competitor to take action—be the pioneer in your space and the standard that others look to for how they should act in this new era. First movers in times of crisis and uncertainty can be an inspiration to others. Speaking with integrity and without fear will ignite your employees internally and your key audiences externally. That’s easier said than done, but challenge your team to move beyond its words and drive tangible action today, paving the way for others.

Brands will be judged in the long term on how they act and respond in this moment—and those who sit back, waiting for others to lead, will be left by the wayside. By initiating an open dialogue with your employees and backing up your words with real action, you’ll become the authoritative voice that the industry looks to in times of crisis.

In that spirit, I want to hear from all of you who are reading this. What is your experience and perspective on how to stake out a corporate culture in these unprecedented times?