Culture Matters: Responding Well to External Interruption

Throughout the Culture Matters series, our content has been focused on investing in the culture that lives within the metaphorical four walls of our organizations. We call this intentional culture. We dove deep into two key areas that largely determine culture: the manager and employee relationship and deeply-rooted core values.

But the world outside of those walls exists. Various external interruptions happen to all of us, and we must simply react to it. Our response to them is what we call unintentional culture.

External interruptions include things like policy or legal changes, market disruptions among competitors, sociocultural movements, natural disasters, and one that is very relevant at this time is inflation. Business leaders must recognize that how we respond to interruptions like these significantly impacts the organizational culture, we help to create, so we must be purposeful and prepared. 

Below, we will share our 3 pillars for responding well to external interruption.

  • Internal and External Awareness

A keen awareness of what is going on “out there” helps to alleviate the shock and surprise of a disruption event. External factors are largely out of our control, but with smart and strategic actions, leaders can still position themselves on the offense.

Dedicated research into top competitors and how they are navigating the customer landscape will give insight into all corners of the market. Studying changes in your industry by attending conferences, webinars, networking events, or even building your own group of trusted advisors with like-minded people will keep you nimble and on the cutting edge.

Perhaps most importantly, leaders are readers. Staying abreast of what experts are reading and/or recommending will provide clarity into current and future trends. But let’s be realistic. Most of us have very little free time to read for business, let alone for pleasure. Luckily, our world is fully equipped with endless amounts of podcasts and audiobooks to choose from. Speaking of, you can listen to our very own podcast here!

However, all of that helpful outside knowledge is ultimately ineffective if the leaders do not have a firm grasp on the reality of what is happening internally.

The Competing Values Framework (CVF) has been regarded as a useful organizational tool for decades and used by over 10,000 companies. While this blog will only scratch the surface of its usefulness, the CVF assessment is a great option for any leader looking to assess organizational performance and effectiveness. The matrix plots your organization based on its internal and external focus, as well as its stability and flexibility. Check out this resource to conduct your own assessment!

  • Embrace a Culture of Adaptability

Adaptability is no longer an organizational skill but a necessity in our fast-paced world. To be adaptable is to handle change management well. The Harvard Business Review suggests that 60-70% of organizational change initiatives fail. To help explain this phenomenon, the graph below indicates what we call the change management bell curve.

The largest and middle group, the Bystanders, are those who respond to change with an “eh” attitude. The Critics, while often the smallest group, are the loudest. The Advocates are your go-to internal champions of change. They have the power to move the Bystanders off the fence and calm the Critics. Leverage your advocates by obsessing over the “why” behind the change and elevating their voices and sentiments. Advocates tend to be your star performers who are fully bought into the mission, vision, and values and therefore can most effectively rally the rest of the bell curve around new initiatives.

  • Sustainably (Over) Communicate

Culture problems usually exist because communication is not happening OR not happening enough. No leader was ever fired for overcommunicating! A good rule of thumb is to take whatever level of communication you currently have in your organization, regardless of how great it may be, and double it. When those external interruptions occur, speaking directly to them in a calm and well-informed manner is a powerful tool. Depending on the interruption, it may, in fact, need to be the CEO directly communicating. The Covid-19 pandemic was an unfortunately great example of this. The organizations that did not respond quickly suffered greatly during that time.

Your culture must be built on trust and accountability before the storm of external interruptions. Practical ways to build that out are through the use of 360-degree feedback tools and one-to-one check-ins between managers and employees. Ongoing feedback practices expose blind spots or weak points in communication across all levels of the organization. One-to-one manager/employee check-ins build mutual accountability and relationships that are grounded in mutual respect.

External interruptions happen to us but they do not have to take us over. Smart leaders and organizations can be prepared for just about anything by staying informed, being nimble, and intentionally over-communicating. Internal strength will make you and your team a force to be reckoned with when interruptions occur.

You can download the presentation here.

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