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How responsive leaders can reshape organisational culture

During the pandemic, everyone has suffered losses – big or small, across our professional and personal lives. From the loss of loved ones through to loss of routines and social connections, we all experienced grief that has been intensified by the uncertainty of what’s next. And whilst there is a transition back to normal underway, we don’t know which changes are temporary and which changes will become permanent in the post-pandemic workplace. The crisis is constantly evolving, with leaders facing unpredictability, imperfect information, multiple unknowns, and the need to identify responses quickly, whilst recognising the multi-dimensional nature of the pandemic.

Social learning and adaptation

In the current climate, leaders and their teams need to constantly assess their actions, recognising that they will have to continuously adapt their interventions as they learn more about the outcomes of their decisions. To be successful, this requires defined processes, including setting measures for determining both success and failure. Previous examples of successful outbreak management, including health crisis such as Ebola or Smallpox suggest that putting social learning and adaptation at the centre of the response are more crucial than any other single factor. However, the learning process needs to be diverse and open, and requires unprecedented levels of planning, information sharing and coordination.

Adaptive leaders recognise mistakes that are likely to be made and actively use them to identify shared learning opportunities. As the pandemic response is a marathon, and not a sprint, it is vital to assess progress, identify priorities and exchange lessons learned. The European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, for example, is a strong advocate of the use of after-action reviews to assess how public health decisions were taken at different points. This approach means that leaders are sharing their thinking in a transparent way and acknowledging their fallibility, which creates a culture of psychological safety and mutual trust.

Leaders can lower employees’ sense of uncertainty and boost their confidence to connect with colleagues by communicating regularly, even if their message hasn’t changed. Communicating higher purpose of work motivates teams to think and act more collaboratively, and helps people see how their input contributes to the complex business needs.

Building a resilient culture

Leaders can't fully predict how the current crisis will impact their teams, but they can be prepared to bring their best leadership selves to the table to deal with it. Most leaders right now have an opportunity to significantly improve performance by reshaping and strengthening their work culture – and organisations with strong cultures are built to withstand disruption. In resilient organisational cultures, leaders and their teams know their purpose and link every decision back to it. They align on decisions when priorities shift, because their core values remain solid, which results in behaviours being more stable even as they react to new circumstances.

Leaders need to acknowledge that effective collaboration is built on the diversity of behavioural styles and requires caching of individual employees to play their own part in boosting cross-functional working. Disruption can leave leaders in a reactive state as they tackle high-priority problems, but it’s essential that leaders don't just resolve immediate issues and take advantage of the crisis by supporting agility and resilience. At Acumen, we pride ourselves in offering development that gives managers practical tools to help solve real life challenges. We offer an extensive menu of courses, workshops and coaching programmes, ranging from communication skills through to executive leadership development. In most cases we design the interventions specifically for each client, but we also offer a wide range of off the shelf programmes for those who prefer this approach. For more information about our programmes please contact Simon at

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