Preserving Company Culture Threatened by COVID-19

What can take years to create, nurture and protect is no less vulnerable to this pandemic than our health and well-being. As America’s “non-essential” workforce stayed home to help protect us against the spread of COVID-19, the intangible workplace culture founded and predicated on the camaraderie of its people hung in the balance. As companies around the country extended work-from-home guidelines, many executives became concerned that their company’s culture would deteriorate – and with it, employee engagement and retention.

As the new CEO of Ardent Health Services, preserving our strong culture – both at corporate and across our markets - during the pandemic is one of my top concerns. I knew that this is an organization where people are proud to work and connected to their purpose of caring for people. But COVID-19 placed daunting challenges on frontline caregivers. Remote corporate team members had to quickly adapt to work differently in a stressful situation. The Ardent culture went a long way in helping our employees trust each other and collaborate remotely. But how could we keep culture intact without the interactions we were accustomed to having?

When I think of great cultures, I look to companies such as – Amazon, Netflix and Southwest. All three are outside of healthcare, but offer our industry valuable insights. These companies are disruptors. They’ve not only completely changed business models within their industries, they’ve handcrafted the cultures to optimize performance and results. They have experienced explosive growth while remaining nimble. Employees are empowered and their contributions matter, driving innovation and the customer experience. From my perspective, here are a few aspects of company culture these companies have figured out.

Amazon Bar Raisers

Culture starts with the right people. Getting the right people starts with the hiring process. I admire Amazon’s unique “Bar Raiser Program” in which an interviewer who is not directly involved with that team interviews the candidate to determine their potential as a valuable and innovative contributor. The Bar Raiser’s goal is to determine which hires are best for the long-term, not just to fill a seat. Will this candidate raise the bar for Amazon?

When we surround ourselves with people who strive to innovate, we are more likely to push ourselves to reach new levels as well. Choosing talent purposefully strengthens culture and also helps retain talent in your organization.

Netflix Keeper Test

You know your PowerPoint deck resonates when people still talk about it eleven years later. Millions have viewed the 125 slides that illustrate Netflix’ culture. It describes how the company was able to create a new way for people to consume content and render Blockbuster irrelevant in the video entertainment space. One Netflix concept that strikes a chord with me is the “keeper test” – an ongoing way of evaluating one’s value to the team. While Amazon excels at hiring people, Netflix maintains a culture of continuous high performance. If their manager is not willing to fight for them to stay, they are no longer a fit for the company.

I’m a firm believer in embracing change for the better. If you have individuals on your team with the mentality “this is how we have always done it” or who appear to be coasting along in their careers, the team is no longer benefitting from the full potential of that position. To continuously improve we must seek to learn more, try new things and find better solutions.

Southwest Engages With Heart

Between their logo and their mission – Southwest brings people together with heart. The airline loved by passengers demonstrates a culture of caring for people with heart, and it’s why we see stories of empowered employees’ spontaneous acts of service for passengers go viral. When a flight attendant arranged for a girl with Down syndrome to take a flight with her to fulfill her lifelong dream of being a flight attendant, you see a company connected to a clearly defined culture. In fact, Southwest says it explicitly: “every employee is responsible for promoting and preserving culture.”

Culture is the culmination of individual acts. When employees understand that they are expected to contribute to the success of the organization, their actions will strengthen the company culture to benefit our customers and employees. Work in any setting is much more rewarding when you are empowered to find better ways to solve problems and achieve your goals. We also become more efficient and effective.

As Amazon, Netflix and Southwest show, great company cultures are created with purpose. Hiring people who share your mission and vision is a vital place to start. Leaders cannot coach or mentor employees to live the organization’s purpose they don’t believe in. And good hires need to be empowered to make decisions to innovate and act in alignment with that purpose. Employees should be confident their manager would be willing to fight for them to stay, or know that the company is not the right place for their talents.

What we do in our respective roles across the company matters. We have the opportunity to impact the lives of patients and their families – whether we support that care at the bedside or beyond. It is what makes healthcare special, and at Ardent I’ve quickly learned our employees are connected to this purpose of caring for people. With the new reality this pandemic has placed upon Ardent – and all companies – we must remain true to our purpose. Our culture depends on it.

Ardent Health Services

Ardent Health Services invests in quality health care. In people, technology, facilities and communities, Ardent makes considerable investments – producing high quality care and extraordinary results.

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