A strong company culture is imperative, especially during difficult times in your business. Learn 4 tactics that can help establish a solid culture within your organization.

As leaders face an uncertain economy this year, it’s important to remember the power and value of culture. It’s not a project that can be shoved aside during difficult times. Culture is the very fabric of your organization that can help your teams navigate turbulent weather. In other words, when trouble strikes, it’s time to double down on culture.

Why Strong Culture Is A Necessity

Modern employees demand a lot more from their work experience than a paycheck. The 2022 Microsoft Work Trend Index found that following compensation, the top factor employees value is a positive culture. And according to SHRM, companies lose $45 billion annually from turnover due to poor culture.

“People’s expectations of organizations have changed, and employee choice is significantly more driven based on the elements of culture than ever before,” says Mary Kelly, founder of MCK Leadership Talent Group. “Organizations that don’t invest in making a clear statement of their company mission and values and creating a culture where people can thrive are suffering.”

And when an economic downturn hits, those organizations are more likely to have difficulty making it through the other side.

Kelly advises leaders to think of culture like a bank account. You want to be making daily deposits so there’s a balance to draw from during rough periods. “Building goodwill and trust—the emotional deposits you make to your culture—doesn’t happen overnight,” she says. “But if you put in the work daily in the long-term, your team will be better able to pull together when tough times hit.”

Yet it can be all too easy to neglect culture during a crisis. Here’s how leaders can ensure culture remains healthy during a downturn:

Regular culture check-ins. A positive culture translates to stronger collaboration, communication, morale and engagement—essential for getting through a rough period intact. Regularly ask the following questions: How do employees perceive the culture? What is their workplace experience like? Does it reflect the company’s mission and values? Can they articulate how those values translate to everyday behavior?

Too often, there’s a disconnect between leadership perception of culture and the actual lived employee experience. Research has found that among managers, over half feel leadership is out of touch with employee expectations.

“Continuing to assess employee feedback, take action and work to align employee experience with what leadership perceives culture to be is critical,” Kelly says. “Listening to employees can be one of the biggest impacts leaders can have during tough times.”

Transparent, abundant communication. Uncertainty is a cause of stress and anxiety, so when times get tough, the worst thing leaders can do is stop the flow of communication. Instead, be as transparent as possible about changing business conditions, new challenges and the path forward. It’s also important to admit when you’re unsure about something – vulnerability helps breed trust across the entire organization.

“When an economic downturn hits, the strain afflicted on a business directly impacts its people. Measures such as budget cuts, scaled-back perks and canceled events may have people on edge, believing that the company culture they signed on for is eroding under the stress. This only gets worse if their company isn’t forthcoming about the financial side of the business,” says Chris O’Sullivan, senior vice president of finance at Workhuman. “Anxiety only grows when people are left in the dark.” Showing appreciation for employees can go a long way toward keeping morale and engagement up.

Express gratitude often. Showing appreciation for employees can go a long way toward keeping morale and engagement up. “Even in difficult times, if people are valued for the work that they do and their unique contributions to the company’s culture, the unease they feel won’t be nearly as acute,” O’Sullivan says, noting that Workhuman’s Human Workplace Index survey found that half of employees would feel more seen at work if they were recognized for their contributions. “In keeping the focus on building a safe, supportive environment in which employees feel valued, you can keep culture strong during a crisis.”

Embody the organization’s values. During difficult periods, all eyes will be on leadership. “It’s another opportunity for employees to evaluate whether this is the right place for them,” Kelly says. “It’s important that organizations truly live their values and beliefs in how they treat employees during those tough times. If an organization has to layoff part of their workforce, for example, they need to think about the impact both to those being let go and those they’re trying to retain, treating everyone with dignity and respect.”

By remaining transparent, embodying organizational values, helping employees feel valued and regularly checking in with culture, leaders can ensure culture remains intact and their greatest resource—their people—remain satisfied and engaged.

“After all, it’s your people who are going to get you through,” O’Sullivan says.

This article was written by Larry English from Forbes and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive Content Marketplace. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@industrydive.com.

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