Building a Great Culture — From Home

April 3, 2020 | blog | By Mike Sullivan
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Culture is the fabric that holds your company together. You and your team built it together. You curated it together and keeping it healthy is non-negotiable. But what happens when something like COVID-19 drives you apart for weeks on end?

It’s hard enough to build and maintain a productive, supportive culture when your team is all together. How are you supposed to pull that off when everyone is working from home for an extended period of time with a future that’s, at worst, terrifying and, at best, uncertain? Clearly, it’s not easy. But you can do it and here’s how.

In our new book, The Voice Of The Underdog: How Challenger Brands Create Distinction by Thinking CULTURE FIRST (due for release in May), we outline the seven elements challenger brands need to create meaningful and lasting company cultures. The wonderful thing about them is you can make all seven work to your advantage from home, just as you can with everyone in the office. All it takes is attention and intention.

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THE (CULTURAL) MAGNIFICENT SEVEN:
HOME EDITION

Safety

If the coronavirus has brought anything to the forefront of our attention, it’s safety. The very idea has shocked the economy and has us sheltering in place to keep the country safe. And yet, our physical safety is only part of the equation. Have you wondered how safe your team is feeling psychologically, emotionally, and even spiritually right now? In addition to general stress and the fear of catching the virus, people are worried about getting laid off, or having their wages cut. They’re missing their friends and coworkers and clients. Spiritually, many won’t be able to celebrate Passover, or Easter with their friends and family the way they have their entire lives.

Your team needs your reassurance. Even under normal conditions, safety is built over time with a consistent string of safety cues that say “I trust you,” “we’re in this together,” and “together we will get through this,” whatever this is.

Now more than ever, as leaders, we need to be giving off as many safety cues as possible to our teams. Call them. Talk to them. Assure them. The last thing they need to feel safe is radio silence from the leaders they trust most.

Vulnerability

We’ve never been through anything like COVID-19 before and, as such, you don’t know how all of this is going to turn out. None of us do. We don’t have concrete answers right now and that is okay. What we need are honest conversations and a lot of them. That requires vulnerability, admittedly not the easiest thing for most of us. But know this— when you allow yourself to be vulnerable with your team and when you are honest enough to say, “I don’t have all the answers,” and, “I need you to help make this thing go,” and when, culturally, “I don’t know,” and “I need help,” become acceptable answers, a powerful shift will start to happen.

As you lower your guard, so will others. As you increase your empathy, so will others. As you begin leading from a place of we rather than me, you will find collective buy-in like you’ve never seen. The shift from “here’s what you need to do” to “here’s what we need to do” is subtle but powerful. And when your company becomes their company, you’ll find that navigating these unchartered waters together is far more productive than carrying that weight alone.

Purpose

In a time of uncertainty, like we’re experiencing now, it’s easy to lose sight of things as lofty as purpose, but, if channeled properly, nothing can be more galvanizing. Whatever the purpose of your company is, now is an ideal time to crystalize it in the minds of your team members by looking at the coronavirus through the lens of that purpose.

At LOOMIS, our purpose is to help challenger brands compete and win. Normally, our aperture for finding solutions to that challenge is infinite. But right now, we’re laser-focused on helping our clients compete and win through the lens of COVID-19 with the purpose of helping them come out on the other side as healthy as possible.

Lean into your purpose while you navigate the pandemic and watch as it pulls your team together.

Belonging

We all have a deep down need to belong. Not a want. A need. It goes without saying why we need the love and connection that comes with belonging in our private lives. But we also need it when we walk into the office. And so does every person who has committed themselves to your company. For many, that sense of belonging is being challenged right now as people feel more and more isolated at home.

In the spirit of efficiency, it’s easy to fire off group emails, or talk with a few people here or there. But with technologies like ZOOM, why not jump onto a video chat so your entire team can share their experiences, fears, and ideas about how we’re all coping and moving forward?

Keep people in the loop. That real sense of belonging and contribution is a huge part of successful cultures. When people feel a bond and a friendship with their co-workers, they stay. They work harder. They contribute more. During this crisis, what are you doing to make your team feel like they belong?

Creativity

Of all the elements that make for transcendent culture, creativity is the most dynamic. No matter what kind of business you lead, your success and your survival depends on generating great ideas and their ability to move you forward. Thankfully, creative people can be creative just about anywhere. And by creative people I’m referring to your entire team.

The largely untapped secret of challenger cultures is that creativity can come from anywhere in your organization. Yes, you may have trained creative professionals who are better at the creative thing than others, and we’re not taking anything away from them, but empowering every member of your team to contribute creatively does more than give them permission to create. It makes them feel safer, encourages them to be vulnerable, gives them purpose, and helps them feel like they belong with the rest of your company.

What better time than now to challenge your entire team to think creatively?

They have more time than they would ever have at the office to read, study, think, concept and create in an environment they can control. Empowering creativity supports every other element that makes for great culture. And it allows you to ask the two questions your clients desperately need you to ask right now: “What if?” and “Why not?”

Connection

Of the seven elements that make for great cultures, Connection is by far the one that will take the most work in our battle against the coronavirus. Where belonging feels more emotional, connection connotes a more tangible, physical bond that can only be measured in relationships. Real connection happens when the people inside your culture feel included, trusted, and invited to be a genuine part of something bigger than themselves. Connection is personal. And it’s lasting. But it’s not always easy, especially when we’re not together, looking each other in the eye, experiencing body language and hearing the inflection in what we say up close.

People are intricate. Feelings are complicated. Life and work are hard to balance, especially now that the physical separation that comes from going to the office is gone. Fostering connection requires intention and constant cultivation from everyone in your organization. Encourage your team to find ways to engage. Ways to be thoughtful. Ways to stay in communication with each other. Connection is hard right now. But it’s the one tether that will hold you all together until we get to the other side.

North Star Leadership

Of Safety, Vulnerability, Purpose, Belonging, Creativity, Connection, and North Star Leadership—this last one is all you. That’s not to say you’re the only leader, even if you are the leader at the top of your organization. What it means is that only you can do what it takes to become the person worthy of leading your team, your clients, and your organization. When we’re facing cultural and professional inflection points like the one we’re facing now, your team and your clients don’t need a manager. They need a beacon of clarity. They need an inspired thinker. They need a champion who can build them up and lead them into the battle for their professional existence.

North Star Leadership is about understanding the privilege and responsibility you’ve been given. It’s about working to develop the clarity of thought and the vision to inspire your team to do what no other company has done before. It’s about building a culture that will not only attract the best talent, but keep them for years to come. Being an exceptional leader isn’t easy. It takes extraordinary, sustained attention, focus, and effort. But when you can build a company with safety, vulnerability, purpose, belonging, creativity, connection, and leadership at its core, you’ll be able to handle just about anything the world throws at you. Even a pandemic.

MIKE SULLIVAN  is president at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency and a top Dallas advertising agency for digital, social, mobile and user experience. For more about challenger branding, advertising and marketing, leadership, culture and other inspirations that will drive your success, visit our blog BARK! The Voice of the Underdog and catch up on all of our posts.

For more about LOOMIS, or to discuss how we can help your company succeed, CLICK HERE

ad agencyadvertisingadvertising agencybrandingchallenger brandchallenger brand marketingchallenger brandingchallenger brandsCMOcontent marketingcoronavirusCOVID-19creativeculturesocial distancingStay At HomeThe Voice of The Underdogtop 10 Dallas Ad Agencyunderdogvoice of the underdogwork from home

Mike Sullivan

President at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency

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