CEO Challenges: Are the Termites Eating Your Culture?

Has your culture changed because of coronavirus? Has the insidious disease crept into your organization like a stealthy criminal? Not overtly, but like a termite eating at your foundation. 

It’s not the disease, of course, that might be gnawing on your culture, but rather the changes it caused. Asynchronous communication, delayed feedback, stilted social bonding, and increased stress in coworkers’ (and your!) lives might be causing structural change to your culture that’s only visible once it morphs into something you don’t recognize (or want!).

Before we get too far down the path, let’s define culture without applying a bunch of psychobabble. I define it as the environment you create as a function of the behaviors you reward and allow (it’s the “allow” part that usually gets you in trouble …).

I strongly urge you to ask a wide swath of people in your organization: “How have things changed around here?” and “How is work better or worse than before the pandemic?” I think you’ll find things you want to address.

Here are a few I’m hearing from clients and other CEOs:

There is less productive conflict than before. If you’ve been reading my stuff for a while, you know I believe you should optimize, rather than minimize, conflict. There’s something about Zoom and the telephone that doesn’t easily allow for mature, healthy disagreement to take place so that ideas are fully explored. 

Commitment may be waning. Whether you like the word commitment or engagement better, you might be losing a bit of it. Here’s another definition to ponder: Commitment is the emotional attachment to the organization that results in voluntary behavior that benefits the company and creates a strong desire to be part of it. Sorry, it’s a bit wordy, but you get the picture. Do your people still have a strong emotional attachment to the business, or are the termites eating away at that?

The value and efficacy of real dialogue may be decreasing. You know those great conversations you used to have with your senior leadership team around strategy and critical issues? Do they still take place? Are they still as good?

Remember fun? Like the Friday afternoon beer busts and impromptu gatherings that made you laugh and appreciate your teammates? How much less do you have now? Is it still a key part of your culture?

Tight execution is tough in a remote environment. Essential businesses probably still have it in manufacturing areas, but tight coordination and alignment at the executive level may be quietly loosening like a shoelace.

These are just a few things that you, as CEO, should be conscious of and taking active measures to fight. You worked hard to build the culture you wanted; don’t let it get nibbled away by the termites!