Business leaders face major challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, but those who hold true to their company's core values and remain confident and compassionate to their employees will be stronger coming out of the crisis.
That was the consensus of a panel of experts speaking Thursday to more than 100 suburban business leaders during the webinar
"Maintaining Culture During a Crisis," sponsored by the Daily Herald Business Ledger.
The webinar, an extension of the Business Ledger's Corporate Culture discussion series, focused on how businesses can maintain their culture amid the impact the COVID-19 crisis has had on everything from employees' health and safety to declining revenues. All the panelists agreed that how a company's leader responds to the challenges will set the tone of how employees remain engaged and confident of the company's direction.
"These are really the times to prove who you are or prove who you aren't," said C. Richard Panico, president and CEO of Integrated Project Management in Burr Ridge. "We need leaders who look at the opportunity to take advantage of this time, if nothing more, to further advance the trust and confidence of their (employees)."
Panico noted leaders need to go beyond talking about policies and values in order to maintain employee trust and engagement. Those who do not practice and are not clear on policies and values will lose that trust, and it will reflect in a deterioration of the culture.
"The culture you had before the pandemic will not be the culture that you have after the pandemic if you didn't manage it right before the pandemic," he said.
Tom Walter, chief culture officer of Elk Grove Village-based Tasty Catering, echoed those remarks, adding employees during these times look to how their leaders handle the company's core values and ethics.
"It's critically important to the organization because if (leaders) change the values and decide to not pay attention or behave to certain core values, that's the cancer that's going to lead to the downfall of their organization," he said.
Sue Winkler, director of EngageHR at Downers Grove-based HRSource, noted Gallup Polls taken during past crises found four common values that employees look for from their leaders: Trust, compassion, stability and hope. She stressed leaders need to embrace these values and be clear with employees to keep them engaged in their work and provide hope for the company's future.
"It's how you approach it and how you embrace your values and how you communicate," Winkler said. "It's doesn't cost you anything, and yet it pays huge dividends."
Above all, the panel stressed having respect and compassion for your employees and confidence they will do their jobs is key to maintain the company's culture during the crisis. When those are applied, the panel said, you may see employees exceeding expectations during this time.
"It's the behaviors that are important, not the words," Walters said. "We have to take all of these factors of humanity in our organization and respect them."