Covid Culture Club

Reset Your Culture, Attract Talent and Keep It

Richard Navarrete
5 min readJul 29, 2020
Photo by Milada Vigerova on Unsplash

The culture of a company is like a style of dressing. You want to be proud to be seen in it. It has to be “you,” but you also want to show everyone how good it is to be where you are. You want others to join you and you all want to feel good about being in the club.

As a leader, how do you set the culture? How do you create this fantastic climate that others want to hang in and invite their friends? You may ask yourself, “How will having a disparate workforce because of Covid-19 impact my organization’s culture?” Am I even allowed to create it?

Yes, you are. There are things that never change with having a healthy company culture and now there are some adjustments you need to make.

Here are the 6 steps to resetting the culture for your company.

Step 1 — Have empathy

With lots of remote working, you have fewer opportunities to maintain a positive culture. Perks like dress code or free lunch don’t matter right now and won’t for a while — you’re going to have to dig deeper. Think about what people need at home. If you negotiated a reduced rent at the office, create an at-home budget to make working from home more comfortable. Standing desks, comfortable chairs, a zoom account, etc.

How you do calls needs to change too.

Have a Zoom call with video to break the ice, then switch to audio only to allow people to think and contribute freely… save the all-video call for Friday happy hour at 5pm. My friend Howard Nuk wrote a great article at Forbes about this.

Step 2 — Be consistent

Stability comes from being steady. Don’t wildly swing the focus of the company every few months. Strategic pivots that land the company millions of dollars are awesome, exhausting your employees with new rules every few months isn’t.

Talented employees want to be listened to and included in decisions. Be transparent. (Hey, this can be one of your core values!)

Set up a call for mid-morning Monday where you share your video, but no one else has to be seen. For 15 minutes tops, share what’s important for this week. Talk about any wins from last week (ask Sales, Product, Engineering ahead of time for something to mention). And share any setbacks we may have had. End with the focus for the week and make it positive.

By sharing the wins and the challenges you’ve had, you connect them with other high level parts. They’ll see your ups and downs, but as a company. They can’t get behind your vision if they don’t see it.

Photo by Nine Köpfer on Unsplash

Step 3 — Inspire, don’t manage.

Did you hire smart people? Cool people that add to the culture and fit the ideal mold? Guess what? They don’t want to be managed, they want to be inspired. What motivates them? Don’t say “money.” Money is a great motivator, but it’s like getting in a price gouging war with a competitor… you can only go so far before everyone loses.

  • Do 1–1s where you find out what motivates them
  • Find out what they want in their careers
  • Does he want to mentor juniors?
  • Is she hoping to pick up new skills in Data Science?
  • Does she want to work on the exciting new project?

Step 4 — Build your core values

Going back to Traction EOS, which I’ve pushed before, read at least the core values part. It is critical that you have these because they’ll influence everything; from your focus on products, where to cut costs or spend money?

“If you stand for nothing Burr, what’ll you fall for?” — Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda

Your culture centers around what the company is about… even if you have core values revisit them. Make sure they fit the company you aspire to be.

Step 5 — Give employees the ability to advance themselves

Create core-competency cards for each role you have. You’ll retain employees because they will know what is expected of them and what it will take to reach that next level. Talented employees want to be in control of their futures. If you don’t give them a way to advance, the answer is leaving to get it.

Step 6 — Start early

If you’re waiting for day 1 to incorporate a new hire into your culture, you’ve missed a huge, one-time opportunity. Imagine someone being excited about starting a new job and then her first day there’s no onboarding, people are surprised someone started, paper work isn’t ready, and she has to sit in the common area because her desk isn’t ready.

Now do the opposite.

I hand-write a letter and mail it to the new hire as soon as possible after they’ve signed. It sets the tone for their entire experience and it is another reminder of your own commitment to making this a great place to work. Of course you need to plan a first day agenda, have a desk and paperwork ready, and assign a buddy… but by starting early, you get them stoked about the company, the position, and working for you.

Here is an actual letter I sent to a new employee. He loved it.

This is the Way

Photo by Michael Marais on Unsplash

Your company already has a culture — but you can reset it. There is no direct reset button though, it takes work and a change in behavior starting with the top. Like a great pair of jeans, they need to be something you want to be seen in and make you feel great. Covid has given you an opportunity to show how you can adapt as a team. As long as it’s not our goal to eradicate it like we did with Ebola and instead just slow down when people get it, it’s not going anywhere.

Embrace the way with empathy and help people be comfortable working from home. When we return to the office someday, keep up the communication and fun times. Your talented employees will appreciate the steps you’ve taken and their stay will make the company better.



Richard Navarrete

With 20+ years in software, Richard helps other tech leaders and CEOs fall in love with their Engineering teams again!