What is A business’s greatest asset during COVID-19?
The phrase “a business’s greatest assets are that of its people” has been posted on many a website, written by many a tabloid, and quoted by many an iconic industry leader. However, the arrival of COVID-19 has led to a day of reckoning that forces the scrutiny of this idea both now and over the next 12 months, and the statement to be re-evaluated. The question we are facing is when a company makes a profound response based on its ability to absorb a range of impacts, is it prioritising survival and profit margins over the value of its employees?
The cultural differences and shifts of companies large and small may have a decisive outcome on whether people over profit is factually correct. However, if it is not, the opening sentence of this blog is complete nonsense and potentially requires us to rethink our strategy.
The unwelcome arrival of COVID -19 has created an unprecedented change in thinking and decision- making which has opened a pandora’s box of moral dilemmas plunging leadership of all shapes and sizes into a Doomsday scenario. All the crisis planning and contingency exercises you have experienced are very unlikely to have ever practised a scenario where leaders and manager’s ethos, values and compassion was tested. The question is seldom if ever asked: “What value do we place on culture and who is in charge it”?
The Business Culture
In today’s business world, the shrinking economy has had a global impact with the knock-on effect resulting in furloughing and redundancies imposing fear, doubt and increased isolation of a workforce. To save a business, leader’s leaning on that instinct to survive at the cost of a few to save many could be seen as callous or calculated. Now, whether you believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution and natural selection where only the strongest will survive, or Maslow’s concept of the ‘hierarchy of needs’, the self-actualisation of leaders and those they lead are driven by their values, ethos and moral compass which may need recalibrating from time to time. After all, we all mistakes but what you walk by, you accept so if we treat staff badly now, do we risk this becoming the business’ culture in the forward ie it isn’t people that matter, but profit.
The culture that exists in organisations large and small, military or civilian differs greatly for various reasons, but they all rely greatly on the loyalty and sense of purpose by their employees. The recent past has seen a period of globalisation and growth and prosperity (even in a period of austerity post-2008 it is apparent that we are better off than a generation before) that has created an underlying false sense of security which has potentially failed to challenge the responses of leaders and managers when embroiled in a crisis that potentially has no end leading to the question ‘How do you prepare for a constant crisis’?
The significant changes that we have all experienced will make us rethink how to connect and interact not just within businesses but also on a one to one scale. A recent article published by the Business Continuity Institute stated that the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” had been renamed, and reflected today’s economic state, the new front runners were, “Globalisation, Hyperconnectivity, Centralised supply chains and Overpopulation”, and you could argue that these themes have resulted in a resounding change to our culture and mindset.
However, is there a break in the fragile cultural chain which now sees our environment of TV reality shows and celebrities replaced by a show of unity every Thursday where we clap for those who have given all and continue to do so. This reset has re-ignited for some the cultural debate between the merits of business for profit for shareholders versus business based on loyalty to colleagues for communal benefit. Society has had a defining impact on culture with four defining organisational culture types: Clan, Hierarchy, Adhocracy and Market, all demonstrating the basic assumptions of beliefs and values, everything that culture is based upon. The Clan culture boasts ‘Collaboration’, the Hierarchy culture preaches ‘Control’, the Adhocracy culture advocates ‘Creation’ and the Market culture seeks success through ‘Competition’.
No individual culture type is better than another, but some cultures may be more suited and pertinent to an organisation’s needs than others.
So, the moral dilemma starts, and whilst many Senior Leadership Teams will be focused on the welfare of their employees, what is at the heart of the dilemma? Is it fear of incrimination during and after this unprecedented situation or is it the cultural dynamics that are written in company strategy and echoed throughout management but now require the delivery with moral understanding?
A theory suggested by Alvesson and Svenningsen authors of ‘Changing organisations culture’ noted that to understand an organisation requires an understanding of its culture and people and that ownership belongs and should be demonstrated by its leadership. Essentially, culture means ‘conformity with acceptance, values, beliefs and the behaviour of people in organisations’.
The truth is, that whether you are an organisation that prides itself on the ability of its employees to react to change and triumph through adversity, or an organisation that is driven by profit and domination of the marketplace, we are all subject to definitive culture types leading to the development of the idea of ‘Culture Branding’ for a business. Therefore, it’s fair to say that for any business, “your culture is your brand and your brand is your culture”.
The current adversity faced by a business and the response cascaded down from the leadership will define the business’ brand and culture forever and people won’t remember the tightrope walked by their leadership when facing the challenge of judging cashflow with mental welfare and collective wellbeing whilst working remotely in a dented society. They will only remember that the impact on business derailed culture and they lost their job.
This blog raises issues that span across society, businesses and ultimately leadership – the impact of change upon people and their acceptance to it decides greatly upon their cultural mindset. If you would like to further read and understand more about nuances of business culture and the acceptance of Business Continuity, then please read the attached article.
Senior Consultant, DBCI