During times of crisis and uncertainty, employees often look to their company — and their company’s leaders — as a source of comfort, truth, and direction. Many organizations are recognizing that having a meaningful company purpose and a strong set of core values give their employees something to rally around. It also helps to create an authentic sense of connection for teams who are suddenly dispersed and working virtually.
Whether you’re rolling out your purpose and values for the first time, or simply reaffirming them during this “business not as usual” period, here are five key areas of focus.
1. Practice intentional and consistent communication grounded in purpose and values
Purpose and values provide a shared framework and mindset for how employees, together, navigate any issue in an organization. Sharing your company’s purpose and values — and providing tangible examples to your employees — will give them their own sense of purpose and grounding, as well as something meaningful for them to work toward.
We understand all companies are unique. Some may be battling this crisis on the front lines and have other immediate issues that are more pressing. Others may be relying on their already well-established purpose and values to carry them through. And some are using this time to reevaluate, regroup, and reinvest in their people and their culture — using this as an opportunity to connect their remote teams and virtual workplaces to shared purpose and values.
Many of our clients believe that now, in challenging times, it’s crucial that companies align and mobilize their global workforces behind a common purpose, language, and way of working. Several CEOs have shared that this is exactly the time to rely on core values — and that it’s especially critical in the current state of affairs.
2. Keep your workforce engaged, now more than ever
The workplace should be a genuine source of community and connection. Effectively engaging teams is a challenge even in “normal” times. This new virtual norm is bound to present unique challenges with many people working remotely for the first time, and trying to navigate a virtual work environment.
It is always important for organizations to support platforms for two-way communication between leaders and employees, and between teams. This is a must during times of uncertainty. Email, Slack, intranet sites — whatever can keep your employees actively engaged and let them know that you are there, you care, and you are willing to address anticipated concerns. Employees will be looking to their leaders not only for encouragement, but also for regular updates.
Help employees get creative with ways to connect with their colleagues. Encourage them to schedule virtual happy hours, coffee chats, or lunches. And support managers in hosting virtual working sessions with their direct reports.
“If you’re leading an organization that has a purpose or mandate, as the leader you’ve got to articulate to the people you are leading, exactly what your vision is and where you want the organization to go. I’ve seen leadership issues where an organization is rudderless, they don’t know where they’re supposed to be going. Don’t dictate to people, let them know what your vision is. Hire the best people, and then don’t get in their way — that I think is a quality of a good leader.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Diseases Director
3. Continue to make decisions aligned to purpose and values
While it may be tempting to act quickly and inconsistently to fix this “pressing issue,” it is critical to maintain a decision-making framework grounded in purpose and values. Your organization’s purpose and values were made precisely for situations such as these. If your purpose and values don’t permeate into your actions in a crisis, why else do they exist?
This is a perfect opportunity to demonstrate tangible application of purpose and values and to transparently communicate decisions. Whether it’s dealing with an unpaid invoice or managing employees in a global pandemic, values are the playbook for how we approach each other, our customers, and our priorities. If a decision or path is not clear, values and purpose can be the foundation that will determine the direction to take. Purpose and values are shared stakes in the ground that can be harnessed to approach issues of all types, and employees should be encouraged to use these stakes as well.
4. Encourage and empower managers to actively engage direct reports
We are all dealing with a crisis like nothing we’ve ever seen before. Managers may not intuitively know exactly how to navigate this path. They might need just as much, if not more, support to be successful during this time. They should be encouraged to keep up consistent touchpoints and communication with direct reports, and it is critical to communicate how to do this effectively.
Remember — this is a new challenge for all of us, and managers may be uncertain or uncomfortable with engaging employees virtually. Host virtual “lunch and learns” with managers to discuss best practices and challenges, and share tips for engaging direct reports in a virtual work environment. Facilitate training sessions for specific managers or specific areas of needs.
5. Over-communicate empathy and flexibility to empower employees to achieve work-life balance
With more and more people working remotely, work and home life are no longer separated, and many employees are trying to balance work responsibilities with competing priorities at home. Now is not the time to create strict guidelines around how people work.
Communicate to your employees explicitly that it is okay for them to adjust their work hours to accommodate their new priorities. Let them know you understand that many have new challenges of balancing family commitments such as virtual schooling, lack of daycare, or even caring for elderly parents. Be willing to work with your employees individually to figure out how to help them balance new realities and worries while still delivering value — trust should be at the core of everything you do.
How organizations act today will have a lasting impression on their employees and culture. Now is the time to authentically demonstrate company values and culture, and show genuine compassion and commitment to your employees. These are the moments employees will remember.
How Blue Beyond Leads with Purpose During Uncertainty
- We embrace our 7 statements of purpose to connect our people and activate our team’s potential. We believe in “group genius to help solve our most intractable problems,” so we work together to develop resources, tools, training, and learnings to help others lead during this unfamiliar new way of working.
- Employees immediately lean in — scheduling virtual lunches and coffee chats, sharing uplifting messages, and checking in on others who may be in need.
- Our leadership team communicates frequently and with complete transparency and authenticity about the state of our business, and shares their own personal concerns and challenges.
- Each individual is empowered to be an actor in his or her own story. We hold each other up, learn our way through, have a bias for action, and all make decisions that are clearly grounded in purpose and values.
Jessica is a consultant with a deep background in engaging employees and leaders to build thriving workplace cultures. Previously, she spent many years at Great Place to Work, where she was able to learn first-hand how strong cultures are built and sustained. Jessica is co-author of A Great Place to Work For All: Better for Business, Better for People, Better for the World (Berrett Koehler, 2018) and her work has been published in Harvard Business Review, Fortune Magazine, Thrive Global, and many other outlets.