Culture Reset: Taking Leadership Back to Basics

Episode 4.22: The past year has been a tough one for company culture – between “quiet quitting” causing strife, conflict between employees and leaders on the concept and practice of “work from home”, and rampant layoffs for many companies, morale is on shaky ground. This year, however, hopefully, puts some of that in our collective rear view mirrors, and offers companies a chance to reset, readjust and return to basics, adapting tested strategies to fit our distributed work world. Joining us today is Cris Chouinard, a Lead Consultant with IRI Consultants. Here, she explains:

  • The value of empathy in the workplace;
  • Why fostering friendships between co-workers is so important;
  • How EAG feedback and advice can be a tremendous gift to an organization ; and
  • How outside consultants can help with post-pandemic workplace culture development!

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Empathy And The Need To Belong In The Workplace

  • As the most intense and critical parts of the COVID-19 pandemic are largely over, many organizations need to take a moment to reflect and see what they learned. Some of the choices organizations made due to the pandemic were positive.
  • A core characteristic that arose in post-pandemic workplace culture was the concept of empathy. 
    • Empathy only impacts a workplace’s culture in positive ways. Empathy prevents blaming and helps create a common ground in an organization. 
  • According to researcher Theresa Wiseman, the characteristics of empathy are: 
    • Perspective Taking
    • Staying Out of Judgment
    • Recognizing Emotions in Others
    • Communicating Our Understanding of Other’s Perspectives and Emotions
  • Empathy and the need for belonging are vital to the human condition. The pandemic only accelerated this with the rise of remote employment opportunities.  
  • Of course, while remote or hybrid work has its upsides, the downside is that it can cause disconnection between people. 
    • For example, if there were hires made during the pandemic, it is possible that these people never met their coworkers until very recently. 
    • Bringing employees that were onboarded virtually together for a face-to-face meeting is a powerful way to build a strong post-pandemic workplace culture. 
  • Assessing how to introduce in-person connection opportunities for a team should be done on a case-by-case basis.  
    • Leaders should poll their teams about their preferences and make a call based on the collected data. 
    • Ms. Chouinard recommends offering occasional in-person connection opportunities on a scheduled basis.


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Fostering Friendships In The Workplace

  • Fostering friendship between coworkers is a powerful way to encourage positive post-pandemic workplace culture.
    • “I think those friendships are essential when it comes time to get the work done. [...] To have that friendship as the basis of our professional lives can be so very helpful.” 
    • However, leadership or management must understand the boundaries of friendships with subordinates. It’s okay to be friendly and foster the friendships of others, but there is a line that’s critical to maintain. 
    • Leaders having friendships with others in an organization without maintaining good boundaries can be perceived as favoritism. 
      • A good rule of thumb is for leaders to be firm, fair, and consistent regarding workplace friendships.
  • Additionally, while a leader needs to connect with their team members, they are also responsible for cultivating an environment where friendships can grow.
    • Steps to help with this include: 
      • Confirming the team’s culture reflects the organization's values and that these values are healthy.
        • A leader’s job is to nip unhealthy norms (like cliques) in the bud. Employees working across teams and with different people can help prevent clique formation. 
      • Creating team-building activities.
        • Having an in-person potluck and inviting virtual employees to attend can help with team building. 

Creating And Maintaining Employee Advisory Groups In Post-Pandemic Workplace Cultures

  • Employee advisory groups (EAG) are about how to get work done while getting authentic buy-in from employees.
    • A lot of time, effort, and resources go into developing an employee advisory group. 
  • Leaders must set boundaries and communicate the group's goals before rolling out the option to participate in one.
  • A good employee advisory group will communicate the wants and needs of employees to leadership. A great employee advisory group will communicate leadership’s vision and ideas for initiatives to EAG team members.
    • Communicating leadership’s vision to employees while collecting their feedback and advice is a “tremendous gift” to an organization.
      • Listening to front-line employees' opinions, even if their opinion doesn’t yield the change they want, empowers them. Employees appreciate being listened to in the workplace. 

Nurturing Positive Post-Pandemic Workplace Cultures

  • Leaders should have conversations that address the culture of a workplace. Sample questions leaders could ask during these discussions include: 
    • How do you define the workplace’s current culture? 
    • How do you define our team’s culture?
    • Is our team’s culture aligned with the organization? 
    • What are the positive things about our team that we want to nurture? 
    • What parts of our culture should we keep? How will you commit to maintaining those facets of our culture? 
    • What are the things that undermine our ideal culture? 
    • What parts of our culture should we release? 
  • Leaders should communicate the personal impact of cultural changes to employees. 
    • If employees don’t understand the benefits of changing their behavior, they’ll find it difficult to contribute to the change continuously. 
  • Workplace culture changes need to respect and honor former cultures to preserve what is needed and let go of what is not.
    • Leaders should help people gently let go of the culture that no longer serves the organization.
  • Developing workplace culture isn’t a top-down process, as team members live it daily. Leaders should empower team members to be a part of workplace culture conversations.

How Outside Consultants Can Help With Post-Pandemic Workplace Culture Development

  • Consultants, like those at IRI Consultants, will typically assess workplace cultures through the following means:
    • Asking clients what they perceive to be the workplace culture issue;
    • Asking clients what they feel they need;
    • Conducting a diagnostic assessment by involving team members in the discussion. 
      • Diagnostics can look like surveys, focus groups, or other tools.
      • Many times diagnostics yield different challenges than what leaders perceive. 
  • After the consultant performs a diagnostic assessment, they can take a holistic approach to designing an intervention.
  • An intervention can look like: 
    • Developing customizable training,
    • Facilitating team building and retreats,
    • Coaching executives, managers, or front-line workers.
  • Organizations shouldn’t be afraid of starting the process of addressing workplace culture. While the prospect of collecting feedback can be intimidating, the end result is worth the investment.

Ms. Chouinard’s Career At IRI Consultants

  • As the Lead Consultant at IRI Consultants, Ms. Chouinard has worked there for over 24 years. In that time, she’s helped numerous organizations develop and refine their culture. 
  • Now, as post-pandemic workplace culture development is more important than ever before, she encourages organizations to examine their culture so they can receive better engagement, better retention, higher morale, and satisfaction. 
    • I think that the talent at IRI is so tremendous that if you have an issue or a problem that you want to solve, we are likely going to have somebody who's an expert that can assist. 


IRI Consultants


Cris Chouinard email:

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