Covid 19: corporate culture is your immune system


« Values are like white blood cells. »


At our conference "Management by Values" in June 2019, Krug's CEO, Maggie Henriquez, made an interesting metaphor comparing the company's values to our white blood cells: if we don't have them or if we let them trample on and weaken, we don't die and we don't even feel it. But at the slightest attack, the organism can no longer defend itself. And we are in great danger. 


Ironically, the current threat to our organizations is linked to a virus attack. And Maggie's prophecy is all the more relevant.


Crisis = Crash test of your corporate culture


When things are going well, we're friends, when things are going badly, everyone runs away. (Me)


Many growing companies have values, ambitions and a higher purpose. But it’s during the crisis that we can know whether they are a lived reality or not. 


An example of a real and strong value is with Chapka Insurance and the value « reactivity » : in the company, everyone agrees on the principle, but it’s when customer service is overwhelmed by a crisis, that everyone, even HR and accounting, spontaneously takes its share of customer calls. That's how we understand what this value really means something for this company.


In the same way, everywhere people talk about ambition, but it's when a server burns down, with all the data needed for a crucial tender, that we see what it means. For example at Voltalia, when that happened, the whole company mobilized to collect all the lost data one by one, and in the end succeeds in winning the tender. We can here say that the ambition is shared.


The reality of a higher purpose can be measured by the fact that its stakeholders will do everything they can to keep it afloat, because it brings a real added value. This is the example of Whole Foods Market, when they went bankrupt following the flooding of their stores and warehouses: employees, customers, suppliers, all came to offer their help to clean the stores, to refill the warehouses and to offer lines of credit, because they all cared about this company and its project. And Whole Foods survived. The same stories can be found with Camif, Eupec, SNAT: each time, it was this shared culture around a collective project that federated the stakeholders and saved them during a serious crisis.


Today with the Covid-19, it’s an unprecedented crisis that every company has to live through. And as we all try to resist it in our bodies, your organization will also resist it all the better as its corporate culture is strong.


Your corporate culture is your immune system


The corporate culture is everything that binds you all together in a business project. This includes, in the Harmonists’ approach, 4 dimensions: 

  • Your value proposition
  • Your values
  • Your higher purpose
  • Your ambition


When it is clear and shared, this corporate culture constitutes, in a way, the "moral contract" that everyone signs when they join the company: I want to live and defend this corporate culture because I believe in it and I adhere to it.


Without claiming to be a medical expert (there are enough of them at the moment), I think we can agree that the immune system is used to identify and eliminate foreign bodies that threaten the body.  And more precisely, it's the white blood cells that are going to be its weapon.


The corporate culture plays exactly the same role: its different components are all elements that allow everyone in the company to have common decision criteria to sort out what is "coherent" and what is inconsistent. 


An immune system does not require every white blood cell to go to the brain to ask permission to eliminate a virus. Similarly in an organization with a strong culture, everyone is autonomous and responsible for maintaining coherence. 


Hence the importance of having clarified and communicated the different elements of the corporate culture.


And it must be maintained on a daily basis! As Stephen Covey says in "The 8th Habits: from Effectiveness to Greatness", "our organization's immune system is weakened every time we act against our values or conscience (...) which will affect the company’s mood, the morale and the vitality. ». The extreme being the autoimmune diseases where we will destroy what is vital in the company. 


And this is where we are at risk when the crisis or the virus (or both in the case of coronavirus) arrives. And then what do we do?


How to boost the cultural immune system?


First of all it is a question of testing it. For your company and in this coronavirus crisis situation, what can be the symptoms of an effective immune system?


-Movements of solidarity that are set up between all employees (taking over some of a colleague's tasks, looking after his or her children, etc.)


-The ability to accept and even spontaneously propose to make sacrifices (working longer, shortening vacations, proposing a salary deferral, etc.)


-Ingenuity and creativity to find D systems to maintain and develop the activity (proposal of new business models, offers adapted to non-presential, etc.)


Then it’s a question of reinforcing it, in particular when we are confined and thus remote. Here are some remedies that may work to better anchor and spread your culture: 


-Authenticity - natural recipes, Honey Thyme Ginger Lemon: it's as old as the world and it still works. As a leader or manager, be transparent and humble in order to make people adhere to your corporate culture. Having a discourse of truth, admitting what works and what doesn't, sharing your hopes and desires, encouraging everyone to express themselves, all this contributes to finding what brings you all together. To create the trust that is essential to commitment.


-Exemplarity - healthy living, sleep-sport-sun-food: then it’s a question of having discipline, embodying in your words and acts what you want your teams to defend. Think also of the symmetry of attention, if you make efforts for your employees (and it doesn't have to be financial, it can be recognition, flexibility, moments of conviviality or creativity) they will do all the more for you.


-Communication - sometimes the vaccine can be good: in these times when it's being put to tough times, it helps to have concrete and regular reminders about your corporate culture and what it can mean today. Communicating also means allowing everyone to be connected, to exchange, to feel that they belong to the same company, especially at distance. To do this, some tools like Lumapps are excellent, they allow you to create communities, share content, news and collaborate online while spreading your culture in the background.


Crisis: an opportunity to rethink your culture


If the crisis is a crash test, it’s also an opportunity, because any crisis is a revelation of your strengths as well as your paths of evolution. It represents a message for action that calls you to rethink your corporate culture in the broadest sense. Because new habits have formed, new ideas have sprung up, and new questions have arisen, not only internally, but within your entire ecosystem and society. There will be no return to normal, there will be a new present to build. So this is an opportunity to rethink your offer, your organization, your operating modes, and sometimes even the higher purpose of your company. Because an immune system is evolutionary and adaptive.


By learning from it and laying the new foundations of your corporate culture, in accordance with a world that has evolved, you will emerge all the stronger in the face of the future’s challenges.


So, ready to build your defenses?


Hélène de Saint Front, Harmonist