Building and Maintaining a Strong Culture in a Post Pandemic World

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PreSales Collective

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Dec 1, 2021

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Right now is the most challenging time to be a people leader in 20 years. This pandemic situation was unimaginable just two years ago. And a year ago, there was a sense it was temporary and we were in it together.


Today we’re coming out of it, but the post-pandemic world is still being shaped. Are the adaptations to the way we work going to stick? Which ones are going to go back to the way they were? And with an unprecedented demand for talent too, building a culture that helps retain workers is an important question on the table.


We had a really interesting session at the PreSales Leadership Collective Executive Summit from Ryan Lavallee, VP of Solution Engineering at Salesforce, to dive into this topic.


Changes Big and Small


Ryan used to travel extensively, and that was the foundation of his team’s culture. He would fly to go to customers, have dinners, meet with his teams, and have 1:1 in-person feedback discussions. He had a toolbox that worked well for him, his team, and his customers.


And then overnight, he suddenly needed to give away his beautiful toolbox and learn to use tools like Zoom and build culture virtually. At the same time he also needed to build a brand new organization, which meant he had to work with new people and had suddenly had people on his team he’d never even met.


These changes forced him to be very deliberate about using tools the right way and building a culture. This was his journey.


Step 1: Establish Values


Values are the foundation of any culture because they're what is important to us. At Salesforce, they have a set of core values - trust, customer success, innovation, and quality - and every Salesforce employee can walk you through them.


When he was building his new team, they had a discussion the first time they gathered together about what they wanted team values to be too. Why did they rewrite those great values? In the course of doing business, everyone won’t always agree - hopefully it’s healthy and productive friction - but values give us a place to come back to.


Step 2: Set the Vision


Strategy and culture are intertwined, but culture is more important because without it you won’t be able to execute strategy. And vision is a vital part of culture. It’s critical to create a vision everyone can have pride in and agree to work together to get there.


Ryan wants the people on his team to feel proud when they tell someone what they do - and vision is key to that. When people don't believe in the vision, they stop working for the team and start working for themselves. That’s when the politics and noise take over and the culture fractures.


Vision also satisfies a deeper need as humans to be part of something bigger than ourselves. Once people feel safe, and have a sense of belonging, they can stop looking over their shoulders all the time. They’re able to focus and do the best work of their lives.


Step 3: Lead With Empathy


This last step is the hardest thing to do right now - but it’s also the most important. We’ve let the office into every room of our homes and it has had an impact on us, our teams, and our families.


Leaders need to understand what employees are going through and feeling. It’s mostly a feeling of isolation - that my manager doesn’t understand me or what I'm going through - that has compelled people to look for other roles in the Great Resignation. Ryan’s not sure that is something we can come back from - the damage might already be done.


But he feels optimistic about where we’re going because looking at the up and coming leaders, now they’ve lived through a crisis which will allow them to lead with more empathy than their predecessors. This experience will let them build stronger, more inclusive organizations than in the past. The future is still uncertain, but looks rather bright.


His Top Lessons Learned


It’s not just good enough to be accessible anymore - the “open door policy” isn’t sufficient. The bar has been raised for leaders and we need to own the responsibility for making sure people are ok. We’ve now learned for certain that people are less apt to bring up problems in virtual conversations. Plus, the office is entangled in people’s personal lives right now, so our employees need to know we have their backs.


Always on is a problem. People see an open calendar as an invitation which is bad. Ryan likes to ask his reports: are you managing your calendar or is your calendar managing you? The latter can lead to burnout and a bad work/life balance. Instead, Empower your people to push back, which is really hard in PreSales. These are people who like to engage, be helpful, solve problems, and find a way to say yes - it’s unnatural for them to push back when someone asks for their time. You need to make sure your team knows their time is valuable, and think about tools and techniques to give time back to them. Ryan tells his team to manage their time the way a doctor’s office manages their business - go in your calendar 48 hours ahead and block off any empty spaces for yourself. If people really have an emergency they will pick up the phone.


Do we need to be on camera all day long? Zoom is great, it allowed us to engage when we couldn't physically be together. But having a camera on all the time can be draining. Tell your team they can turn off their camera, but it’s not enough if only one person does it. Have one meeting a day with the camera off for everyone - it seems unnatural at first but it really helps everyone be more relaxed.


Virtual coffees, trivia, and happy hour - they’re all great ways to have fun at work but it’s really easy to become one more obligation. Have fun but be aware, there’s a fine line between fun and saddling someone with one more online obligation.


Connecting (safely) in person is valuable. There’s really not a substitute even though we’ve made a lot of things work. Ryan says he can’t see the future but believes there’s no substitute for getting together in person, within the guardrails of health and safety.


Recognition and gratitude are vital. Giving praise costs you nothing but gives a lot to the recipient. Thank somebody for someone today!



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The Leadership collective is a group designed for PreSales leaders in a management capacity (Manager+ title) who are looking to network, grow professionally, and actively participate.

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