Recently I had the honor to speak at the Annual Briefing for the Department of State's Overseas Security Advisory Council. During my keynote, I shared that my biggest takeaway from 2020 has been a profound appreciation of an organization's culture in determining success in a crisis. Many organizations don't consider culture when doing risk assessments or crisis planning, but culture can drive how you recover when you face unexpected issues and how quickly you can bounce back.
Here are a few thoughts I shared on cultural dimensions that every organization should think about in crisis planning.
Every company says safety is a core value. When we assess readiness for a crisis, it's critical to look at the gaps between the values we hang on the wall and the reality we see in our operations. Being honest with ourselves is a core part of our safety culture at Bechtel.
Having strong processes is critical. If your company's culture doesn't have a compliance mindset, your plans may be at risk. In COVID, things like wearing masks, social distancing, temperature checks, and quarantining are crucial to maintaining compliance. My team and I have been proud to see the extent of mask-wearing and social distancing when we've visited our construction sites, and it's something we will continue to watch for personally.
Communication and transparency
A culture of communication and transparency is also crucial to maintaining employees' and customers' trust. Open and direct communication from leadership was an area where COVID challenged Bechtel to get better quickly. Topics like BLM and social justice protests challenged us as a company and allowed us to have conversations with our employees that we've never had before. During the pandemic, employees wanted to hear from me directly more frequently because of how quickly things were moving. Communication and transparency have helped strengthen our culture this year, and these conversations were an important source of personal growth for me and others on our senior team.
Adapt and innovate
This pandemic has forced just about every business and organization to reinvent how we work, of course. At Bechtel, we've had to innovate in a variety of ways. From remote work to "tele-engineer" video consultations on project sites to hosting a virtual internship program for 200 students, our company culture has allowed us to adapt. We made these changes without losing productivity – in fact, we actually saw productivity improve in some areas.
When we're able to look back at how different companies fared during the pandemic, I'm convinced we'll find that companies with the healthiest cultures grounded in shared values were those that come out on top. We also have to recognize culture isn't built in a day and won't change overnight. That means culture must be a priority for leaders, and we all have to identify what gaps we have in our company's culture and how to close them.
If you want to learn more about the values that guide us at Bechtel, I encourage you to learn more about our Vision, Values, and Covenants.