Reboard Your Workforce With Your Culture in Mind


Many organizational leaders today are eagerly talking about returning their work back to "normal." It's as though this will be a panacea for all the problems incurred trying to get work done over the past year. Some leaders even seem to be under the assumption that work will function as it did before 2020, picking up right where they left off before the pandemic hit.

It would be nice if life were that simple.

The reality is the global workforce has a fresh perspective on the importance of effective work-life integration. Those who were able to work remotely may have had sustained or improved productivity in a virtual environment. On the flip side, remote workers have experienced higher amounts of stress and worry during the pandemic than on-site workers.

Historically, when companies have the benefit of their employees working together on-site, the workplace culture -- defined by Gallup as "how we do things around here" -- often encourages interactions among associates and creates work expectations for behaviors, norms and practices. Now, with many companies planning to maintain a hybrid work environment that blends on-site and off-site work, ensuring an aligned culture that applies to the entire workforce while supporting the values of the organization is crucial.

No matter their role or whether employees have been with the organization for one day or 30 years, learning new practices on how to best work together in this evolving workplace is a requirement. An employee reboarding strategy can help.

Develop a Reboarding Strategy Using the Five Culture Drivers

Your organization may already have a reboarding strategy -- and, chances are, that strategy centers largely on compliance and providing wellness and wellbeing services like employee assistance and stress reduction programs. Those things are foundationally important but do not necessarily deal with the often-unaddressed requirements of getting a job done.

Workplace cultures are consciously created through hard work and intention. A reboarding strategy keeps company culture front and center and provides managers with a road map for how to create a positive work environment in a hybrid working world. Reboarding should be more than a reminder of how things were done in the past -- it needs to be intentional, strategic in nature, and applicable to all employees, regardless of tenure or location. High-functioning cultures do not necessarily need an overhaul after the pandemic, but they may need to recalibrate the drivers of their culture to align with the new way of getting work done.

No matter their role or whether employees have been with the organization for one day or 30 years, learning new practices on how to best work together in this evolving workplace is a requirement.

There are five main drivers of organizational culture that collectively shape how employees conduct themselves, make decisions, and accomplish their work. Organizations that ensure they are delivering on these five drivers set managers and employees up for success as they continue to adjust to evolving work dynamics with hybrid teams, flexible work environments, and new norms.

Culture Driver 1: Leadership and Communication

The way your organization's leaders define, display, and communicate your purpose and brand influences whether employees will exemplify those values.

Somewhat paradoxically during the pandemic, Gallup saw a rise in overall employee engagement. This was due in large part to the increased transparency and communication delivered to the workforce by senior leaders. This increased engagement dropped and then plateaued -- it was predictably unsustainable because history has shown us that leaders will go back to decreased communication once the crisis is perceived to be over. And, worse, they may not back up their assurances with supportive actions.

To maintain trust in leadership, review your communications, ensure decisions are based on organizational values, and map commitments and assertions made to visible leadership behaviors, organizational policies, and the needs of employees.

During the pandemic, leaders also communicated directly with managers about changes in work, customer priorities, and addressing resource needs to get the job done. This increased communication needs to continue -- it allows a company's managers to know where to focus their teams and drive productivity. Further, it builds trust in leaders among all employees.

Culture Driver 2: Values and Rituals

Values and rituals set and reinforce the tone for how employees interact with others and get work done.

Core values are beliefs that an organization desires its people to universally espouse -- many times, this is aspirational. They represent a guiding star, a promise to their employees and customers, and are pressure-tested in a crisis.

Rituals are habitual and, by nature, hard to break without integrating new habits. This is why organizations need to be intentional about creating new rituals that can withstand the new dynamics of work.

If management formerly exhibited company values through the ritual of walking around to check in informally with their team on a daily basis, what should that look like if some or all members are off-site? Perhaps it takes the form of informal quick connect through Zoom or check-ins via phone calls to provide the opportunity to touch base with their team members. However, if you are touting flexibility in the remote work dynamic, realize that these quick connections also need to be flexible and centered on the individual employee, not the manager.

Organizations need to be intentional about creating new rituals that can withstand the new dynamics of work.

Hosting town halls with organizational leadership is another example of a ritual that has necessarily changed with more people working remotely. Shifting these to a virtual format might feel more formal than sitting in a great hall and being able to raise a hand at the moment -- but with intentional structuring, these virtual town halls can still make employees feel like their leaders are as accessible as ever. Intentional restructuring might look something like giving employees opportunities to submit questions beforehand via email, having a moderator monitor the chat and pose incoming questions from employees to leaders, and cascading manager communications about the event so that employees feel encouraged to attend and participate.

Culture Driver 3: Human Capital

To succeed in this new era of work, organizations must create a people-centered employee experience that reinforces their purpose, brand, and culture. Every decision about the workforce -- including selection, engagement, and development -- should recognize how blended work and life have become while respecting people's personal space as technology blurs the line even more.

Doing this successfully will necessitate that managers have a holistic understanding of who their employees are as people. This isn't a one-size-fits-all world anymore. Managers have to be in tune with their associates on an individual level to ensure their team members are performing and coping well with whatever work looks like for them now.

The right work-life balance for a new parent will be different than it is for an associate who takes care of an ailing family member, or that of a single Gen Zer, and so on. To strike this delicate balance for an entire team, managers need to strengthen their abilities to individualize, listen and find creative solutions to problems.

To succeed in this new era of work, organizations must create a people-centered employee experience that reinforces their purpose, brand, and culture.

Leaders can help facilitate a positive employee experience by expanding discretionary authority for managers, empowering them to take action when they need to. This can seem like an impossible ask for many organizations unless your organization selects managers based on who has the right talent for the role and then invests in their leadership development (for example, helping managers shift from boss to coach). But when talented managers are empowered to act independently, they can affect the day-to-day experiences that reinforce how valued employees feel.

Culture Driver 4: Work Teams and Structures

As traditional, on-site teams become less and less common, organizations should embrace new ways of working, whether that means hybrid teams, hybrid schedules, or blending both.

One of the evident benefits of these new structures includes accessing the best talent available, regardless of their physical location. There are also many drawbacks. The shift out of the office has relegated "water-cooler talk" to being something of a relic. Back-to-back Zoom meetings may seem to inflate productivity, but many organizations Gallup works with cite a lack of collaboration and innovation in the absence of the serendipitous, informal interactions that used to happen organically in hallways and common areas.

Scheduled remote social events can provide some of this missing connection -- but often, remote employees will deprioritize such structured events in the pursuit of their day-to-day job demands. Managers are best positioned to stimulate opportunities for informal collaboration by recognizing what work employees are doing and how it connects with the bigger picture and others' goals. They can model and encourage small shifts in behavior and the use of available technology platforms like Microsoft Teams to truly create community and achieve success in new ways.

Rather than being nostalgic for the past, organizations have an opportunity to blow up old structures and create new processes that remove barriers to achieving profound, purpose-driven work.

Culture Driver 5: Performance

From goal setting to accountability to pay and other rewards, performance management practices must support an organization's purpose, deliver on its brand promise, and reinforce its desired culture.

Performance management requires organizational infrastructure -- and, assuming it is successfully embedded, its efficacy ultimately comes down to the manager. And some organizations' management practices are not in line with their organizational leadership's values and desired culture.

Only about one in 10 people possess the natural talent to manage, though another two in 10 can function at a high level if their company invests in coaching and development plans for them. It will come as no surprise to hear that working remotely only exacerbates the negative effects of weak managers, as they tend to rely on micromanaging and fill calendars with unnecessary meetings to feel effective.

In spite of this, the manager has become a key channel between leadership and employees amid the pandemic, responsible for sharing the organization's response to the crisis with each employee. But in March 2020, less than half of employees (48%) strongly agreed that their immediate supervisor kept them informed about what was going on in the organization as a result of COVID-19, indicating a major opportunity to close the gap in communication for half the workforce. This lack of communication-related to the pandemic reflects what is often the same lack of communication regarding performance expectations.

Employees also need high well-being for high performance. At the outset of the pandemic, only 45% of employees felt like their organization cared about their wellbeing. In Gallup's database, this percentage varies widely -- from 30% to 90% across organizations. A large component of fostering wellbeing is within managers' span of control. It doesn't have to be a conversation solely about mental health, nor should it be. It can be about addressing the purpose and career wellbeing in performance conversations, earning trust through supportive actions, and connecting with employees about aspects of their wellbeing during coaching conversations.

Investing in managers by teaching them to coach and develop their team members can be the difference between employees feeling cared for and able to perform at their best or feeling like they're left in the dark.

Rather than being nostalgic for the past, organizations have an opportunity to blow up old structures and create new processes that remove barriers to achieving profound, purpose-driven work.

The pandemic's universal disruption of the way work used to get done accelerated the shift to remote work for many. Most organizations didn't have a chance to plan or prepare. It just happened. But now, leaders have the time (and resources) to be intentional about their decisions for the future. As employees adjust to what work and life look like in this new era, help them find their bearings by using intentional, strategic reboarding efforts delivered effectively and authentically through the five drivers of your organizational culture.

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