Creating a Culture That Supports Disruptive Innovation in a Post-COVID World

Workplace from Facebook sponsored this article. All content is entirely mine.

We’ve been living in a world turned upside down by a pandemic, going into the winter with dire predictions of the next surge. Yet, there’s hope in sight with the development and distribution of vaccines. We will emerge at some point – and the time to prepare for that post-COVID world is now.

As I study how organizations thrive with disruption, I’ve been impressed with how they lay the cultural foundations for this new world. They understand that the way we worked in the past needs updating and have defined the new beliefs and behaviors required for success. Most importantly, they use technologies to keep people connected across far-flung organizations to reduce geographic distances and reduce the power distance and time distances to enable new relationships and ways of working.

Here are three examples of organizations that harnessed technology to create a disruptive innovation culture that will power them into a post-COVID era.

Honest Burger Doubles Down on Openness With Content and Bots

Openness forms the foundation for a culture of disruptive innovation because it creates transparency about what’s working and what’s not. Being honest and open creates trust and accountability, allowing the organization to act at the speed required to address fast-changing circumstances.

When the pandemic hit the United Kingdom in March, restaurant chain Honest Burgers made the tough decision to close its 39 outlets, furloughing over 700 employees in the process. The company was able to secure a wage grant to protect and retain most of the staff – or family as they liked to call employees.

In keeping with that value of family, Honest Burgers didn’t merely tell employees to go home and wait for updates. Instead, they launched a series of content and events called Home Front on Workplace from Facebook to engage with staff even when they weren’t physically at work. “Before ‘furlough’ was even in our vocabulary,” explained Chantal Wilson, head of people at Honest Burgers, “we went to our people and explained how we would deal with the situation.”

Initially, content ranged from co-founder Tom Barton hosting weekly fitness classes to lessons supporting staff health and well-being. As the pandemic continued and economic realities became apparent, the company developed chatbots on Workplace to keep staff informed about options, ranging from redeployment opportunities to earn temporary income from partners like grocery chain Tesco and Amazon to content to help them reskill. “Every job counts, and whether that’s with us or someone else, I don’t really mind. I care that that person is able to work and care for their family and remain financially safe,” explained Wilson.

Having a tool like Workplace allowed Honest Burgers to retain a sense of family throughout the crisis, communicating with staff about the many re-opening and closing changes. More importantly, the platform evolved from a technology that functioned as a social connective tissue to a mission-critical way to stay connected with everyone through a transformative time.

Comcast Develops Agency With Huddles

In many organizations, there is an implicit belief that you must ask for permission to create change. In contrast, the idea of agency recognizes that every person can be a leader who is a crucial driver if you want to create a culture of disruptive innovation throughout the organization.

At Comcast, the company knew that frontline employees in the call center had valuable knowledge of what was happening with customers but didn’t have a way to gather and escalate improvement opportunities. With a focus on the Net Promoter Score (NPS), which measures how likely a customer is to recommend the company, Comcast made it the responsibility of every person in the call center to note things the company could be doing differently.

The employees then huddle every day to review and discuss comments, shout-outs, and “elevations” or ideas to improve the customer experience. The ideas get reviewed regularly at every level, all the way to the CEO, who reviews the top three elevations every week. Comcast tracks each elevation submission, communicating progress back to the teams. Most importantly, Comcast tracks the impact of implemented ideas by reporting changes in the NPS metric.

Imagine what it must feel like to know that your voice is being heard–that it matters and can make a difference. When employees see this happening all around them, the effect is infectious, encouraging them to create even more change. Shrinking the power distance between the front lines and the top of the organization can happen more seamlessly because technology can speed up the movement of information around the organization and report back the impact of decisions quickly.

Queensland Police Breaks Down Hierarchies For Faster Action

Given the pace of change, organizations must move at the speed of disruption to thrive. But two obstacles stand in the way. First, organizations designed complex hierarchies to move information decisions around a complex organization. Second, decisions needed to be right because course corrections were so challenging to do. Today, we live in a different world where information and decisions can flow seamlessly throughout an organization – even hierarchical ones.

For example, the Queensland Police, an organization made up of 16,000 people and ten layers of rank serving a population of 5 million people, used Workplace from Facebook to share information across all levels. Commissioner of Police Katarina Carroll explained, “When a decision is made by the government that you are to shut the borders to the rest of the country, and that has to be done within two days, you have got to change policy directives, legislation, training, communication, and engagement very, very quickly.”

Carroll’s challenge was getting the information out to the organization and having people down to the Constable level engaged in two-way communication. “It’s very unusual for my staff to ask questions, a couple of levels above them,” Carroll observed. “And I really wanted to cut through those layers within the organization.”

To facilitate this new engagement, Carroll started doing regular virtual conferences on Workplace, cutting through multiple rank levels in the organization. While some managers in the middle ranks found it disconcerting to have the top police commissioner talking directly with frontline staff, those employees valued the interactions, especially during turbulent times.

The ability to align an entire organization around a fast-changing situation gives Queensland Police the ability to respond quickly and consistently across a far-flung and diverse operation. Carroll shared, “My hope for the future is that Workplace will continue to break down that bureaucracy and that hierarchy true leadership is really about transparency and authenticity and engagement.”

As Honest Burgers, Comcast, and Queensland Police demonstrate, technology played a crucial role in enabling them to thrive during COVID. The key is to marry that technology with a desire to change how work is done – and in the process, create a culture capable of continued disruptive innovation.