Many are wrestling with choices around returning to offices. Who should return? When? How often? For how long each week or each day? Some view those choices as discrete and tactical. They’re not. They’re part of your culture and culture is your only sustainable competitive advantage. Don’t abrogate leadership here. Take advantage of this moment to redirect your culture’s evolution.

If your offices were hit by floods and had to be rebuilt, you would not necessarily rebuild them exactly the same as they were before. You would make choices to build them back even better.

In this case, your offices were hit by the flood of pandemic-related issues. As you rebuild and repopulate, lead choices to build back your culture even better. True for all leaders. Especially true for CEOs. The three things CEOs can never delegate are vision, values and culture.

Some define culture as “The way we do things here.” Others take more thorough and complex approaches. We suggest a BRAVE framework as a middle way – simple enough to be generally usable and robust enough to guide choices across behaviors, relationships, attitudes, values and environment.

Different sub-definitions of BRAVE may be appropriate for different organizations. Here’s one set to use as a starting point:


Note the dimensions are interrelated. The more those working interdependently are physically present in the same place, personally debating and exploring ideas and encouraging each other, the more effective they will be together. Conversely, those working more independently may be able to make task-driven, steady small steps and communicate formally from anywhere.



  1. Core essence. Ground everything in the core essence of the organization. Per my earlier article on points of inflection, cultures of organizations whose core essence is design, production, delivery or service need to be fundamentally different. Be clear on the essence of your organization and use that as a starting point for your cultural choices.
  2. Current culture. Build general agreement on your pre-pandemic/current culture by mapping the dimensions above or more specifically appropriate dimensions on a 1 – 5 range. Getting this vaguely right is good enough for this exercise.
  3. General evolution. Build general agreement on how things should evolve to move towards your ideal culture in line with its core essence.
  4. Priority choices. Select the very few dimensions (as in one to three) you choose to evolve first.
  5. Make it real. Develop, implement, track and adjust plans to influence those evolutions – including choices around returning to the office.

Click here for a list of my Forbes articles (of which this is #713) and a summary of my book on executive onboarding: The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan.