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Opinion: Think cultural innovations during COVID-19 crisis

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The new coronavirus has arrived to our community and organizations are faced with a lot of challenges related both to the virus itself and to the worldwide reaction.

Leaders have to think about how to keep their employees safe, how to handle interruptions and slowdowns from both customers and suppliers and, in many cases, how they will even deliver their product or service while practicing social distancing.

One of the last things many leaders will think about is their organizational culture. But in many ways, culture will impact the response and the response will definitely impact the culture.

As a leader, how can you make sure your culture is a powerful ally through this challenge and how can you utilize a difficult situation to build a stronger team?

Leverage technology
A lot of organizations are scrambling to employ technology to allow employees to work remotely. Fortunately, there are tools that make this is more feasible than ever. It is important not to forget some of the things that help people to work better alone and together.

Encourage your remote employees to follow a routine that includes dressing up for work. Also, make sure to use video when possible to encourage face-to-face communication and connection.

Finally, consider creating an "online water cooler," which is a place or channel where your team can interact with each other socially just as they would if working together.

Technology can help you get a lot of work done, but don't forget that it can also hold your team together while they are apart.

Contingency planning
Some organizational leaders will be tempted to handle challenges alone or in a tight circle, but this is a big mistake. Nothing can solidify a team better than rising to a challenge together. You need everyone's ideas and you need everyone working together.

Now is the time to engage your staff, not disengage from them.

A few organizations already have conducted contingency planning and have a head start on how to respond to the spread of the coronavirus. But most have not. It's better late than never.

Now is the time to think about what you will need to do in different scenarios. What if an employee gets sick and exposes your team?

What if your revenues drop - or increase - suddenly? Planning helps put everyone on the same page and getting people involved in the plan creates ownership.

Care for the team
During difficult times, your team will need a little extra love. Check in with your people frequently and make sure they are getting what they need. If a team member needs something, find a way to help to them. A little attention during hard times goes a long way to showing your team that you care.

It's easy to circle the wagons and stop any focus on helping the community when times are tough, but this is a mistake. There will be people and organizations who will need a little extra support. Rallying your own team to support others yields internal benefits on your culture such as building morale and teamwork.

Business owners and organizational leaders are making difficult decisions right now. Some of these decisions will benefit our community, but hurt the organization itself.

Nobody would choose to be in the situation we are in, but if you leverage your team, you can bring your team together, innovate and do more than survive. You and your culture can thrive - and so can our community.

Don Harkey is the owner and CEO at People Centric Consulting Group. He can be reached at


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