It’s hard to have a party when you’re staying 6 feet apart…how did the rituals and routines that contribute to your company’s culture change during the pandemic? Many organizations that had put careful thought into onboarding, performance evaluations and recognition and other markers of employee experience had to scramble to adapt to virtual versions. And of course, the fun stuff that brings people together was displaced or eliminated.
Reinforcement is based on the principle that you get more of what you reward, celebrate and pay attention to. It is the process of encouraging or establishing a belief or pattern of behavior. Since culture comes from deeply held beliefs that are expressed in behaviors, it makes sense that reinforcement is a key culture activator!
Beware of the ways that these important reinforcement practices may have disappeared from your organization over the past few years:
- Rewards – Did you know that sincere, specific praise is a more valuable incentive to the brain than monetary rewards? Intangible rewards like appreciation, recognition and everything that is done to value the contributions of an employee are culture activators. What gets valued gets repeated.
- Rituals – this is something that is done repeatedly, like celebrating birthdays, a summer picnic or an annual holiday party. They are technically unnecessary to accomplish strategic goals, but within a culture, they are considered to be socially essential. When companies are cutting costs (or reacting to crises), they often eliminate rituals that reinforce culture. When the ritual is gone (monthly happy hours, free lunches, Friday fun day, etc.) this impacts culture. Be intentional about the activities you select and repeat.
- Celebrations/Celebrities (attention) – there is far too little celebration in the workplace. Celebrations do not have to be grand, planned activities. One leader started a “You Rock” program, and periodically would give team members a rock with a note of appreciation. While that may not be a realistic tactic in a hybrid workplace, consider how to celebrate people. One of the Culture Activators we write about identifies the importance of leaders celebrating specific team members as exemplary models of the organizational values. Calling attention to the person and their behavior serves as a lesson or reinforcement to others in the culture about what matters. To whom and how do you pay attention? The focus of your attention reinforces culture.
How intentional have you been about rituals, celebrations, rewards and your attention? Now is a great time to consider what disappeared during the pandemic and rethink what this should look like to reinforce the culture you want to create in your organization.