5 Ways to Lead Through a Time of Cultural Change

No business leader could have anticipated what we would face this year. From adapting to remote work, to navigating supply chain shortages, to managing the health and wellness of your employees and customers, it has been a year for the books.

While some of these changes have become more comfortable as we settle into a “new normal,” it is important to remember that we are still in a meaningful time of change and adaption, and your employees continue to seek stability and reassurance. The way that leaders are communicating with and engaging their teams requires a special mindfulness of a work and social environment that has forever changed.

As a leader, it is important that you remain out in front of these challenges. As you look toward the end of the year and into 2021, consider these five tips for leading in the midst of significant cultural change.

Communicate early and often.

You likely learned this earlier in the year related to the shutdowns and local mandates. Chances are that employees heard from you during that time more than they were used to. Now, however, you may have settled back into a routine of managing behind the scenes in order to run your business.

Avoid the temptation to let communication fall by the wayside simply because urgency may have decreased. By remaining visible and vocal with your team, you create a sense of reliability and trust that employees need in order to stay motivated and productive.

Communication should be thorough about business-related issues but should also include the act of making you and your leadership team available to people. Establish a regular cadence of checking in with your employees, perhaps a biweekly or monthly newsletter that comes from the leaders desk about what is going on in the business as well as encouragement or insight for life outside of work.

By showing this small amount of investment in your employees – just by staying in regular contact – you help instill confidence, connection, and loyalty. All three of these things are critical to leading successfully and retaining your team during this time.

Cultivate a team environment (even if it means getting creative).

Depending on your industry, your employees are either at home and may not have seen each other in months or are working together, but under restrictions and with more caution than ever before. This can make it very challenging to continue fostering your company culture. But just because it is challenging does not mean you can afford to put it to the side. In fact, it matters more now than ever: employees must feel that they are part of a team.

Just as they need to feel connected to you as a leader (see above), they also need to feel as if they are working alongside people with whom they have a strong working relationship and can depend on. Physical distance and heightened restrictions can be isolating and demoralizing, and without active efforts to enforce culture, you risk employees becoming detached and disenfranchised.

Get creative: perhaps you send a gift card to team members to purchase lunch and everyone takes an extra-long lunch hour to connect virtually. Maybe you begin publicly celebrating successes of individual team members. You may even wish to formalize this by incentivizing managers to publish accomplishments on an internal communication network. Whatever you choose to do, keep connection, development, and a team mentality at the top of your priority list – even if it doesn’t come as naturally as it used to.

Think outside of just work.

Many employees have a family life that is more complex than it used to be: schedules have changed, priorities have been forced to shift, and concerns around safety, health, and finances are higher than ever. During times of change, it is critical to view employees as the whole person that they are, acknowledging and taking into account the burdens, concerns, and other challenges they are bringing into their workday.

Be mindful of the social environment in which we are living and provide adaptations and support accordingly. Maybe that means more flexible work hours to accommodate distance learning or caretaking or increasing access to personal or professional resources: wellness classes, education, or books that they can use to grow themselves during this difficult time.

The more fulfilled and satisfied your employee is outside of work, the more productive and fulfilled they will be on the job. It is in your business’ best interest to invest in the growth of your employees, especially when so much of life right now feels uncertain.

Remind them of the mission.

In a state of change, it’s easy to lose sight of the larger goal you are working toward. However, this can serve as a source of stability—not only for you as a leader, but for your employees. While everything else in life may be in flux, your ultimate mission is not.

Be intentional about reinforcing your company’s mission, goals, and culture during this time. Communicate the ways that business decisions are tied back to this foundation, illustrating the way that it is serving as your ultimate guiding light, as well as the contribution that individuals have to realizing that mission.

By rallying your teams around the shared goal that you are working toward, you foster ownership, empower decision-making, and ultimately build loyalty to your organization.

Maintain forward motion.

In the same way that you remind employees of the mission you were founded on, remind them of the progress they are contributing to. Set short-term and long-term goals that teams are aware of and can get behind. As John Kotter discussed in his famous book Leading Change, individuals can feel as if their efforts are being wasted if not tied to a target of some kind. Establish and communicate these targets in order to motivate employees and maintain engagement. And don’t hesitate to get creative! Create incentive with short-term “unheard of” goals, such as increased commission or other perks.

Make a big deal about wins—both at the business and individual level—and regularly cast vision for what is coming and what can be. Remind teams what is possible despite the change and uncertainty they feel today.

Change is scary and unsettling. When in a state of cultural change like the one we find ourselves in today, it seeps into each area of our life. As a leader, it is your responsibility to offer a place of stability and momentum that your employees can feel secure in.

Instill confidence in your teams by prioritizing communication with them, humanizing yourself and making your leadership available to them. Don’t hide behind your desks or closed doors. Do everything you can to continue fostering a team environment, even if it means getting creative, and invest in your employees inside and outside of work. Remind them of the common goal and mission you are after and continue casting vision for what is to come.

During a time of change such as this, your team needs you more than ever. Show up for them in a meaningful and productive way using these tips, and you’ll foster an organization that does not just meet its goals despite the adversity you are facing, but does so with a productive, loyal, and engaged team behind it.