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  • Mike Defede

Re-establishing Company Culture in 2021

During my time at Lockheed, I remember Bob Stevens used to take questions in an open forum at HQ. If you never got to hear Bob speak, it was impressive for its eloquence while simultaneously being blunt. I won’t do him justice here. It was probably 2002 and he was answering a question about what keeps him up at night. He responded with a fictional story of a low-level employee making an unethical decision. Lockheed had over 300,000 employees at the time. I thought, “Right, how does a leader keep one rogue person from wrecking the whole thing?” Luckily, Bob answered that question without anyone asking: Culture-- You have to build a culture that guides the decisions and actions of everyone. To that end, Lockheed, started live ethics training and a number of initiatives and hires to bolster the culture. I remember feeling pride in working for Lockheed who was doing it right. When Boeing hit the front page for the Darleen Druyun scandal, it was easy to see how a business culture around winning and profit could quickly go wrong.

Right now, culture is more important than ever. Priorities for both employees and companies have changed after a year of being virtual. This creates challenges for both as office culture is re-established. What was comfortable in 2019 seems foreign now. Every company I talk to is experiencing turnover and change that many call unprecedented for their companies. That leads to the question- how do you keep culture when the environment is upended?

I don’t have a great answer but standing still is equivalent to your head in the sand. Step one for most companies seems to be, renew employee engagement. It’s a critical step. Part listening tour, part relationship renewal. It cannot stop there. Last week we started an employee council to advise the leadership team on culture. The diverse group’s purpose is to highlight changes we should make to enhance the culture that made us a Best Place to Work every year we’ve been eligible for the award. The council joins our rISe group which focuses on diversity and inclusion issues- a group that has personally helped me understand the viewpoints of others. We are also kicking off new leadership training and mentoring with a focus on employee facing skills like coaching.

This is just the beginning. We had our highest hire rate ever last month and are expecting elevated levels through the fall. With each hire, we change a little bit, so we are starting to strategize on how to bring new folks into the fold more quickly and incorporate their ideas into the culture while maintaining our core values. Mr. Stevens and Boeing show it starts from the top. For our part, we are investing a lot of time and effort into ensuring we keep a focus on mission while allowing the employee flexibility that won us 5 awards.

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