This week, I’m continuing my series about lessons and takeaways from the crisis we are living through right now. So far, I’ve covered whether you should cancel workshops or not, change is possible and survival of the fittest is real, customer-centric companies must just stay the course and more, lessons from dot bomb and the great recession that can be applied today, and actions speak louder than words.

This week, I’m going to build on something that I mentioned in CX Journey™ Musings: Is Your Customer Experience Crisis Ready? In that article, I stated, “Culture is really the anchor that keeps the ship upright and in place.”

The catalyst for this week’s lessons? Last week, I read an article about employee engagement during this crisis. The author noted that: financial hardship will change your culture (i.e., perks will have to be cut), your culture’s presence will be reduced, and your culture will need to adapt based on your business strategy during a crisis. He also stated that you should reward and recognize your employees for behaviors aligned with your mission.

Let’s break that down.

Culture Defined

First things first, culture = core values + behavior. Herb Kelleher’s definition works nicely, too: Culture is what people do when no one is looking. In neither of those definitions do we include perks. Culture ≠ perks. Perks are not the heart of the culture; your culture can, will, and does exist even in the absence of perks.

Culture is your rock. It is your foundation. It’s not changed or reduced because of financial hardship and economic downturns. Quite the opposite: culture is what’s going to hold everyone together.

Culture Eats Strategy

Culture eats strategy for breakfast. -Peter Drucker

… and for lunch and dinner.

Your culture will not adapt as a result of your strategy during a crisis. Your strategy may/will adapt, but your culture is your foundation. It will guide you to do the right thing as you develop your strategy. Culture should feed your strategy; perhaps that’s a better way to look at it. It should not adapt to meet your strategy. Your strategy and culture will be aligned.

But don’t forget that you get the culture that you create and/or allow. Your culture is deliberately designed to be exactly what it is. You get the actions and the behaviors you allow. If your culture has gone sideways or if it’s not the culture you desire, it’s time to revisit. Yes, it will need to evolve. Fix the culture first, then set your strategy. If culture and strategy are misaligned, there’s a bigger problem.

Rewards and Recognition

According to Entrepreneur, a mission statement defines what an organization is, why it exists, its reason for being.

Typically, you won’t reward and recognize employees based on aligning with the mission, as it doesn’t clarify what behaviors and actions are expected and accepted; instead, you’ll reward and recognize employees when they live and breathe the core values, which are made clear(er) by providing examples of behaviors that align (and don’t) with each of the values. Those actions behaviors, yes, are in support of the mission and purpose.

It is easier to act yourself into a new way of thinking than it is to think yourself into a new way of acting. -Jerry Sternin, Millard Fuller, et al

My point here is that the core values are what should be driving actions and behaviors and ensuring everyone is moving in the right/same direction. Hiring, firing, training, promoting, developing processes and policies, making decisions, etc. should begin with – and be aligned with – the core values. And the behaviors should help to advance the strategy.

Culture eats strategy…

Culture Matters

Culture matters. During a crisis, it determines or defines how you will respond.

Look at the story I shared previously about Zappos providing customer service for any product at this time. Years ago, there were stories of Zappos ordering pizzas for customers and doing other things that didn’t seem in line with a brand selling shoes. (BTW, that’s not all they do, as you’ve probably already figured out. They aren’t a shoe seller. They are a service company.) This isn’t their business model, but when you have a culture that’s rooted in 10 awesome core values, including “deliver WOW through service,” you know what you can always expect from Zappos. Case in point: their posts on social media never went to the “dark side of crisis communication” that we’ve all seen; instead, it remained consistent with the fun culture that they’ve always lived.

Airbnb is another example. Co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky attributes Airbnb’s success to its culture. Unfortunately, last week, he had to make the tough decision to layoff about 25% of his workforce. His message to employees is a master class in leadership, filled with empathy, transparency, authenticity, and caring. He stayed true to the values by applying a sense of belonging and attention to detail, all while helping employees (those departing and those staying). That’s tough to do when you’re letting people go, but it is the foundation of the business, and he pulled it off with grace and care.

Another brand that I’ve been watching closely lately is Delta Air Lines. They’ve been an impressive airline to watch even before this crisis, but their communications, their messages from CEO Ed Bastian, and their actions throughout this time show the strength of their culture, which is rooted in a shared commitment to living their values of integrity, honesty, respect, perseverance, and servant leadership.

Related Culture Resources

The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word “crisis.” One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger – but recognize the opportunity. -John F. Kennedy

Annette Franz is an internationally recognized customer experience thought leader, coach, speaker, and author. She recently published her first book, Customer Understanding: Three Ways to Put the “Customer” in Customer Experience (and at the Heart of Your Business); it’s available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. Sign up for our newsletter for updates, insights, and other great content that you can use to up your CX game.

Image courtesy of Pixabay.