Adapt or Perish

Bond Moroch’s Jordan Friedman shares his company’s plans for what he’s calling a critical restart for a new era

Illustration by Tony Healey

Keith Twitchell spent 16 years running his own business before becoming president of the Committee for a Better New Orleans. He has observed, supported and participated in entrepreneurial ventures at the street, neighborhood, nonprofit, micro- and macro-business levels.

A disruption on the scope of the COVID pandemic demands a response from businesses. Life has changed, people have changed, and if businesses don’t change, even those that made it through the crisis are at risk going forward.

“Your customers, your staff, even your suppliers want to do things differently,” said Jordan Friedman, partner at Bond Moroch. “And it’s the same in the academic and nonprofit world. People’s tolerance for sacred cows, whether they be bad employees, bad practices or bad policies, is gone.”

Some of the new realities result directly from changes forced by the pandemic shutdown. Employees who have been working at home may be anxious about returning to work, a problem that can be exacerbated by rusty workplace skills, such as communications or people management. Many have reflected on their job and workplace satisfaction while away and are demanding changes — if they are returning at all. Looking at employment statistics, employers must realize that we are in an employee market and respond accordingly.

Friedman brought up another adjustment that will impact most business offices going forward.

“As workplaces go hybrid, this will tend to increase silos, and generally make all inefficiencies and dysfunctional workplace cultures worse. Leadership must get ahead of this.”

He also noted increased demand for a more equitable work environment.

“Workers want to know that their well-being is a factor in company decision-making,” he explained. “The equity component is here to stay, and company leaders need to embrace it or get stepped on by it.”

Friedman views the situation as a leadership opportunity to reset their culture in ways that will not just head off potential post-pandemic issues, but enhance productivity, reduce turnover, and build clientele and revenues. And this all starts at the highest levels.

“Taking control of an organization’s post-COVID workplace culture is not an HR function,” he said. “It is a leadership imperative. It must be driven from the top.”

To assist leaders of businesses small and large, Friedman’s team has rolled out what they call “the new team algorithm,” a program that allows for company leaders and staff to approach the notion of a culture rebuild from a holistic perspective. Step one begins with what Friedman termed “a deep listen to your people,” a detailed survey of all staff members to understand what each one perceives as both good and bad about their workplace.

From this input, a customized set of recommendations is developed. The premise is that meeting employees’ needs at all levels — physical, intellectual, environmental, emotional and even spiritual — builds a sense of ownership within the staff. In turn, this creates renewed focus and dedication among employees, which leads to improved performance and greater productivity.

Friedman emphasized repeatedly that this requires complete commitment at the leadership level.

“This is not a kumbaya exercise, a group hug,” he said. “It’s about leadership and demonstrating a commitment to your employees. Companies who are smart, leaders who are smart can get out in front of the post-COVID changes. If you don’t make the changes, your company is at risk.”

According to Friedman, this applies to newer, more entrepreneurial ventures every bit as much as larger, well-established firms. Indeed, in a general business climate that retains high degrees of uncertainty, establishing a positive, progressive workplace culture from the outset could be what determines the success or failure of a new enterprise.

The changed workplace realities unquestionably pose challenges for business, education and nonprofit leaders. At the same time, this generates an exceptional opportunity to convene the team, listen openly and honestly, and in Friedman’s words, “chart a course that can effectively rebuild the cultures of their organizations and make them stronger than ever. There is no better time for organizational leaders to reassume their leadership roles. If not now, when?”