I’m sure you’ve seen them. Maybe you’ve worked for one. Maybe you are one. You know those companies, they are usually large and often high profile, and always first to PR the charities they support, the volunteer hours they give, the priority they place on people. They’ve got glossy posters on the walls, and all the outwards signs that their culture is amazing. And through Covid, many businesses like this were tripping over themselves to tell current and prospective clients how benevolent they are.
From manufacturers pivoting to make PPE, to bricks and mortar restaurants reinventing themselves online to tackle food needs for the vulnerable, the pandemic has seen a plethora of virtuous acts.
James Allen famously said “a crisis doesn’t build character, it reveals it.” And certainly Covid revealed some tremendous companies with deeply altruistic spirits, and culture to match. There are so many fantastic companies out there that really do walk their talk. But the pandemic also revealed a sizable chunk of virtue signalling that is happening in many other companies, and the crisis took its opportunity to reveal all.
In 2020, the quest to keep businesses afloat and keep employees safe required leadership at the top of its game. Leaders required personal resilience to manage the multitude of setbacks that will arose across sectors. Business cultures needed to be strong, clear, well embedded and bought into by all staff. Most of all, cultures need to be authentic. And clearly, that just wasn’t’ the case for some.
Global media agencies provide a steady supply of serious virtue signalling last year. One agency known for its people focus, didn’t want its share price affected through the pandemic, so instead of taking up furlough options and saving jobs, it laid off a large swathe of staff instead. One of its competitor agencies recently posted a profit in the double-digit millions, while they pocketed staff salary sacrifice and wage subsidies through the pandemic. Yet another global agency commissioned a fast turnaround BLM mural on the store of one of its software giant clients ‘while the protests are still relevant’. All of these companies work in the same sector with overtly people-focused cultures, or so they say.
Then there was the fast fashion brand who were quick to shout their support for the Black Lives Matter movement, yet less than a week later, found themselves in the midst of allegations of breaching the Modern Slavery Act as well as failing to adequately protect workers from Covid-19. And then there was the finance company and credit card, promising to make customers lives easier financially through Covid, who at the beginning of the pandemic told its staff they weren’t guaranteed to receive pay if they fell ill.
In all of these cases the pandemic showed the cracks beneath the surface of their cultures, their misaligned workplace culture, lack of leadership, or both. The pandemic showed that glossy wall posters, people hashtags and social media campaigns aren’t enough to create an authentic culture, and the crisis shone a light on the truth of organisations behaviour and intent.
In the long run it’s much easier to take the time to build good leadership and a strong culture in the first place, than crisis-manage once an issue comes to light. It’s far more favourable to see a brand that is flawed, owns its shortcoming or apologies for its mistakes, than one that shouts about its virtues, then skulks off without comment when the truth is shown.
Think of the king of chicken, KFC. We’d never expect them to run out of chicken, would we? Except they did, temporarily closing 900 restaurants last year. But, they’re culture allowed them to own, rather than hide behind this shortcoming, cleverly reworking their logo on a full-page ad that said simply: “FCK”. This is not to say good organisational culture is just about owning your errors, but authenticity is sign of a good culture.
Other examples of company culture high on authenticity include social media giant Twitter, lauded for their multi-tiered feedback loops, their Twitter University for formalise staff development and training, and the usual digital company perks like health and fitness classes too. Employees report that the company makes them feel like the work they are doing is important, leading to strong productivity.
Spotify too has been applauded for its company culture, in part due to the development of a bespoke tool that allows staff to share the projects they are working on, to help or congratulate other team members on their projects. The tool called ‘Unicorn’, ties in with performance feedback and bonuses, including the opportunity for peer-to-peer bonuses.
Creating company culture can be complex, but Culture Consultancy have worked tirelessly with boards, management and businesses over the last 11 years, designing and embedding workplace cultures that ensure authentic, engaged and future proofed cultures. Get in touch if we can help you with your own business culture.