Three variables will make or break successful return to the office

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There’s an old “I Love Lucy” episode in which Ricky walks in to find Lucy crawling around on the living room floor. He asks what she’s doing. She says she’s looking for her lost earring. He wonders aloud if she lost the earring in the living room, to which she replies, “No, the bedroom. But the light is much better out here.”

We laugh because it’s so silly! Why look for something where you’ll never find it?

Leadership consultants recall this episode as an analogy to business: Many leaders tend to look for answers where they’re most comfortable, and where the light is better.

In The Advantage, Patrick Lencioni details the difference between smart and healthy organizations. Smart organizations double down on the tangible strategic anchors of their businesses — finance, marketing, technology, he says. While important, these things don’t make an organization healthy. Job fit, leader effectiveness, intentional culture and teams make companies healthy.

Culture, we all know, eats strategy for breakfast. And yet, leaders often focus on the tangible, more measurable elements of their strategy they can comfortably see better — ignoring the softer, less visible aspects that make organizations truly healthy. As businesses return to the office, now’s the time to be thinking about health.

New research has identified the three most critical variables that will determine how quickly we’ll be able to rekindle productivity in our return to work: work environment, organizational culture and people.

Work environment is tactical and has to do with staying safe — encouraging basic safety behaviors like wiping down your work area, wearing a mask and washing hands to reduce germ spread. Culture and people fall into Lencioni’s healthy category. If you’re not already collecting data on these two variables, they’re less visible. That means your organization might tend not to prioritize these critical predictors of how well your company will restore productivity and confidence.


Here’s how to start improving visibility:

Cultures are created through values lived out, and they’re spread through the stories that are told. But cultures should also align with and support your business strategy. Many of our objectives have likely changed as a result of this pandemic. When objectives change, revisit the values that drive the type of culture you’ll need to pursue your goals. At ADVISA, we find there to be four broad types of strategic culture:

  • Exploring: Visionary, innovating products and services that are
    unique to the market.
  • Producing: Competitive approach to driving market penetration
    and market share.
  • Stabilizing: Operational emphasis on process and efficiency to
    drive customer loyalty.
  • Cultivating: Cultural emphasis on engagement and teamwork to
    drive execution.

Foster an intentional culture by being explicit about the type you’re
trying to create, transparent about the changes you’re introducing and why, and communicate often about your strategic intent and common future.

Leaders will need coaching to communicate and personify the culture’s intent. For example, if your strategy is a “producing” one, leaders are driving, assertive and challenging — pushing for the win, with values like competition and goal-surpassing. If the strategy is “stabilizing,” on the other hand, leaders are conservative, analytical and enjoying familiarity and accountability. They value stability, accuracy and clearly defined roles.

Culture change can begin with stories of people modeling what your company could become. So, recognize individuals whose behaviors support your new culture.

Rekindling the productivity of those people will rely on their engagement, which we define as a person’s emotional commitment to the company and its goals.


Emotional commitment is driven by four elements of satisfaction:

  1. Job fit: My job aligns with my motivating needs.
  2. Team: My team shares common goals and opportunities to collaborate with psychological safety.
  3. Culture: My personal values align with my organization’s values.
  4. Manager: My manager leads with high technical and connection competence.

Think of the values in your organization. Now, think of your new objectives. Are your values catalytic — do they bring you closer to your desired state — or are they at odds? Think about your people. How confident are you in their emotional commitment across the four elements of engagement?

If you’re not sure, you’re not alone. Illuminate these predictors of success before you return to the office by collecting objective people and culture data. This clarity will show you where to focus.

Your culture will always trump your strategy. Don’t wait and see. If,
like Lucy, you’ve been searching for your high-engagement work culture by looking at your technology, marketing or finance metrics, you’re in the wrong room.

You’ll find your lost jewels when you flip on the light that lets you see and impact your organizational health.



If you’re looking to learn more on how to go back to the office better, read “Going Back Better” by ADVISA’s President, Heather Haas. And, don’t miss our recent webinar on the same topic, recorded here.

This article originally appeared in the Indianapolis Business Journal on July 3, 2020.