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Resetting the workplace post covid

How company culture evolves in times of crisis and what learnings businesses can take from the pandemic and apply to future crises

Parry Jones, What’s Possible Group

Deputy CEO

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Culture is the combination of what you design, and what you do. 

Values, vision, mission, where you work, your policies, and what you communicate can all be carefully designed. But actions always speak louder than words. If what you do doesn’t match what you design, people will call BS on your culture. 

Cultures are tested in challenging times. And let’s be clear, 2020 was shit!

Yet I look back with a sense of immense pride. I am proud of how our business, our people, navigated the ‘shitness’ - and it was all down to culture.

With recession looming, it’s time to re-visit how we navigated Covid, and learn from (and do!) the things that helped us come out the other end stronger. 

March 2020 was uncharted territory for everyone. It was scary and it was stressful. 

Stress causes the brain to fall back on old habits. For a business, culture is the muscle memory. People innately do what they feel is right, they ask, ‘what would my manager do in this situation?’ And the values, vision etc, that were carefully crafted in calmer times, help us navigate difficult decisions.  

Cultures are not static. What you design, should inspire how you act. What you do, helps you evolve what you design moving forward

Parry Jones, Deputy CEO, What’s Possible Group

And if culture is our muscle memory, then caring is at the heart of the What’s Possible culture. Caring is one of our Group values – namely Passion, Inquisitiveness, Caring and Knowledge (PICK for short )- and caring is the action that drives our culture.  

Having embedded caring into our culture, we immediately reacted in March 2020 by focusing all our attention on People and Clients. We knew we had to protect both.  

Communicating to our people became a top priority. We did it more often, with more transparency, than ever before. We communicated one-to-many and one-to-one. We were honest with what we knew and what we didn’t know. We shared good news and bad. 

We have multiple offices across the world, including some people working alone. Home working and video calling became the great leveller. Suddenly the people who felt least connected, felt closer to everyone else now in the same boat. 

Communication was two-way. We didn’t have a playbook for Covid, and we got a lot wrong. But thankfully, our emotionally safe culture meant people told me when we got something wrong, and we were able to do something about it. That was, and is, immensely useful. 

Client communication is doubly important during challenging economic times. Clients needed more contact, more empathy for their challenges, and faster reaction time. Client-centricity, built into our culture, is vital in the looming recession. 

Knowledge sharing became a big focus. Martin Woolley, our CEO, reached out to a number of agency leaders, many competitors, with insights he’d found useful. Laurence Parkes, the CEO of Rufus Leonard got this group of people on a call. Suddenly we had a collective of independent agencies helping each other do best by their staff. 

Everyone had read something different or had a useful piece of information or insight to share. Everyone was generous and open in spirit and with their time. As leaders, we became better equipped to do best by our people and clients and to protect our businesses. 

This group, rivals turned comrades, later went on to run a marketing campaign championing indies: The Land of Independents. 

Cultures are not static. What you design, should inspire how you act. What you do, helps you evolve what you design moving forward. It all works when it’s authentic. 

At the height of covid we introduced a staff share option scheme. Our people had made sacrifices for What’s Possible, and we wanted them to benefit from the future they where creating. 

Despite the challenges in front of us, we never took our eyes off what we were building long term. We created an innovative multi-year strategy that would grow the value of these options. But equally importantly, a strategy that put employee pride at the top of our KPI’s. 

Quarterly we ask our people, ‘are you proud to work for the What’s Possible Group?’. 

By measuring employee pride, and understanding what makes them proud, we can create a better business. Since then, we’ve started our B Corp journey. B Corp is a movement of businesses committed to balancing the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profit. 

B Corp is more than a CSR commitment, it is an amazing tool that you can use to understand where your business is strong and where you can improve. We’re not a B Corp yet, but the process has led to us making massive improvements in areas like Inclusion & Diversity, staff benefits, governance, and sustainability. 

What’s Possible is a better business coming out of covid. By living our values, we were able to set the business up for a record year in 2021. A record financially, in terms of people pride, and Glassdoor ratings, but also in what we built and the progress towards B Corp. 

Now we face a recession. And a host of new challenges.

But it is far from all negative. Airbnb was launched during the last recession. Netflix the one before. Microsoft, MTV, Disney are more examples of exceptional businesses that not only survived but thrived launching in the hard times. Warren Buffet said, “it is only when the tide goes out that you see who is swimming naked.”

If creativity, innovation, and proactivity are the tools a business needs now more than ever. Culture is the driving force.

After all, “a diamond is a chunk of coal that did well under pressure,” said Kissinger. 

Now is the time to live up to (to do), the culture we’ve designed. 

Guest Author

Parry Jones, What’s Possible Group

Deputy CEO

About

Parry Jones is Deputy CEO for What’s Possible Group, the only harmonious marketing group exclusively for marketers at dynamic growth brands. Parry has been with the business since 2006 and during that time he has been involved in new launches, M&A, international expansion, re-brands, re-structures, and a management buy-out. All resulting in the business growing turnover by 35x. Parry has worked at the What’s Possible Group for two years, and has worked across Hubble, Pintarget and Connections. He previously worked at The Specialist Works, part of the Group from 2006 to present. Prior to this, Parry worked at Haymarket Media Group. Parry is leading the business towards their CSR goal of being a B-Corp by the end of 2022. The highlight of his career is the launch of the group’s share option scheme. This launched in the height of the pandemic and the scheme gives all team members the opportunity to benefit from the financial growth of the group. Parry’s mission is for every What’s Possible team member to be proud to work for the group and his passion is helping people do their best work. He also aims to create an award-winning company culture, and empowers people to redefine what’s possible for their careers and the group.

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