Covid and Culture-If you did not believe your culture matters or is a competitive advantage you do now

Matthew D Owenby, Senior Vice President; Chief Human Resources Officer and Corporate Services Executive, Aflac Inc.,

As we close out 2020 and begin making our way into 2021, I am hearing and being asked more and more about the impact Covid has had and will continue to have on corporate culture.

For a person that believes and is convinced that a company’s culture is its “secret sauce” and the binding mechanism that is especially important in times of difficulty, I suspect it’s on management teams and HR priorities for 2021 (and if it’s not it probably should be).

For Aflac, 2020 was probably the most difficult operating year in my tenure and without our strong culture it would have been a total disaster. Our culture enabled us to make decisions quickly, respond effectively, and remain a step ahead in many cases on future actions.

"Our culture enabled us to make decisions quickly, respond effectively, and remain a step ahead in many cases on future actions"

I recall the early stages of the pandemic leveraging a couple of our Cultural tenants that helped guide and direct our actions. These were primarily “Treat Everyone with Care and Respect” and “Communicate Regularly.”I cannot underscore enough the positive impact regular communication, from the top, had on the morale and support of our employees. I hope like many of you we quickly implemented a directed strategy for communications from every corner of the organization. We focused on key messages from our leaders, updates from public health experts, and reminders that while we would observe social distancing guidelines we would not tolerate our people being or feeling isolated.

While communication was critical, the most important element of our values on display and at the forefront of our strategy is the fact that we strive to treat everyone with respect and care. This includes our employees, customers, shareholders, and communities. When we were faced with an unknown risk as the virus became more and more disruptive and dangerous it took very little effort and no convincing to reposition nearly all of our employees to a remote work configuration and they have remained in this configuration since March of 2020.

While we are continually evaluating the situations we will remain in these predominantly remote stats until we are comfortable that the situation is under control, which we expect could be in the summer of 2021.

If your culture was not well established or took some hits, there is no better time than now to begin rebuilding or reinforcing and implementing your plan for 2021. We all know that this is not the last time companies will be tested by events that cannot be anticipated and Culture could be the force that not only allows you to survive but to thrive. If you don’t have a solid plan consider leveraging our view of how we build, maintain, and inspire a company culture based upon our Founders 7 principles: Treat Everyone with Respect and Care, Communicate Regularly, Respond Immediately, Know your job, Your problem is my problem, Be honest, Take care of the customer. Take care of your employees and they will take care of your business.

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