Covid-19 – Mission Purposing Organisations Through the Crisis – Thought Bite on Culture

April 7, 2020 Dan McDonough

Repurposing Culture Beyond Word Statements – through codified behaviours integrated in a leadership
and management culture that rewards bold initiatives and the right conduct, while mitigating risk.’

This was the sixth thing companies needed to focus on in order to prevail through and beyond the
Coronavirus crisis. We are addressing it in greater detail first, as an organisation’s culture will be
tested to the extreme by Covid-19. If it is going to stack up, culture must extend beyond vague word
statements about values. It will be defined by the collective actions and behaviours of its workforce
when they are under severe pressure.

In Afghanistan as the risks increased, casualties mounted and combat fatigue set in, the unit I
commanded defaulted to our unit ethos, in short to our organisational culture and it was fundamental
when facing adversity. When things got difficult, people reminded themselves and each other, of what
we were about as soldiers, who we were and that we were being paid to do a job for which we had all
volunteered for. Reinforced by a strong sense of the past, we reached back to what former members
of the regiment had achieved in extraordinary and difficult circumstances in other conflicts, such as
the Second World War and sought to live up to their example. As a result, it became a collective
mental handrail that people could reach out and touch, which helped them adapt, adjust and
overcome the challenges they faced.

However, while culture is spiritual and central to any organisation, is not enough on its own.
Additionally, an organisation’s ability to draw on its history to motivate people will be less marked
when compared to a military unit. Consequently, it must be underpinned by codified leadership and
management principles and tools. From the experience of working in a large bank seeking to reset its
culture in the wake of the LIBOR scandal, what was missing was a framework, which laid out precisely
how people were expected to lead and manage, provided the necessary skills to do so and tested and
validated them, while also setting out the scenarios and examples that espoused them.

Soldiers under pressure, facing fear, uncertainty, fatigue and risk, default back to an armoury of drills,
techniques and practices ingrained by training and testing, which can be applied as handrails to
alleviate anxiety, help them overcome a challenge and provide a spur for appropriate action.

Running a meeting effectively, on time, to time, with purpose and value-add outcome, is an example of
a drill and codified behaviour. As is having a decision-making method that supports managers when
having to make a tough call, which is likely to lead to better outcomes if it eschews random, bias and
poor behaviour. Leaders should ask themselves, how can their people at all levels of an organisation
be expected to make the right decision in a complex and sensitive situation, when they have never
been taught how to decide in a manner that is both flexible and apposite?

And, of course culture depends on leadership and tone from the top and leaders need to be conscious
of the shadow they cast among their people. Everything they do or say, whether good or bad will be
observed, commented or actioned upon by those that work for them. Consequently, leaders need to
set the example and emulate the behaviours they expect from their employees in everything they do.
Exactly how they do that will be covered in the next thought bite, which will explore Mission Purpose
and Empowering Teams in more detail.

Our Values:

Accountability, Action Orientation, Agility and Decency