Five Ways To Bounce Back From A Culture Catastrophe in Forbes

Published on Forbes

Corporate culture is a growing concern for boards and stockholders. One study shows that 92% of executives believe improving corporate culture would increase their firm’s value. That is an overwhelming majority, and yet so many companies with seemingly unlimited resources keep falling into the trap of poor culture.
A recent victim is SoFi, a privately held online lender. SoFi lost its CEO amid a storm of accusations including sexual harassment, verbal harassment and a culture of fear.
SoFi will be led by chair Tom Hutton while they search for a replacement. Hutton made a statement about where SoFi is heading: “For now, there is no more important work than paving the way for future success by building a transparent, respectful and accountable culture.”


So how can Hutton and his board accomplish that task?

They are aiming for transparency, respect and accountability — all while struggling with immense stress and change within the organization. Individually, these are situations that inject a great deal of stress into the workplace, so as a group they presumably would translate into lost productivity for all employees and leaders. It seems impossible, but at my firm we actually have a road map for this kind of scenario. We give every employee and leader the tools they need to address the stress and move forward in a healthy and productive way.

Here are five ways to bounce back after a culture complication and get a business and team back on track:

1. Address the stress: Stress reduces cognitive functioning and knocks people off balance. When we experience it, we go into fight-or-flight mode and can’t perform to our potential until we find safety. The wonderful thing about this is that we can be each other’s safety. People impact each other in amazing ways. This is both good and bad. When we are upset or stressed, we can spread that, but if we reach out and someone responds in a way that shows that they care, we create an emotional connection and return to balance.

2. Learn to reach out: The problem that many companies have is that team members need to learn how to both reach out (when we are stressed) and respond (when our team members are stressed). This is where being accessible, responsive and engaged comes in. Taking time to figure out what you need when you are disconnected and then learning how to ask for it is important in this process.
3. Create a safe space: Leaders should rally together to provide a safe place for their team. Leaders also need reassure each other so that their emotional safety can be a source of strength for team members to feel safe to come forward to with concerns. Helping team members express concerns without blaming, shaming or criticizing, which often lead to a cycle of disconnection, is a primary responsibility.

4. Strive for emotional connection: Leaders are attachment figures. They have a strong influence over emotional connection. Understanding their own emotions could help to track and direct responses that will pull people together. This might be a tough sell for some — especially in cultures like SoFi, which one former employee called a “frat house.” But research shows that cultures of empathy and emotional connection do better than fear-driven cultures. People want to feel connected and wanted. It’s our most basic and strongest motivator in the brain.

5. Validate feelings and show gratitude: When team members share, leaders must take time to thank them and validate those feelings. This is what makes positive culture last. It’s a great way to showcase empathy and encourage transparency.
Once emotional connection has been achieved and every team member knows how to maintain it, accountability, respect and transparency will fall into place. All of these elements — along with engagement, motivation, trust and more — come from emotional connection.
SoFi has a real opportunity to create a great company which will eventually create a lot of value for their stockholders — they just need to take it. They can be an example for other companies to follow in turning a broken culture around.
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