How intentional culture sustains companies through turbulent times

"It's time to be courageous, to roll up our sleeves, to come together and build the workplace of the future." That is the call to action from O.C. Tanner's annual company culture conference Influence Greatness 2020.

How intentional culture sustains companies through turbulent times

With company culture, it comes down to this: you either intentionally create one, or one will be assigned to you… and that’s where you can run into trouble, says Scott Marshall, Senior Group Director for People Operations for Worley’s Americas business.

“We spent a lot of time and effort across the globe across all our different operations focusing on the culture that we wanted,” he says of the global provider of professional services in energy, chemicals and resources that, following a recent merger, now employs more than 51,000 people across 49 countries.

“A lot of times you’ll see companies focusing on the markets and the strategies — but they forget about the impact a culture can have on a company.”

Culture is the DNA of a company, and in a world that’s getting smaller because of technology, it’s important for companies to be consistent across all locations, says Gonzalo De Torres, Worley’s People Director for Latin America. He says the global mindset is the company’s competitive edge.

"You can feel and breathe the Worley culture across our locations.”

At this point in the year, it is indisputable that companies with strong cultures were better able to navigate their workforce through 2020’s many stumbling blocks — just ask Revera’s Vice President of Human Resources, Mark Spencer. He leveraged the company’s values-driven approach to help employees through a tragic and difficult time, as while the majority didn’t have any COVID-related deaths, a disproportionately high percentage of deaths cause by the virus in Canada overall occurred in the long-term care setting.

“Combating the virus put incredible pressure on Revera employees and employees across the senior care sector,” he says of the company, an owner, operator and investor in seniors housing that employs 20,000 employees over 186 properties in Canada.

The impact on Revera’s employees was a heavy one. They faced process changes including more PPE “which isn’t really comfortable” Spencer notes, staffing challenges as single site cohorting was implemented or coworkers became ill or had to quarantine, separation from families as many didn’t want to potentially expose their loved ones to the virus, personal health risks, overwork and — unique to employees in this sector — worry over their reputation. Spencer says a lot of extra stress has been caused by the coverage of the situation by the media, which he calls an emotional rollercoaster for the workers.

But in the midst of deep concern and unpredictable change, Revera’s corporate values — respect, integrity, compassion and excellence — remained constant. That meant enhancement of focused communications to remain connected, provide social and emotional support and still cultivate opportunities for recognition.

Spencer hails the support and recognition of its front-line healthcare workers with ultimately getting the company through the first wave of the pandemic, which hit Revera’s employees and residents so hard.

It’s been said “never let a good crisis go to waste,” and companies around the world took that advice to heart as they grappled with unique circumstances over the course of the year.

For Worley, COVID-related shutdowns came at the end of a major acquisition and during a subsequent restructuring. This ramped up the company’s efforts in managing a suddenly distributed — and partially new — workforce through virtual leadership, all while managing organizational change.

“We spent a lot of time in a series of workshops globally to understand the perspectives of our people. Their input has been shaped to form our new purpose and values that represent the behaviors and standards we believe are fundamental for the right culture that underpins successful business outcomes,” Marshall says. “We’re continuing with our transformation strategy and the focus is on bringing our new purpose and values to life, as well as the lessons learned over the last year.”

When the pandemic hit, De Torres says Worley “reassured people that their health and wellbeing is our number one priority.”

The pandemic was a challenging time for everyone but we’re continuing to address it as its impact continues to evolve. It’s an ongoing process and we have “everyone rowing in the same direction with the same true North,” De Torres says. “We rallied our people around a mantra of #WorleyStrong showcasing our resilience and some of the innovative ideas inspired by our people.”

Revera faced a host of new challenges because the pandemic impacted the seniors’ accommodation sector in ways previously unimagined and companies in the sector struggled to support front-line employees.

“What we did was to self-consciously and intentionally choose to do the right thing by our employees and show compassion — these are our values,” he says. “When faced with choices between business as usual, expediency or above and beyond, we were guided by our values.”

Marshall says Worley too has amped up communication and engagement within the workforce and focused on “building trust, connection and support— and really understanding what our people need.”

“The general belief you’ll hear at Worley is we are stronger together, which is one of our values,” he says. “You’ll hear that from our CEO to all our people in the field and across the company.”

The company fast-tracked a global program called “the new normal” that looks at how to deliver projects and productive work in a more distributed working environment. The premise is that the way people are working now will continue to be the way of the future — COVID or no COVID.

The pandemic inspired different, and in some cases better, ways of working across the board. A number of people report feeling more connected to their peers globally now than they were prior to COVID, with the increased use of virtual communications.

“That’s an interesting dynamic — how do you harness that and keep building on that?” Marshall asks. “We’ll focus on continued learning, different platforms, virtual leadership and virtual mentorship.”

Overall, a lot of positives have come out of the unprecedented situation and Marshall says the plan is to “continue to build on our culture going forward.”

De Torres believes Worley has come through the other side in a better position, with a strong base for the future.

“Our new normal is reflecting what the world will need, such as digital transformation, flexibility, distributed working and we’re committed to continue that improvement.”

In Revera’s case, the decision to follow the guidance of its values seems to be appreciated by its workforce, but it will be this year’s employee engagement survey — shortened, with a focus on leadership and the company’s response to the pandemic — that will tell the whole story of how employees received its efforts.

Spencer, who discussed Revera’s journey with O.C. Tanner in August, noted he was preparing for the second wave of COVID cases — as well as for other possible future pandemic situations. No matter what comes, one thing is for certain: Revera will continue to be guided by the values and culture that served them so well in 2020.

There’s no doubt this time was — and continues to be — a challenging one, but the companies that are thriving are the ones framing this as an opportunity. Great workplace culture gets companies through hard times, so the question now is, what do you want yours to look like in the future?

“It’s time to be courageous, to roll up our sleeves, to come together and build the workplace of the future.” That is the call to action from O.C. Tanner’s annual company culture conference Influence Greatness 2020 — where you will find the original master classes from Worley, Revera and many more, at this virtual and free event streaming until December


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