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A Two-Pronged Approach Can Make Cohesiveness a Competitive Advantage

Twenty-five years ago, I called corporate culture the most crucial factor for a company’s success.

The importance of corporate culture has only increased since. From 1999-2019, organizational challenges and operations grew in magnitude and complexity. The perpetual disruptions since 2020 splintered culture even more, particularly along sociopolitical lines.

The future of work requires business and supply chain leaders who can build cohesiveness amidst the chaos. I recommend a two-pronged approach:

  1. Eight foundational recommendations leaders can use to create a vibrant corporate culture.
  2. I recommend not straying from your company’s core business mission. But some want to wade into the sociopolitical arena. If so, I have seven steps that could help you avoid crucial mistakes.

Note that some best practices like communication, openness and transparency fit into both prongs.

First, let’s examine those eight foundational recommendations for business leaders.

1. Define and Communicate Core Values

Core values are the fundamental beliefs and guiding principles that shape your organization’s culture, decision-making and overall identity. These values influence how the company interacts with employees, customers, suppliers and the broader community. They guide organizational behavior and decision-making.

Core values often include principles like integrity, respect, innovation and teamwork. They align everyone with the company’s mission and vision. Solid values can foster a cohesive and positive work environment.

Today, more than ever, leadership must clearly define and communicate these values to all employees. Incorporate them into every aspect of the business, from onboarding processes to daily operations. Use newsletters, meetings and internal communications to regularly remind your team of your values.

2. Leverage Technology for Connection

Technology can connect all workers, regardless of geography. Video calls, messaging and shared platforms can facilitate communication and collaboration in real-time.

Done well, virtual meetings can mimic spontaneous interactions that happen in offices. Don’t be afraid of a quick, old-style phone call.

Team-building activities can happen online and in person. I have held many a virtual coffee break since 2020. (OK, I drink tea, but you get the point. Every virtual meeting does not have to focus on business.)

Celebrate achievements as a team, even if some or all employees join online. Socializing is important for a good company culture.

3. Foster Trust and Transparency

Regardless of your type of corporate culture, building trust is essential. Poor communication often results in employees who feel like they don’t belong.

Be transparent about company goals, challenges and successes. Regular updates from leadership can keep employees connected to the company’s mission and direction. Encourage open communication and provide platforms where employees can voice their opinions and concerns.

Transparency builds trust and shows employees that their voices matter.

4. Prioritize Employee Well-Being

Burnout disengages employees fast.

Promote a healthy work-life balance. Offer flexible working hours and, when possible, remote or hybrid work options. Encourage employees to take regular breaks and vacations.

Remember that remote work can blur the lines between personal and professional life. Offering mental health resources and wellness programs can help team members maintain work-life balance.

Well-rested, cared for employees produce more and stay engaged.

5. Recognize and Reward Contributions

Acknowledging employees’ hard work and contributions is vital for maintaining morale and strengthening organizational culture.

Recognition can come from formal programs that could include digital badges and small rewards. Simple shout-outs in meetings can go a long way toward reinforcing positive culture.

Such recognition can boost employee engagement and employee retention.

Employees who feel undervalued become disenchanted and weaken corporate culture.

6. Encourage Continuous Learning and Development

Invest in your employees’ growth by providing opportunities for continuous learning and development. Online courses, webinars, workshops and mentorships should align with their career goals.

Your organization wins in two ways:

  1. Professional development enhances your employees’ skills.
  2. You demonstrate that you value your employees and will invest in their future.

Employees who see no path for advancement or growth likely will look to change jobs.

7. Adapt and Evolve

Remain open to evolving your corporate culture as needed.

Remote and hybrid work environments change constantly. So should your strategies. Regularly solicit and gather feedback from employees.

Employees can give you their observations through surveys, suggestion boxes or one-on-one meetings. Encourage them to bring up problems during group meetings.

Most important? Act on this feedback to show that you value their input and will make improvements. That flexibility will help your company maintain a strong culture in the face of ongoing disruptions.

8. Build a Strong Leadership Team

Effective leadership is key to a positive corporate culture. Be approachable and empathetic. Learn the skills necessary to manage diverse teams effectively.

Help your leadership team understand the importance of culture. Work with them on strengthening alignment with your core values and your organizational culture.

It’s Best to Avoid Landmines

All of the above has become more difficult since 2020. But great culture has become even more important in a world where disruption is the new normal. The pace of change is overwhelming.

Sociopolitical issues can eat away at stability. We have witnessed quarrels over masking, remote work, vaccinations and more. Companies forced to take sides often found themselves out of step with their employees. This created alienation and disenchantment.

Sociopolitical controversies raged. Arguments included topics like diversity, equity and inclusion, freedom of speech, abortion, religion, taxes and tariffs, the right to bear arms and other issues.

Frankly, I believe organizations should back away from many of these issues. It should not matter what your executive team or employees think about them. Such issues usually go beyond your organization’s core mission anyway.

In fact, I have no idea what many of my employees or partners think about the above issues. But I know that all employees should feel comfortable and welcome regardless of their view on topic A or crusade Z.

Still, one size does not fit all.

Ben and Jerry’s ice cream has made quite a living embracing progressive causes. Hobby Lobby donates to evangelical conservative organizations. Both companies have sparked calls for boycotts. But both have loyal followings.

I don’t expect either company to dissolve anytime soon.

So, if you must … the following seven guidelines could help you avoid sociopolitical landmines.

1. Align with Core Values

Want to take a public stance on a social issue? First, ensure that stance aligns with your company’s core values and mission.

That can help your organization maintain authenticity and avoid perceptions of hypocrisy. You probably should avoid issues not directly related to your business or values.

2. Engage in Open Dialogue

Create a culture of open dialogue where employees feel comfortable expressing their views on social issues. This can include town hall meetings, anonymous surveys and open forums.

If you can understand what your employees think, your decisions won’t blindside them.

3. Assess the Impact

Consider the potential impact of your stance on different stakeholders, including employees, customers, suppliers and investors. Conducting a thorough impact assessment can help you anticipate and mitigate any negative reactions.

And yes, you must be aware that you risk alienating employees and business associates who disagree with your stance.

4. Involve Employees in Decision-Making

You can involve employees in decision-making through advisory committees or focus groups. They can help develop a cohesive stand on social issues.

Giving employees a voice can foster that sense of inclusion and reduce disenchantment with the resulting stance.

5. Communicate Clearly and Consistently

When you decide to take a stand, communicate your reasons clearly and consistently. Explain how the stance aligns with your company’s values. Detail the steps you are taking to support the issue.

Transparent communication can build trust and understanding among employees.

6. Provide Support for Diverse Opinions

Recognize that not all employees will agree with the company’s stance on social issues.

Provide support for diverse opinions and create safe spaces for employees to express their views without fear of retribution. And yes, sometimes this can include offering counseling services.

7. Focus on Actions, Not Just Words

Back your advocacy with concrete actions.

Employees are more likely to support a stance if they see genuine efforts to follow through. Make sure those initiatives align with the company’s stated values. Options include community programs, partnerships with relevant organizations or internal policy changes.

Navigate with Care

By my count, eight foundational recommendations and seven guidelines equal 15.

That shows how complex and delicate building and strengthening a vibrant corporate culture is these days. There is no magic three-step process.

Again, I recommend focusing on the original eight recommendations and avoiding, if possible, contentious sociopolitical issues.

However, it’s your choice. Navigate with care.