September 21, 2020

Company Culture Is How We Make It Through the Crisis


Throughout the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, business leaders have had to find innovative ways to cope with the health and economic challenges faced by their customers, employees, and bottom lines. Companies have adopted new strategies with record speed, invested in advanced digital technologies, and solved supply chain issues in the midst of an unparalleled global crisis. Many have also stepped up to take care of the employees who made these innovations possible. From increasing salaries and reducing work hours to offering programs to help families, many organizations have taken great pains to show compassion.

To guide their strategies, many leaders have taken a step back to refocus on their purposes. Del Rosso, president and CEO of Genesis Motor North America, said it best: “To lead a company, especially in a time of unprecedented global crisis, I find we are laser-focused on our purpose. We know the how, what, and why we exist. The team and I have never communicated better. Through great communication, we’re learning; we’re adapting; we’ve become more nimble, efficient, and effective.”

Purpose and organizational culture are intertwined. Purpose, driven by the solution a company provides to a problem, answers the questions of why a company exists and what it does. Culture comprises the shared values of employees and answers the questions of who a company is and how it operates. While purpose informs decisions, it is through culture — through employees — that decisions are carried out.

To achieve their purposes and help both employees and the bottom line thrive, companies should commit to culture today. According to an Inc. survey, companies that entered the pandemic with strong cultures will recover more quickly than others thanks to a heightened sense of resilience. For these companies, the crisis can actually become an opportunity to differentiate themselves from the competition.

However, the desire to prioritize culture does not always translate to the effort required to follow through on that desire. In one survey conducted prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, only 15 percent of companies that set out to improve their cultures actually did.

So, what can an organization do to realize genuine cultural growth?

Find Your Champions

You cannot develop a culture alone or in a vacuum; it requires teamwork. Culture is a shared experienced, so the process of creating it must be shared as well. As Boris Groysberg, Jeremiah Lee, Jesse Price, and J. Yo-Jud Cheng write for Harvard Business Review, culture “cannot exist solely within a single person, nor is it simply the average of individual characteristics. It resides in shared behaviors, values, and assumptions.”

Form a diverse culture committee that includes employees from all departments at all levels to help drive your culture initiatives. Not only does this lead to better ideas, but it also makes for an easier implementation process. You’ll need to bring executive leadership to the table to gain their buy-in, and getting leaders to invest in culture and approach it with purpose can help ensure culture is prioritized and championed within the organization.

Here at TireHub, our CEO Peter Gibbons has experience with making culture a priority. When Bridgestone and Goodyear merged the wholesale distribution part of their businesses to form TireHub, Gibbons knew it would be a challenge to bring employees who were once competitors together in a common effort. He set out to build a culture that would give TireHub its own identity and employees a shared sense of purpose. Two years later, we credit much of our recovery during the economic downturn to the company’s commitment to culture.

Connect to Purpose

With a committee in place and leadership on board, the next step is to put your culture plan on paper. Organizations regularly make plans for IT, marketing, operations, and other company functions, but culture strategy rarely gets the same formal treatment. That’s a mistake.

Any culture strategy must start with the basics: mission and vision statements. Mission is important to employees. Mission-driven workers are 54 percent more likely to stay at a company for more than five years and 30 percent more likely to grow into high performers than those who are solely motivated by money, according to research from Imperative.

Whole most companies already have mission statements, employees are often unaware of the statement or do not feel connected to it. According to Gallup, only 41 percent of employees say they know what their company stands for, and less than 50 percent feel connected to their organization’s mission. A key part of your culture strategy is communicating your mission and making sure it resonates with employees.

When TireHub formed in July 2018, the first step in creating an identity and giving employees a shared sense of purpose was crafting the new company’s mission, vision, promise, and commitment. The TireHub commitment to being adventurous, relentless, speedy, and approachable is today reinforced in signage throughout corporate headquarters and across distribution centers, as well as in internal communications. Employees who demonstrate our commitment are rewarded throughout the organization. While there is still work to be done, having this culture already in place has helped our organization sustain business during the economic downturn.

Finding your champions and connecting to purpose are the foundational acts in building a culture that helps employees connect with each other and with the core of the organization. Just remember that committing to culture requires a commitment of its own. When companies prioritize culture in the same way as sales or operations, employees are loyal, customers are satisfied, and the organization prospers.

Nikki Roberson serves as head of communications and culture for TireHub.

Read more in Organizational Culture

Nikki Roberson serves as head of communications and culture for TireHub, a national wholesale tire distributor. In this role, she is responsible for managing all internal and external communications, driving and maintaining TireHub's commitment to culture, and managing public and media relations and social media. Roberson has been with TireHub since May 2018 and brings more than 10 years of communications experience to the team. Her areas of expertise include employee and executive communications, event management, and employee engagement across a variety of channels. Prior to joining TireHub, Roberson most recently served as internal communications manager for Manhattan Associates, where she was responsible for global internal communications, employee engagement, and executive communications. Before that, she held similar roles at InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) in both regional and global capacities. Roberson holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and mass communications from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an MBA from Georgia State University. Outside of work, she loves to travel, is an avid reader, and enjoys cooking.