How can you build a company culture to withstand downturns? This question has been keeping me up lately for two reasons: the possibility of a recession and the example of the Golden State Warriors–who crushed it again, after having a difficult season.
It’s not that I’m a huge basketball fan, though, as a kid, I used to root for the Celtics and then the Lakers (because after moving to LA, I got beat up for wearing a Celtics jersey). These days, I’m more of a fan of well-run teams, like the Warriors.
During a rough stretch this season, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said this: “If you can’t maintain your culture during the down times, then you don’t really have a culture. It’s just dependent on winning. The culture has to survive losing stretches.” While the Warriors ended up third in their conference this year, they pulled it together and took home another NBA championship.
Like the Golden State Warriors, our events company has spent years building a resilient culture so it can survive tough stretches. When the pandemic closed down in-person meetings and conferences (which were over 90% of our business), the company was able to pivot to virtual experiences right away, because we had fostered resilience in our culture. We didn’t win a championship that yea. However, we were able to survive and grow our business back to thrive.
So how did my company build a culture for tough times? We invested in our employees, kept our communication lines open, and laid a foundation of trust.
Invest in Your Employees.
The key to building a resilient culture is investing in your employees. At my company, we believe the best customer experience begins with a great employee experience. Even before the pandemic, we had instituted a flexible approach to office hours and work location. About one-third of employees worked remotely. And for the rest, we had a flexible start and end time, focusing more on what people could get done than on where and when they did it.
Furthermore, we invested in employee well-being. We had half-day Fridays so employees could focus on family and personal projects. We also gave each employee a wellness and education fund at the beginning of the year so they could take a class in whatever interested them and use the money to focus on their health.
Keep Communication Lines Open.
At the same time, we built resilience through communication. We believe so much in communication, it’s the start of our company values known as COACH. COACH stands for Communication, Optimism, Accountability, Collaboration, and Healthy Growth.
It’s like former Warriors assistant head coach Mike Brown said about teamwork: “I’m going to preach from day 1, they have to have communication, they have to give effort, and they’ve got to trust one another.”
My company believes leaders and employees should communicate early and often. Besides monthly company meetings, leaders and teams meet weekly and touch base often through informal and formal one-on-ones This way every employee knows what the company is doing and how they are contributing. This way there are few surprises in job reviews or when the company begins a new strategy.
Once a year, we also have an offsite, where outside mediators help facilitate company discussions. From these offsites, we have been able to understand employee concerns, such as the rate of pay versus the cost of living in Santa Barbara and our remote work policy. We not only listened, we took action on these concerns.
Build A Foundation of Trust.
Finally, my company believes you need to build trust to be resilient. I admit I didn’t use to trust my team. I wanted all my employees in the office so I could see them at their desks working. However, I learned that practice led to distrust. Now I set tasks and goals and let employees figure out how to complete them, lending a hand when needed.
My company also built trust by focusing on accountability, starting with leadership. When a leader makes a mistake in my company, he or she admits it and corrects it. Setting this example allowed our employees to understand they could also make mistakes. This meant when things went wrong we knew about it early before we lost business. The important thing was not to assign blame; it was to learn from the mistake and move on.
By investing in our employees, keeping communication lines up, and building a foundation of trust, our company was able to become more resilient. These aren’t all the things we do to become and stay resilient; these are just the main things. I would be interested in hearing what other executives do to build a resilient culture.