Culture is King in Unprecedented Times

By Michael Grant

In January of 2020, we shared some of the work that the Canadian Society for Medical Laboratory Science (CSMLS) had done to define its organizational culture. In the article, “Defining Your True Culture”, I discussed how the CSMLS started a journey to identify our true culture by asking ourselves important questions to frame what we were trying to articulate. These questions included:

  • What behaviours do we promote or reward people based on and why?
  • What behaviours would we terminate an employee for?
  • When we are at our best, what do we see?

The resulting work concluded with us identifying six Culture Principles that clearly define the behaviours and attitudes of how we work. These principles were integrated into our HR processes, including hiring, onboarding, and performance assessment.

Little did we know that in a mere couple of months, that culture would face its most challenging test when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

The majority of staff would work the next several months from home. Some staff needed limited access to the building to perform certain functions. As a group, we tried to remain as flexible as possible as we collectively navigated these uncharted waters.

A year into the pandemic, we thought we should check in with staff and see how our culture was faring. Here’s what we learned:

  • Our culture principles were resilient. 100% of staff felt that our culture principles were still relevant and, for the most part, were still being lived throughout the organization.
  • Remote work was causing some feelings of disconnect and gaps in communication. This would need to be something we continually worked on improving. But when is improving communication not a priority?
  • Micro cultures exist. The distinct business units ranked our various principles differently. This wasn’t surprising but did give us some insight as to how each team functioned and how decisions and priorities might be approached at the business unit level.

Overall, a very positive response across the entire organization reassured us that our culture work was on the right path. Though this work is never done. Next up? We plan to revamp our performance management system to further incorporate culture.

Michael Grant is the Director of Marketing and Communications at the Canadian Society for Medical Laboratory Sciences in Hamilton, Ontario. He has worked in marketing and communications in the healthcare and education industries for the past 15 years.