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This article is a part of the series Re-Inventing Leadership: 9 Things Virtual Leaders must focus on.
Culture isn’t just list of values posted on the wall somewhere inside our building. If your company finds itself evolving beyond your office, your culture is probably evolving along with it. The question is, are you evolving your culture, or are you letting the culture evolve you? Leaders follow these three steps to evolve remote company culture.
Step One: Define “Company Culture”
Culture is the beliefs and behaviors that determine how a company’s employees and management interact and handles outside business transactions. But culture is more than beliefs and behaviors.
Culture gets misunderstood as relationship inside your physical office. Many people think that culture is only the breakrooms with the ping pong tables and the design of the spaces. However, there’s more to culture than the physical environment. Culture is the relationship on your team. It’s the relationship between you and your fellow leaders, between you and your own team, between you and other teams, and between your team and other teams.
Culture can be spoken (sharing this is “how we should be”), or unspoken (observable behavior of a group.)
It is imperative for distributed companies to reveal through language how they want to express the company culture. An unspoken culture will create itself if you let it go unspoken. It will also create itself if you pretend that the geographically distributed culture should be the same as the culture you had pre-COVID.
As a result, we need to redefine culture in this “work from anywhere” setting.
Instead of having 100 people on the same floor, we now have 100 different locations. We need to redefine what culture is going to look like these new locations for your company has. To redefine culture right now, leaders must do three things, define, demonstrate, and give away ownership of the culture.
Re-Defining Your Company Culture
Step 1: Survey Your Staff
Create an anonymous survey with a tool such as Google Forms or Candor and ask open-ended questions such as:
- In one sentence, how would you describe the type of culture you want to create inside this company?
- How do I want people to feel when I am online with them?
- What do I want people to think when I am not online with them?
- How do I want people to think and feel when they are online with other team members?
- What values do I want people to live by when they interact with others inside the team, company and with outside stakeholders?
- What specific behaviors would demonstrate how we as an organization care about each other and how I can interact in ways that support the culture we want to create?
Step 2: Share & Discuss Survey Results
Take the main ideas from the anonymous survey and share them with your staff. Create breakout rooms and have everyone identify specific behaviors from the survey that they think should be promoted with examples of what that looks like in this new culture.
For example, if your team wants to promote open dialogue, ask them to share two specific examples of what open dialogue looks like online. Then, have them share two examples of what open dialogue doesn’t look like. When your team shares this as a group, you are beginning to verbalize your culture.
Below is an example from one of our clients about the behaviors in their culture that they support:
Step 3: Check-in with yourselves on a regular basis
After you’ve been able to identify new behaviors inside your culture, check in regularly with yourself and your team.
Make time for yourself daily and complete a self-reflection by asking yourself the following questions (this example is based on the first behavior above):
- Have I been candid & direct today?
- Where could I have been more candid and direct?
- Where could I be more candid and direct tomorrow?
You can also create follow up surveys (quarterly or monthly) to see how your team thinks
they’ve been focusing on their own behaviors that support the culture.
Step 2: Demonstrate Culture
You must demonstrate culture as a manager or as a CEO with your teams. You must allow your employees to get a glimpse of how you create your culture with your colleagues (because they don’t see how you interact with others in a remote setting like they would if you were all back in the office).
For example, one way we’ve demonstrated culture with our clients is we had two executives share the video recording of a tough conversation they’ve had with each other in the past. They were able to show how to support their core values as a company, and work out difficult issues in front of everyone, something that demonstrates their culture and brings it front and center. You can also have people reenact a recent event or tell a story about something that reinforces a key behavior that you want your culture to support.
Think about what issues in your culture consistently occur, and how would you want your staff to approach it.
Additionally, you can demonstrate your culture by creating videos, emails, or an audio clip on how you would like your culture to:
- Have a tough conversation.
- Admit a mistake.
- Be responsible for your share in an issue
- Not blame the other department for an issue
Demonstrating your culture as the leader shows your teams that culture isn’t something you only hope they strive for, but it’s also something that you as the leader strive to create every day as well.
Step 3: Give the Remote Company Culture Away
Remote company culture isn’t something you can hold on to. The idea is to have your teams take ownership of the culture, and to do that, you have to give it away.
By giving it away, you have all your team members create and nourish it and let it evolve and then tell stories about it.
- We do this by challenging employees to get together and discuss real topics around their culture between our leadership training sessions as “homework” and share what they discussed and did.
- For example, if your team declared the culture will be one of ambition, we would give them “Homework” to ask their teams in the next meeting, what was the most ambitious conversation they had that week? And then tell us how that conversation went.
The idea is to “define” culture through a behavior, mood, or emotion that you want to amplify, support, and have it become the culture. It’s not a one and done conversation, it takes continual work and support.
Giving away culture has to do with storytelling.
- Encourage your team to talk about what your culture is, and what it should be.
- Have team members take on challenges, homework to talk about it.
- Have team members share.