Culture Scout: 4 reports of rough terrain on the road to better culture

culture scout

This week’s Culture Scout journeys along the rocky road to meaningful culture change. Why do firms spend significant money and time on efforts to improve their business culture, but often stumble? How can they dust themselves off and do it right this time?  

These four reports offer some answers, and we’ll give you more insights about them, and the culture pitfalls they describe, in our inaugural CultureLaunch Live Zoomcast, featuring CultureIQ Managing Director Scott Young. Join us this Friday (Oct. 16) and bring your questions and insights!

1. How do you know if your business transformation going bust?

Read these tea leaves offered by author and culture expert Colin Ellis in CEO Magazine. Among his hints: “brilliant jerks” stand in the way, and you think a budget and end date for your mission can be set in stone.

Exerpt from the CEO Magazine essay:

“When workplace transformation is mentioned, it’s the business’s culture that is being discussed; namely, helping people move from the current to the future in a way that excites them and builds anticipation for what lies ahead. Now is always the time to work on culture because as the fresh start effect has shown, it’s when emotional capital from employees is at its highest.”

2. Toxic culture management: Secrecy

Two eye-opening recent reports about toxic-culture accusations show markedly different reactions from leaders when a company’s dirty laundry is laid out for public viewing. 

In one corner, there is a report from the Australian Financial Review on the CEO Vik Bansal, of Australia’s largest waste management firm, Cleanaway. Bansal is credited with an amazing turnaround of his firm, but also debited with being “brutal,” flouting COVID-19 regulations, causing high turnover and holding meetings rife with swearing and abuse that felt more like a “crucifixion.” The CEO subsequently apologized in an email, but later reportedly admonished employees for speaking to reporters.

Excerpt from AFR on Cleanaway’s scrubbing of surveys:

“The company last did an employee survey in early 2018 and has since “postponed” its 2020 survey. One former employee said Mr Bansal, during a town hall meeting, once blamed poor survey results on the attitude of employees.”

3. Toxic Culture Management: Transparency

In the polar opposite corner is French firm Ubisoft, whose CEO decided to share results of a not-so-glowing internal survey of 14,000 employees with The Verge, Video Games Chronicle and other media. The survey found that 25% of employees had either seen or experienced workplace misconduct in the past 2 years, and 20% said they did not feel “fully respected or safe in the work environment.” 

Excerpt from VGC article on Ubisoft’s sharing of its survey:

“In a letter published alongside the survey results, Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot said the company has introduced new anonymous harassment reporting mechanisms, is in the process of updating its code of conduct, and is carrying out compulsory company-wide anti-sexism and anti-harassment training.”

Both stories offer a surprisingly in-depth look at how leaders handled allegations of toxicity, and the surveys that surfaced those allegations. These are extreme approaches, granted, but food for thought to contemplate which approach your organization might be more aligned with.

4. Black employees feel pressured to lead D&I efforts

It’s great that executive teams are taking a hard look at Diversity and Inclusion efforts to improve organizational culture. Not so great that some have a knee-jerk policy of leaning on people of color in their firms to lead these reviews, even if the POC being tapped has no experience in D&I, and no desire to step into that role. Companies are creating an “uncomfortable ritual” for many Black employees by asking them to take part in these efforts simply because of their race, reporter Jennifer Williams explains in The New York Times.

Excerpt from The Times’ story:

“‘To assume that every Black person has the skills and desire and knowledge for this work is tokenization,’ [Michelle Kim, chief executive of consulting firm Awaken] said.” 

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