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Maintaining Company Culture During a Crisis

It’s tough to be consistent about company culture even in the best of times. Cultivating an intentional culture requires spending time carving out a specific list of values, and then keeping everyone accountable to upholding those values day in and day out with the way they speak and act.

But when things get stressful at work and employees are forced to deal with really urgent problems, it makes it even more difficult to adhere to company values.

Your organization might have a stated value of respect, but under stress, people may start yelling and pointing fingers. You might have a stated value that people’s personal time is to be respected, but under pressure, employees may suddenly be expected to work long hours. You might have a value that says it should be fun to come to work (like we do at The Receptionist), but it’s difficult to have fun when everyone is worried and under pressure.

So how do you maintain company culture during a crisis?

It’s important to lay the groundwork ahead of time with the expectation that a company crisis is not a matter of “if” but “when.” Here’s how you can get ready.

Make plans for specific crisis scenarios

Of course, no one can predict exactly when a crisis will arise. But that doesn’t mean you can’t plan for crises well in advance.

In fact, many crises that can wreak havoc on a company’s operations and culture can be anticipated well in advance if leaders simply take the time to do so.

As we wrote in our full post on emergency planning, all good crisis plans should start with a vulnerability assessment. That requires methodically thinking through all the ways that disasters could impact your workplace, from natural disasters such as tornadoes and fires, to manmade disasters such as violence, to something as simple as a power outage. After assessing how vulnerable your organization is to each potential emergency, you can make a plan for what your employees will do in the event of each scenario.

Most things we regularly classify as workplace “crises” aren’t of the “chemical spill” variety. They have to do with things like defective products, angry customers, production delays, looming deadlines, critical employees being absent, and even public embarrassments that affect the company’s reputation.

However, there’s no reason that you can’t assess these threats in advance, too, and plan for them the same way you might for other more life-threatening emergencies. You could reflect on worst-case scenarios and the biggest crises in your organization’s past, and use them to develop a “crisis playbook” that leaders can turn to when they need it. (Most of us, for example, now have firsthand experience reacting to a contagious pathogen in the community and should create a crisis plan for the next time while memories are still fresh.)

A crisis plan should name the people in a crisis management team for each type of emergency, detail a decision-making process, and put plans and contingency plans in place. Each crisis plan should also have a communications plan.

Read more here: Your Office Needs a Crisis Communications Plan

Having a plan helps people act more calmly and avoid the panic that can cause organizational values to be thrown aside.

Company culture during crisis

Invest in leadership training

When the pressure mounts, eyes will be on leaders even more. If leaders are not used to dealing with increased levels of stress, they might be likely to act in ways that can cause some serious disruptions to a healthy workplace culture — or even lawsuits down the road.

This is where it can be helpful for leaders to have some specialized training in scenarios where they have to respond calmly and without emotion so that they can continue to observe the company values that create the cultural fabric of the company.

For example, some companies have developed training programs that give leaders a chance to practice things like responding to bad news and apologizing for mistakes. That way, when they have to do it in real life, they have some scripts and practice to fall back on.

Here’s how one leadership training company sums it up:

“Effectively responding to triggers doesn’t happen overnight. Triggers catch us off guard. Sometimes we’re more tired or stressed, which makes us less effective at managing our responses. It happens even to the most emotionally intelligent of us all. Remain mindful and practice every day, and you will find that over time you will have developed a strong trigger response and these steps just come naturally to you.”

The leaders at your organization might jump at the chance to participate in “emotional intelligence training,” “corporate resilience training” or even “crisis management training.” These kinds of extra educational opportunities can benefit your organization in a crisis, but they’re also seen as a perk that employees will appreciate. After all, this training will benefit them throughout their careers, wherever their careers may take them in the future.

Encourage strong workplace relationships

Office conflict is often seen as something to avoid. However, at The Receptionist, we work to embrace healthy conflict.

After all, without employees who are willing to disagree with each other and explore conflicting viewpoints, you don’t get the best ideas out on the table — and those ideas don’t get properly vetted.

When employees are encouraged to be authentic at work and express their ideas candidly, conflict is a natural result. And when employees are accustomed to dealing with conflict, they might just be better at working together to overcome the obstacles under pressure that a crisis causes.

Just like responding to emotional triggers, as we discussed in the last section, working through conflict takes some getting used to. It’s certainly better to work on it on low-stakes decisions than it is during a crisis.

You can learn more about how to encourage healthy conflict in the office here: Properly Dealing With Employee Conflict

Start planning for your next crisis now

If you’re looking for crisis management tools when you’re already in the midst of a crisis, you’re doing it far too late.

A lot of the factors that can make your organization’s culture more resilient to crises have more to do with establishing the right culture and team over months and even years. For example, it helps if leaders and hiring managers have put in the extra time during the hiring process to hire people who naturally share the values that the company has already established.

If you’re looking for crisis management tools in the midst of a crisis, you’re doing it far too late. Click To Tweet

If you’re interested in learning more about how we cultivate values and culture here at The Receptionist, the original visitor management system, check out the FABRIC Podcast.

In each episode, we explore what it takes to create a healthy, vibrant company culture at scale. We want to uncover unique and uncommon answers to the question: How do companies of any size create a culture and core values that employees actually live out? Check out the full list of episodes here.

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