As of mid-March 2020, COVID-19 has been declared a worldwide pandemic and has already sickened hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. Effects have radiated outward into just about every area of our lives.


Disruptors like unexpected pandemics can test the strength of corporate culture.

Employers are grappling with the pandemic as well, concerned with employee well-being, travel, and revenues. It is safe to say that some organizations will come through the pandemic stronger than ever, and others will be permanently damaged by it. In my opinion, one of the biggest influences on how well an organization weathers such an unexpected and powerful disruption is corporate culture.

Businesses are postponing travel, canceling industry events, figuring out how to help employees work from home, and wondering how sick employees (or employees caring for sick loved ones) will affect operations. “No one has a playbook for this,” says Chicago furniture maker Dan Levin. But companies with the best cultures have the best chances of coming through this crisis and thriving.

When Disruption Affects a Weak Corporate Culture

Weak corporate cultures are plagued by low morale, poor communication, fear, politics, and high turnover rates. Imagine what happens when you add a heretofore unknown disruptor to the mix! Without serious remedial effort, all the characteristics of poor work culture are likely to worsen during a crisis.

A new disruptor can cause morale to sink even lower, heighten front-line employees’ fears, and potentially increase employee turnover. And then, once business picks up again, the company could be faced with hiring under far from ideal circumstances.

When Disruption Affects a Strong Corporate Culture

A strong, vibrant corporate culture can be characterized by the presence of several features:

  • Clear company values
  • Outstanding communication
  • Fair conflict resolution
  • Mutual trust
  • An atmosphere of excellence in which everyone wants to do their best

company culture

Companies with strong cultures are better at taking disruption in stride.

A new disruption in this environment can actually strengthen bonds because there is a strong sense of everyone being in it together. Employees aren’t afraid to ask about policies and potential changes like working from home. When conflicts arise, cool heads prevail. Leaders trust front-line employees to do their best and front-line employees trust leaders to be fair and compassionate.

When the acute crisis has passed, the general feeling is one of pride in oneself and one’s colleagues at having risen to the occasion.

Assessing Your Corporate Culture

Even in the absence of potential outside disruptors, organizational leaders should regularly assess the health of their culture. Organizational culture does not thrive on neglect. It requires regular attention and cultural needs often evolve. What worked wonderfully one year ago may not be optimal right now or tomorrow.

Culture change consultants are trained to assess cultural strength, examining every thread that weaves together the unique fabric of the culture. They know how to diagnose problems and help companies develop actionable solutions designed to get measurable improvements.

But a culture change consultant isn’t a wizard. The actual work of improving corporate culture must be done by everyone in the organization, starting with leadership. Leaders are the most important drivers of corporate culture, and if leadership doesn’t buy into cultural improvement, efforts will fall flat.

The current pandemic may not feel like an “opportunity,” but to the company with a strong culture, it actually is an opportunity to pull together and move forward. It is likely that once the crisis passes, many companies with weak cultures will feel the effects most harshly. The companies that started with strong, vibrant cultures, however, may find that they function better than ever.


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