As the U.S. continues to cope with the negative effects of COVID-19, companies have taken on greater responsibility to keep employees safe and healthy. Leaders are balancing heroic efforts to show appreciation for their employees with the tough decisions needed to keep their companies afloat.
Mark Cuban said it best: “How companies respond . . . is going to define their brand for decades. How you treat your employees today will have more impact on your brand in future years than any amount of advertising, any amount of anything you literally could do.”
One positive change organizations can make now to help their businesses and employees thrive is to commit to culture. In fact, 57% of companies plan to make a change in their culture as a result of the pandemic. According to a study by Culture Amp, companies that have a strong culture find it much easier to bounce back in times of crisis, and their employees are more likely to have confidence in leadership.
When national tire distributor TireHub, a joint venture between Goodyear and Bridgestone, formed in July 2018, we committed to creating a culture that would bring together employees who were once competitors. It started with a unique brand identity — we refer to our employees as “Hubbers.” To be successful, we needed a culture that would give TireHub our own identity and Hubbers a shared sense of purpose. While there is always more that can be done, having this culture already in place has helped sustain our business during the economic downturn.
To experience the benefits of a strong culture, leaders must plan for it in the same way they plan to increase sales or gain new clients. Developing a strategy that engages all employees, establishes the new normal and includes ways internal culture extends to customers creates employee satisfaction and loyalty while accelerating company recovery and growth.
Making Words Matter
Outlining a mission, vision, promise and commitment that speaks to the core of an organization can serve as the foundation for building culture. These words provide consistent direction for business strategy while giving employees a purpose and identity as part of the team.
At TireHub, we say that words matter. The right words drive both the focus and clarity necessary to inspire the right actions. The TireHub commitment to being adventurous, approachable, relentless and speedy is reinforced in signage, across internal communications and celebrated throughout the organization. These commitments are also prominently displayed throughout corporate headquarters, known as the Hub, and across distribution centers. These traits are applied to the way we approach the business and treat customers. They are also the basis for internal culture and the standard for how employees treat one another.
Words do matter. They set the tone for an organization and drive action. To make a difference, they must be communicated, shared and engrained in the heart and mind of an organization.
Developing a Plan
Words matter, but so does action. Developing culture cannot be accomplished alone or in a vacuum; it requires teamwork. Because culture is a shared experience, the process of creating it should be, too. Forming a diverse culture committee that includes employees from all departments at all levels not only leads to better ideas, but it also makes for easier implementation.
With a committee firmly in place, the next step is to develop a plan and identify the strategic outcome. The strategic outcome should define what the plan aims to accomplish for the organization. From there, the committee can determine the divisions that will achieve that outcome.
For example, divisions can focus on employee engagement, safety, diversity and inclusion, or processes and procedures. For each one, teams should create a plan with actionable items to hold the group accountable in completing the goals, as well as a timeline with deadlines that help keep projects on track.
Defining the New Normal
Employee engagement during this time is critical. According to HR Executive, Creating culture in the midst of a pandemic is challenging. Even if an organization already has a plan in place, chances are it needs to be revised to incorporate strategies for a virtual workforce and essential workers. All companies should be committed to best practices for employee health, safety and well-being. This includes a safe work environment, but it goes beyond the basics to recognize and address the stress employees are facing in worrying about their health, balancing family life and being productive workers.
Employee engagement during this time is critical. According to Human Resources Executive, little things like one-on-one check-ins between team leaders and members are important. A thoughtful check-in that recognizes employees’ hard work, rather than a check-up that focuses on tasks and makes workers feel micromanaged, can go a long way in making employees feel valued.
Purposefully adding moments of fun into virtual meetings can help employees feel connected to one another. This can be as simple as allotting a few minutes at the end of a staff meeting for employees to discuss what is important to them. Flexibility is important, but creating some structure for engagement can make employees feel more comfortable participating.
One tactic that can be quickly implemented is to re-visit opportunities that were in place prior to COVID-19 and make them virtual. For example, awards and recognition programs lend themselves to a virtual experience; so do random acts of kindness challenges. Although it requires a bit more creativity, initiatives that were once done in person can find their place in a virtual world.
Extending Culture to Customers
Employee engagement during this time is critical. According to HR Executive, a good employee experience leads to a good customer experience. According to Forbes, customer experience and employee experience are linked. Companies that want to improve their customer experience should first focus on creating the best employee experience.
For TireHub, this meant clearly defining the mission, vision, commitment and promise that extends to a culture of saying “yes” to customers. Employees are given permission to be creative about solving customer problems and finding solutions. Saying “yes” also means going the extra mile for customers and for each other.
For better or worse, internal culture will be reflected in the way employees treat customers. With no clear culture or purpose, employees are left to make their own decisions about company values and vision and how that translates to customer service.
When culture is prioritized and an organization champions the process, employees become true brand ambassadors. Building culture requires planning, work and a team effort, but the benefits to employees, customers and the company’s bottom line provide the ultimate return on investment.
Peter Gibbons assumed his role as chief executive officer of TireHub in 2018. As CEO, Gibbons is focused on positioning TireHub as the leading tire distributor in the United States. His passion for customers and employees drives his dedication to building culture and saying “yes” to the needs of customers.
Gibbons is a veteran business and supply chain executive with 25 years of experience leading manufacturing and supply chain activities in the consumer, retail and specialty chemicals industries. He most recently served as executive vice president of global development and product supply for Mattel, Inc., and previously served as executive vice president of global supply chain operations for Starbucks and executive vice president of supply chain for ICI Paints North America.