It has been a rough year for companies around the world. Some have been upended entirely, others severely shaken and forced to furlough or lay off employees. Even those that have remained relatively healthy have had to navigate the challenges of COVID-19, racial justice struggles, and a polarized political environment.
In the midst of these challenges, however, organizations can find opportunities to actually strengthen their cultures. Here are four ways to reclaim 2020 and make it the year in which your company doesn’t just survive, but thrive:
1. Examine Your Roots
A tree is only as healthy as its roots, and the same can be said of an organization. The roots of a company lie in its founding purpose, which first gave rise to the culture the company has now. Most companies begin with noble aspirations. Perhaps your organization was founded to bring forth a new technology, provide a solution to a key customer group, or realize a personal desire to change the world for the better.
Passion is the primary nutrient that feeds healthy cultures. In difficult times, however, it becomes easy for poisonous elements to creep into the soil around your roots. Perhaps profit has largely overtaken purpose, or maybe competing factions within your organization are arguing about which non-core activities require more time, energy, and resources.
Whatever the case, it’s critical to dig down deep to examine your cultural roots. Find the notes, pictures, or presentations from the early days of your company. Take time to soak in the passion that you or the founders of your company thrived on.
Once you’ve gotten back in touch with your founding purpose, it’s time to focus on your next steps. Are there ways in which you’ve drifted from your roots? Have core elements of your founding values slipped away during the crisis? Do you see any dissonance between things as they currently are and the path on which you’d like to move forward? Culture runs deep, and it is only by embracing the depth that you can begin to build upon that foundation again.
2. Nourish the Core
If purpose forms the roots of a culture, then the core team members are the trunk that keeps the culture standing tall.
In any organization, there are internal outliers — those extreme voices that demand a disproportionate amount of time and energy. Those voices can and should be respectfully engaged, but do so carefully. They do not represent the core strength of your culture, and if you devote too much time to satisfying their every last desire, your A players may start to feel disengaged and underappreciated.
Look at how you can reinvest in those team members who most acutely reflect your founding purpose and bring their personal best to work each and every day. Invite and listen to their perspectives on the current state of your organization. Celebrate their wins. Remove obstacles from their paths. Support their growth. Continually foster the connection between them and the root purpose of your organization.
Your culture is fundamentally a product of the attitudes, behaviors, and customs of your team. Strengthening those individuals who are doing the right thing each and every day is critical to ensuring the core of your culture grows increasingly healthy.
3. Prune the Branches
Sometimes the dissenting voices in an organization can grow so distracting or disconnected from your desired culture that they cease to add meaningful value. Worse, they may actively spread toxic energy throughout the business. In those scenarios, the most compassionate action is to prune the branches and remove the offending members from the team.
Not only does letting these employees go allow them to find other organizations that better align with their perspectives, but it also frees your core team from the burden of employees who do not actively contribute to the well-being of your culture. A root system, no matter how strong, can only support a certain size of structure. It’s better for the roots’ resources to flow to those team members who are actively contributing in healthy ways.
4. Graft in New Strength
A time of crisis or change is a unique period to invest in your culture. While other organizations may be reeling, this can be your opportunity to bring in new team members to generate even more organizational growth.
In the wine industry, it’s common to graft grapes from one plant to the roots of another. The reason for this is that some valuable grapes don’t have very robust root systems. Through grafting, these delicate grapes are given stronger and more pest-resistant roots.
You can take a similar approach to your organization by “grafting” diverse new perspectives and skills to your existing root system. Not every branch of your organization needs to be organically grown from within. There is beauty and strength in diversity, which drives rich growth and cultural endurance.
Your company’s culture is not static. It’s more like a living organism that requires careful tending. Examine your roots. Nourish the core. Prune the branches. Graft in new strength. If you give your culture all the attention it deserves, it will grow stronger than ever and reach new heights, regardless of whatever else might be going on in the world.
Jeff Ostermann is chief people office at Sweetwater.