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  • Writer's pictureNick Smith

C is for Crisis, Culture & Covid

Culture change is not a quick fix. Most culture change initiatives focus on what Schein calls 'espoused values' and 'artefacts', or on behaviours - and recognise that changing these will still be a multi-year initiative. Changing the 'stuff' that's deeper still (what Schein calls 'basic assumptions') takes longer still, certainly longer than the tenure of most executive leaders.

And yet ... in client conversations I've often floated the question of whether these basic assumptions (and so the entire culture) could change much more quickly in times of crisis. It used to be I was thinking of whether (and how) deep elements of the Arthur Andersen culture changed as the Enron scandal unfolded; or whether there had been rapid and profound change in automotive OEM culture as the emissions scandal played out. Now, though, we're pretty much all in the middle of a crisis case study as Covid-19 impacts massively

on social, business, political and familial cultures.

Most of us reading this blog, I'll guess, have seen hugely accelerated shifts in ways of working in our own, client, and / or partner organisations. Remote, virtual working has been embraced, underpinned by remarkably rapid adoption of virtual meeting tools (Teams, Zoom, Google, etc). Clearly (in culture model terms), we've seen behaviour and artefact culture elements change. And, in many instances, the more nimble, collaborative ways of working that have emerged relate to pre-existing espoused values - such as responsiveness, collaboration, open-ness, etc. Our organisations' cultures seem to be changing and, in at least some aspects for many organisations, in ways we want.

Sounds like, then, that a 'silver lining in the Covid-19 cloud' is positive culture shift. Well, maybe. Here's a couple of reasons to be cautious - or, better, to take action to seize the opportunity. First, if we want to shape how our cultures evolve, rather than merely take what we're given, we really must be putting in place proactive initiatives. If behavioural change is flowing freely, we need to surround it with narrative that links it to our values, explaining that linkage clearly, and reinforcing the shifts with artefacts (recognition, metrics, processes) that encourage and embed them. An opportunity to enable change, rather than merely manage it, Epion would say. Second, if much of the behavioural change is dependent on technology adoption, surely we know by now that we need to be intentional about driving adoption, with targeted, engaging, compelling and coherent change interventions (topics for later blogs).

How's this playing out for others? What are you doing? If you'd like to explore ideas, be in touch.

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