How to Keep Your Culture Together When It’s Falling Apart

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Mar 8, 2013

Even the most ideal workplaces can undergo upheaval and changes over time: key people leave, products fail, and restructuring or mergers can feel unstable.

I’ve been in companies where cultural upheavals eventually resolved into great cultures, and others which descended into terrible. There were several significant differences between the companies that rebuilt a better culture and those that failed.

Clear communication

Unclear or confusing communication leaves a vacuum, one that will be filled with whatever information employees can piece together and glue with imagination. This is how formerly great companies start to erode from the inside.

You must remove the vacuum with clear and purposeful communication about the changes happening, and what you anticipate will happen next. While there can be regulatory restrictions on what you are allowed to disclose, be honest about sharing what you can, and your employees will know and respect it.

Clear expectations

Employees want to know what will happen to their position and their responsibilities in times of upheaval.

Chances are, so do you. However, you’re the one who has to provide the clarity of expectation for your people.

Help them understand what the changes mean to their everyday duties. Even during times of upheaval most people in an organization will not be impacted with changes to their work process. Do not assume employees understand where they stand. It is in your discharge to explain the continuity, or the changes, to everyday work processes.

Illuminate the path

When things are dark and the culture feels close to breaking, you must illuminate the path to recovery.

If a product has failed, postmortem the damage and make decisions about next steps. Even those small, incremental steps along the path help a team draw together and regroup. Present where you want to go and shine the light on how to get there.

Thank your employees

Upheaval is stressful on a fundamental level; it can endanger the health of your employees.

While you cannot always remove stressful changes, you can make sure your employees understand how grateful you are to have their support and their hard work.

Uncertainty is an enemy of work product, and even though there are times of ambiguity, employees deserve to be appreciated and rewarded for their dedication.It’s more important than ever to acknowledge their day-in and day-out work during upheaval.

While it’s always important to reward employees, it’s imperative those workers in stressed cultures are highlighted and celebrated for their contributions.

This was originally published on the OC Tanner blog.

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