Leveraging your Organizational Culture (OC) for a competitive advantage takes intentional and consistent application of The OC Equation™ (Values + Philosophies x Actions = OC). In other words, consistently living your values and philosophies through your actions. Living your OC is a challenge under “normal” circumstances, but a crisis will ferret out even the smallest cracks in The OC Equation™. During a crisis your “real” values and philosophies will emerge and your employees will make decisions about what you really value based on your actions.
Crisis Management Planning
During a crisis, such as an outbreak of SARS, the Avian (Bird) flu or Ebola, you, your leaders, your organization, and your OC will be battle tested. And during this trial by fire you’ll need to protect employees, the organization and your OC if your OC is to be leveraged as a competitive advantage.
Step 1: Develop a Risk Management Strategy. One of the first steps needed to protect your organization during a crisis is to develop an effective Risk Management Strategy that will help your organization respond to a potential crisis and ensure minimal disruption to both business operations and employees. Common elements of a crisis management or enterprise risk management strategy includes identifying foundational, emerging and advanced risk mitigation measures that consider compliance and prevention, operating performance and stakeholder value enhancement.
If you’re a small to midsized organization, don’t worry, these principles still apply but will simply need to be appropriately scaled to meet your needs.
Step 2: Develop Appropriate Policies and Procedures. Clearly written policies and procedures that are documented, updated, and consistently followed brings structure to an organization, establishes expectations, assists in day-to-day decision-making, and ensures equity and consistency. There’s no better place to demonstrate your values and philosophies through your actions than with implementation of your policies and procedures.
Effective policies and procedures that reinforce your intentional OC should have 8 sections – 1) Purpose, 2) Scope, 3) Policy, 4) Definitions, 5) Responsibilities, 6) Procedures, 7) Approvals and 8) Revision History.
Relating Policy Sections to The OC Equation™
- Purpose – the Purpose section gives you an opportunity to showcase your values and philosophies by explaining the intent of the policy. In other words, the reason the policy exists and the desired outcomes of the policy.
This section is generally limited to 1 paragraph made up of 2-3 sentences. Do NOT use bullets in this section. Use a consistent opening sentence, such as: “This [insert policy or procedure name] establishes the [insert ‘guidelines’ or ‘standards’ or some other word such as ‘methods’ or ‘processes] for…”
- Scope – the Scope section describes who is (or is not) covered by the policy.
- Policy – the Policy section is literally one of the most important sections within your policy because it explains your philosophies (how you expect the values of the organization to be demonstrated). Your policy section may include the objectives, strategies, goals, culture, vision and mission of an organization as it relates to the specific policy or procedures.
The Policy statement generally originates from the following kinds of information:
- Goals and objectives of senior management toward specific business processes or issues
- General company or department assumptions (I.e. facts taken for granted
- Department guidelines for specific business processes or practices
The format for the policy section can be in outline or paragraph form. If there is only 1 Policy statement, then a single sentence or paragraph written in a paragraph is acceptable. When there are 2 or more Policy statements, then an outline format is preferred, complete with indented sub-sections (e.g. military-numbering style: 3.1, 3.11, and 3.111)
There should be a consistent opening sentence for your policy statements, such as: “The policy of [your company name] is to ensure that…”
- Definitions – the Definitions section helps ensure all employees are using a common “language” within the organization. Use of a common “language” becomes part of the living OC.
- Responsibilities – the Responsibilities section describes the roles and responsibilities of the individuals or groups that perform actions outlined in the policy. The Responsibilities section should be written in the same sequence of events listed in the Procedures section.
The Responsibilities section is written as summary statements such as “All employees are required to…” or “Each sales office is responsible for…”
- Procedures – the Procedures section defines and outlines the actions taken in the implementation of the policy. It includes the rules, regulations, methods, timing, place and personnel responsible for carrying out the policy statements outlined in section 3.
- Document Approvals – The Document Approvals section lists the reviewers and/or approvers, their titles or roles and includes a place for a signature.
- Revision History – the Revision History section describes changes, revisions or updates to the policy or procedure and serves as a reference for users to understand the rationale behind revisions made to a policy or procedure.
Step 3: Develop and Implement a Proactive Communication Plan. In the absence of good information employees will make it up. Preparing a proactive communication plan to update employees on needed information is an opportunity to reinforce your values and philosophies through specific actions.
Living Your OC through the Ebola Crisis
According to the CDC, right now, most organizations likely don’t need to take any extraordinary precautions. If the number of reported cases grows and you decide your employees are at risk, you may want to consider taking some or all of the following steps, depending on the risk level:
- Develop and implement appropriate policies and procedures such as a: medical contagion preparedness policy, risk rating policy, and a quarantine policy. You should also review and update your attendance policy as needed to demonstrate your values and philosophies during a crisis situation. Be sure to write and implement all of your policies in such a way as to reinforce your OC.
- Educate employees about how Ebola is spread and best practices to avoid transmission;
- Encourage employees to self-report any potential symptoms and to request PTO or a leave of absence if symptoms develop;
- Establish an emergency preparedness plan or emergency response team;
- Establish a plan for notifying employees and continuing work functions if an outbreak occurs;
- Establish a plan for transporting sick employees to the hospital and disposing or cleaning infected materials;
- Establish an isolation room; or
- If an infected individual is in the workplace, establish a plan for identifying those employees with whom the individual came into contact so that they can be monitored for symptoms.
The precautions necessary, will vary significantly depending on the nature of your business, your OC, your employees, and your geographic location.
Today greater than 80% of your organization’s market value is tied to intangibles such as brand, intellectual property and, most importantly, employee engagement. Thirty years ago, only 38% of an organization’s market values was based on intangibles with the other 62% based on tangibles such as machinery, facilities and products. According to a recent Tower’s Watson report, organizations with high employee engagement experience an operating margin almost 3x higher than those with low engagement. The bottom line is your OC can be leveraged as a competitive advantage, but it must be intentional.
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