In challenging times, your culture is critical

Posted in Employee and Brand on 6 October 2020 By Darryl Mead, Head of Employee Experience

The pandemic and resulting lockdown has made company culture a more important asset than ever before - yet also harder to identify and manage. To develop our insight and find answers to some of the hard questions, we are running a survey and would love you to get involved.

One of our team at Emperor asked a question today in our employee voice session: ‘It may be a whole year working away from my team and my colleagues. How are we going to keep that special culture we have?’

As the UK faces potentially a further six months of working from home, and the challenges that will bring, it’s clear that a company’s culture will be more essential than ever before, yet potentially harder to identify and maintain. 

Many of us are working in a hybrid or blended manner, doing great work via our screens, but that sense of how we belong to our brand, and our culture, has changed forever. In fact, because of COVID-19 and the resulting upheaval, the very purpose of business is coming under scrutiny as stakeholders everywhere question its role in society.  

Changing and challenging times

Ask yourself: what have you learned about your business and culture over the past six months? 

Your leaders have probably stepped up and communicated more often. Maybe you’ve embraced new technology and became highly connected. Wellbeing has become a singular focus for many. However, there is still work to be done.

 Corporate culture remains a crucial point of competitive advantage - yet company leadership still often fails to consider it with the same scrutiny as other factors. Back in 2019, Cyrus Taraporevala, President and CEO of State Street Global Advisors, said in his letter: ‘The global accounting firm EY recently found that “intangible assets” such as culture average 52% of an organization’s market value (and in some sectors as much as 90%). However, through engagement we have found that few directors can adequately articulate their company’s culture or demonstrate how they assess, monitor and influence change when necessary.’

Consider your purpose

The actions, stories and outcomes from business in 2020 will furnish leaders with an articulation of culture or evidence of how they have influenced change. But it’s the foundations of a clear purpose and values that will serve you well in a crisisguiding decision-making, behaviours and the quality and consistency of communication. 

Emperor’s research on the AIM 100 annual reports reveals that only 18% are reporting on culture and values in a meaningful way. More than half of companies (53%) include a statement on their vision for the company but only 21% identify a specific purpose statement that clearly sets out why they exist, and how they contribute to wider society.

Employees want to work for a company with a sense of purpose and impact. A 10-country study conducted by Edelman during COVID-19 confirmed the role businesses must play as a source of reliable and timely information.As trust in government and institutions continues to erode, employers are stepping in to shape society through their corporate actions, sustainable practices, inclusive workplaces. 

We expect our employers to behave ethically, stand for something, and look after our wellbeing. A big ask, but that’s where we are in 2020 and beyond.

Connect brand and culture

In a new report from Hinge Research Institute, one of the top elements of an employer brand – for almost three-quarters (73%) of the professionals surveyed – is having a defined and clearly articulated culture. 

Now may not be the time for a focus on recruitment given furlough and redundancies, but employer brand is as much about reputation. Your brand promise is delivered every day by employees. And your promise to them is important. Building an alliance within your business of brand, comms, HR and IT to align the customer and employee promises is vital. 

Define your culture

An organisation’s culture is its behaviours at scale - basically, what it says and does is a result of how your people behave; mostly referred to as values. 

Have you behaved differently during the pandemic? 

Every leader I’ve spoken to said they’ve been more agile, flexible, innovative. The soft, but powerful skills of empathy, resilience, listening, ambition, care were evident in most businesses recently. These are actual collective behaviours that define your culture. Perhaps they were different from the values you had? It may be time for a rethink. 

Measuring culture remains elusive

Company actions and commitments through COVID are measurable and a source of stories. It’s important to define and demonstrate purpose for reputation, trust, engagement and to attract new employees. And how you behave every day using values as a guide can be measured. Yet, fully understanding and measuring brand and culture can feel challenging.  

Businesses that put culture first reap the commercial benefits. But who’s it for, what’s the benefit, what’s the link with the brand and what’s the impact on performance? How should companies be approaching their brand and how does that connect to important internal considerations such as culture and the employee experience? 

We want to find out the answers to these questions by drawing on the experience and insight of our extensive community of HR, People and Brand professionals. We invite you to take part in our research to define collectively what the present and the future really looks like in the world of brand and culture.

We also intend to help business leaders have a clear vision of the future and how to effectively engage your people as brand and business advocates. The results of our brand and culture study will be shared early next year. 

You can find out more and take part here.

If you’d like to know more about Emperor’s people and culture expertise, get it touch at [email protected]. I’d love to hear from you.


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