Culture as a strategy to navigate our new reality

The recent crises have changed life for all of us and it’s undeniable that the world is currently operating in a different and new context. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with negativity and anxiety, so as part of a fast-changing organisation it’s important to stay future-facing and think about how to best adapt to this new reality. Leaning on your company culture is key to being able to do this, and stay true and authentic to your values.  

Culture is key

During these challenging times, a lot of companies are first and foremost focusing on the survival of their business. Totally understandable. Interestingly though, I’ve also heard of an increasing number who’re shifting their focus to the most important thing in a crisis: their people & culture. It’s refreshing to see so many organisations realising that during good and bad times their culture and values is their northern star – guiding us in our decision making and the way we behave towards each other, and generally the way that we show up. 

For those who recognize themselves in this, GREAT, as your people & culture will most likely be the reason you find yourself breathing that sigh of relief, or even finding a silver lining to adaptations you had to make, when we finally move into this much-talked-about new reality. 

Company culture is also the glue that brings us together, creating a sense of belonging and pride, even when going through a negative situation. The power of bringing people together in order to build a strong culture that goes beyond office walls, definitely gives a competitive advantage when attracting and retaining talent. Now more than ever, your company culture can be your competitive advantage. It’s about more than survival.    

The new reality of distributed workforces

Distributed working has been a discussion on the table for a long time for HR and facilities teams, but not so many organisations had taken the leap to becoming a fully distributed workforce, not until Covid-19. The pandemic has pushed many companies into adopting a working-from-home model. They’ve taken the leap, maybe not of faith, but more of necessity.

As we look to the future for a vision of our new reality, one of the big topics on the horizon is how much will distributed working stick around after the world has recovered from the pandemic. And how should organisations use their culture and values to help navigate the current situation and to build a model for the future. We’re all seeking a solution that addresses the paradox of employees experiencing meeting fatigue, but also being starved of a sense of belonging. Without knowing the answer or being able to paint our vision of the new reality yet, we can definitely say that leaning on your current culture and values is key.

Creating connection to Spotify’s cultural DNA

Investing in culture is an ongoing process and how employees are showing up, regardless of whether that’s at home or at an office, is based on the cultural environment we’ve created for them. The Band Manifesto, hand-in-hand with our values, gives guidance on that culture. Our culture at Spotify is built on controlled chaos, transparency, operating with speed, testing without fear of failing, and collaboration. Our cultural DNA is helping tremendously in today’s environment, however, maintaining the connection to the company culture is a challenge. Here’s where we’ve been focussing our efforts in the last couple of months:

  • Bringing people together – virtually: In times of such uncertainty, and even loneliness, it’s important for us to create opportunities for Spotifiers to participate, learn, listen, or just let loose, while instilling a sense of our community. Driving and maintaining our culture via digital platforms is giving us a chance to be creative. And whilst we feel confident saying that nothing truly replaces the value of in-person connections and experiences, some of our new virtual offerings will remain a constant in our new reality – making sure we continue engaging Spotifiers in our more deeply connected global culture. 

 

  • Building a culture of trust: Today’s situation is the ultimate confirmation that trust is key. We are being asked to follow our leaders – our leaders at work and our political leaders in society. But as humans, most of us will only follow a leader when we find them to be trustworthy. And in turn managers need to trust their people to work autonomously. It’s a situation that requires mutual trust. A solid foundation of trust means people feel confident in themselves and in each other and it also goes a long way towards bolstering that sense of community. In the past, we’ve built a culture of mutual trust at Spotify in order to encourage testing without fear of failing and transparency, which are already parts of our operational culture. Leaning on this foundation of trust is something we’ve dialled up to the max right now.

 

  • Communication and transparency – listening and responding: During times of uncertainty and challenge, it is critical to understand what your employees are experiencing. Careful listening and engaging in conversations are absolutely necessary. Employees want to be heard. Pulse surveys provide the opportunity to learn about their concerns, new ways of working, their well-being and understanding how to best support your employees. How do we help employees navigate this new situation that impacts ways of working, resources, tools and the need for information and flexibility. At Spotify we conducted a pulse survey on working from home to see where our resources are effective, and where we might need to lean in more. It helped us start a conversation. And our most effective tool through recent events has been to over-communicate with full transparency, discussing uncomfortable topics and challenges together on company-wide communications platforms. The benefits of a high-trust culture that breathes communication and transparency has been essential, and will continue to be essential in our new reality. When working from anywhere, this is not the time to stop listening to your employees. In fact, quite the opposite. 

 

  • Team collaboration and connecting people – better together: When we’re all faced with the reality of working remotely, connecting people is even more important. Often we hear from employees that the people and relationships are the most valuable thing in our culture. Spotifiers form bonds with colleagues across the company and involve others in their work, creating opportunities for cross-functional collaboration, and more creative problem solving. The social bonds formed have meant that many Spotifiers are more comfortable reaching out for support or input, creating stronger teams and avoiding silos. And really, really, importantly this social health is a tool for self-awareness and resilience when it comes to mental wellbeing. Making sure these bonds are kept strong, and new bonds are formed, whilst avoiding the video meeting fatigue has not yet been solved, but the areas we’ve been looking into are collaboration and communication tools and to this end we’re designing a guide with the aim to help all Spotifiers find the recommended tools, and the recommended ways to use those tools. 

Stronger and better

While this is not the first global crisis that organizations have faced, the nature of this uncertainty is different. It involves health and wellbeing; it is far more personal and far less predictable. Many appreciate the flexibility and focus gained while others feel isolated and detached from their teams and other Spotifiers outside of their teams. Using culture to navigate this new reality and by addressing the above elements will improve your productivity and team effectiveness. 

There’s no playbook for this situation, but we can be certain that this is a time when strong leadership, company culture and the whole organisation living its core values, is more important than ever. This is the time when your employees show you how strong that culture really is. And let’s be honest, we are all faced with the challenge of looking for ways to come out stronger and better together on the other side of it.