Building Culture Through Crisis with Jenni Catron


Some of our most challenging moments can also be our most refining. So how can you walk through the remainder of social distancing in COVID-19 and come out a stronger team and organization? I spoke with Jenni Catron, Founder and CEO of The 4Sight Group, on using the unique elements of crisis to improve and build your culture now and post-crisis.

Leading Through Crisis

1. Lean Into Crisis – The teams who lean into crisis and use it to seek creative solutions moving forward are forging paths for innovation and better forward-looking systems. It takes intentional effort and focus to slow down and strategize in this time, but a lot of creativity and productivity can come to life if there is a positive focus on leaning into what this unique time can teach us.

2. Prepare Before a Crisis Hits – A sure way to set yourself up for success before a crisis hits lies in your values system. The teams and organizations that had a strong sense of vision prior to a shocking event are able to navigate through crisis better. It helps maintain unity and stay focused on the big picture rather than going into fight mode. If you haven’t drilled down on your core mission and values, now is a great time to understand where your strengths are as an organization and outline what you see as your organizational purpose. 

3. Become More Engaged With Your Team – It’s natural to go into panic mode and think only about getting through the crisis when unexpected turbulence hits your organization and community. However, leaders need to remember that in these times, they need to be more engaged than ever. Your team needs to see you on the front lines to know you’re in control and available. Remember – if you’re feeling worried, they likely are too. This can be a major tension for leaders, but serving and being responsive to your team will not only give them the security and tools to tackle the tasks you’re worried about, but it frees you up int he long-run to strategize while they manage the day-to-day workload.

4. People Want To Connect and Engage – C.S. Lewis says “Hell is God’s granting of our final wish to be left alone.” Even introverts were made for community, and connection is important for everyone – even if it’s virtual. Take time to connect with your team on an individual level through trying times. Simple ways of acknowledging someone and showing you care gives them the encouragement to move forward and keep doing their best. As challenging as it is to create time in chaos, it’s important to be intentional about providing moments of connection outside of work conversations. Set up times for human connection whether it’s through a virtual lunch, coffee break, or a game hour. This will be a critical component to success through a trial. Leaders who can find a way to create connect despite social distancing will help their culture now and in the long run. 

Helping Your Culture in a Crisis

1. Reestablish Your Structure – Whatever you did before the crisis hit, maintain a semblance of normalcy in your current work-life. Whether it’s a weekly staff meeting or celebrating events and holidays, find a way to uphold your normal events and meetings that people look forward to. It’s important in longer crises to not just do what you can to get by but really take time to create new norms within your temporary environment. You never know what might stick and what you could learn. Plus, even if you create norms that are only temporary, it forms a foundation of stability for your team to feel more comfortable during a time of change. Establish boundaries and guidelines for your team that give them confidence to march on.

2. Attending To Social And Emotional Needs On Your Team – In the case of COVID-19, people are adjusting to a routine far outside of their norms. With kids being homeschooled, multiple co-inhabitants working from home, and a lack of certain resources, your team is managing a lot of change outside of work. Be flexible and gracious as they learn to navigate this time. The more understanding you can be, the more likely employees are to work harder to build trust. This might look like adjusting work hours, meeting hours, or meeting channels to serve the needs of your team. The very first thing God did for us in the Bible was create patterns in the form of days. Give your team this same peace-of-mind and comfort through a routine in the midst of chaos. Research tells us routine helps create positive culture as a whole. Ensure people maintain work hours, have regularly scheduled meetings, and deadlines that provide structure.

3. Lead Yourself Well – COVID-19 is becoming less of a sprint and more of a marathon with an undetermined end. Now that we understand this, we need to find a sustainable pace for ourselves and our teams. On the flip side, understand that this will end and that at the end of this, you can have a stronger team and culture if you invest in it now. You either become more unified or more divided in crisis, so make sure you take the time to meet with your employees, work with their unique needs, and find ways to connect through this crisis. To do all of this, find your own pace first. Ensure you’re taking care of yourself physically and spiritually, despite the temptation to work longer and harder. Remember that your employees can sense stress and anxiety, so show up for them with peace and set a good example of work-life balance.

4. Create a Sense of Purpose – This goes along with unity and routine. All people are driven by purpose. Be sure you’re giving your team something positive and productive to work toward and remind them that their work matters and ties back to your values. Celebrate small victories in this time to continue motivating your team. It can be easy to want to hide and watch Netflix until this all ends, but that’s not healthy or productive. Do your part in keeping your team encouraged and focused on the value they provide to your organization. Show them new ways to do their job that serves your mission. This might mean more outreach via phone and email or taking time to organize systems while business is slower so you can sprint back into action more productively when everyone is reunited.

Life After Crisis

Taking the time to form productive habits and connections during COVID-19 allows for hope on the other side of quarantine to look forward to. Relational skills and emotional intelligence will become a much larger focus after months of separation. 

1. Relational Skills – While we’ve all grown more comfortable technologically, in-person connection is still the purest form of interaction. It will be tempting to fall into patterns of zoom calls and online learning when this ends. Organizations will need to call out their values and purpose in new ways to ensure employees still feel connected and driven to meeting face-to-face. This also goes for connecting to clients. People want to be seen, heard, known, and understood. While technology is a wonderful substitute for times when other options are unavailable, it is not a suitable replacement for human connection.

2. Emotional Intelligence – Those who have the ability to understand and connect with people will stand out after this experience. Ability and knowledge will still be important professionally, but now that we can work with people all over the world seamlessly, talent will also need to be relatable and situationally aware to set themselves apart in faith-based industries. People are drawn to those who care about them, so emotional intelligence will go a long way in the coming months.

When the economy picks back up, it might be hard to separate candidates who need any job versus candidates who want the job your offering and will fit well into your culture. Set your team’s culture now. Write down the mandatory traits and values a candidate must have to fit into your team. Whether it’s resilience, flexibility, or responsiveness, clarify and define the team that you are and the team you want to become so you can more easily identify solid candidates when the time comes to hire again. 

For more tips on leading through crisis, check out Jenni’s resource, 7 Ways To Nurture Your Culture in Turbulent Times.