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June 27th, 2021

Your Brand’s Culture vs COVID-19. Make Sure You Win.

The pandemic happened. Changes were forced on us. It affected us all, even as we rode out the storm. But it was a tumbleweed ride and we’ve all come out a bit battered, bruised, and shaken. We’re behaving and thinking a little differently. This will affect our relationship with each other, and with the companies we work for, in what may be imperceivable ways. Some not so much.


A strong and thriving Corporate Brand Culture relies on shared beliefs, purpose, and behavior across an organization’s eco-system. When these critical elements are compromised by personal experience that questions them, e.g., a pandemic, it is important to understand the people-centered cause and effect, in order to develop effective strategies for realignment.

Over the past few months, we’ve all been exposed to the research reports, articles, blogs, and podcasts describing and discussing how the mental and physical welfare of various segments of the population have been affected by the trials and challenges of the last 16 months. As well as the forecast of everything from mild to tumultuous changes we need to be prepared for in and around the workplace.

But how do YOU, as a leader in your organizational ecosystem, decide how to prepare, respond, and implement solutions for YOUR people. How do you minimize the risk of getting it wrong? Because if you get it wrong, your organization’s culture—even if strong and vibrant before all this—is at risk of degrading, and at worst, collapsing.

You have undoubtedly made changes and allowances already, but are they the best, human-centered solutions? And how do you monitor and evaluate their efficacy?

Our advice is to “get in touch” with your people. Understand the individual as well as your corporate community. Look at your people as you do your customers, end users, and consumers. There are core segments and outliers. Try to understand how each feel about what has happened. Understand how their priorities and purpose might have been affected. Understand what they are looking forward to and what they are concerned about. What, at this point in time, is their attitude to work, to play and relaxation, to their family and friends? Are they making decisions differently, through a new lens and criteria?

Armed with these insights, you can start to design informed solutions to either realign them back to your culture, or to recreate a new, thriving culture that better aligns with the shifts that have taken place in all their lives.

Does your company / brand purpose need to evolve? Should you reimagine your vision and mission? These are critical questions that may emerge with better understanding.

So how do you go about gathering this “understanding”? Here are some suggestions:

1. Online Employee Psychographic Survey (Quantitative)

Seeking corporate-wide, anonymous responses to questions about current lifestyle, interests, opinions, attitudes, beliefs, and values, potentially segmented by standard demographic profiles. This could also include Personality Profiling updates if that is SOP at your organization.

2. Culture Equity / Relevance Benchmark Study (Quantitative)

Just as you might have conducted an external brand equity study, you can understand current levels of alignment with your organization’s cultural beliefs and values, through a benchmark study with your employees.

3. Day-in-the-Life-of Ethnography (Qualitative)

This type of research is used across many areas of innovation and seeks to uncover insights about attitude, motivation, and behavior that is shown by actions and not words. It involves experienced ethnographers “following” either physically, or through video and diary keeping, a day in the life of selected employees.

4. Social Listening (Qualitative)

You may feel this is a bit “big brother” and could actually be “anti” your cultural beliefs and values, but many organizations are using this technique to monitor expressions about their brand and company, and could be confined to employee social accounts to gauge attitudes and feelings related to certain keywords that can be tracked.

5. Performance Reviews (Qualitative)

  • One-on-one reviews are ideal venues to understand individual motivations, attitudes, and concerns as they relate to a company’s actions, beliefs, and values, i.e., culture. In the context of the individual’s performance and personal goals, these conversations can be extremely fruitful for managers and decision makers.
  • 360-degree reviews can add valuable insight into your own performance through the eyes of peers and direct reports. These reviews will also provide insight into what your reviewers value and appreciate in you, which tells you as much about them as it does about you.

UNDERSTANDING is the first step in the process of creating cultural alignment. Analyzing the insights for patterns of perspective and/or common points of disconnection will expose areas that need attention with potential new programs and solutions. The ensuing creative process to imagine and develop new ideas into new scenarios, activities, and behavior that embody the expression of your culture is next. Successful implementation of these new norms creates the path forward.

In Summary:

If personal beliefs and purpose change, alignment with an organizational culture is at risk. If the changes are among many, then what was a strong and thriving culture—prior to the events that caused wide-spread change—is inevitably at peril. Behavioral and attitudinal conformation can no longer be an anticipated norm. At its worst, behaviors may become anti-culture if changes in attitude are not met with empathy and consideration.

We suggest you accept that changes have occurred and strive to design people-informed, human-centered solutions. Use the design thinking process that first seeks understanding to inform new ideas, then tests those ideas and makes them better through loops of refinement, and then implements. Just don’t forget the ongoing evaluation.

And finally, you may be wondering why a Design Innovation firm like ours is so passionate about this issue. The reason is that we are passionate about Brand and the organizational ecosystem that it encompasses. Our client’s brand is a unique asset that they alone own, and a critical element of that brand is the people who belong to it and embody it. Every touchpoint your customers, vendors, consumers, and stakeholders have with your company should be a brand value building experience.

That can only happen if your Brand Culture is authentic, strong, and vibrant.

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