The best and worst of “culture”

The entire March 15, 2016, edition of Fortune magazine is dedicated to corporate culture.  This edition not only covers the best of corporate culture (e.g., The 100 Best Companies to Work for in 2016), but the worst (e.g., Hoaxwagon – the VW Scandal).  As I have said more than once on The Porch,

“Culture is determined, not by what you say, but by what you do.”

There is much to learn from both ends of this best/worst spectrum, but let’s look very briefly at an example of each:

  1. Volkswagen – You may recall that VW was recently accused and subsequently admitted that its engineers had devised a “defeat device” that would alter how the engine functioned only when the vehicle was being tested for emissions efficiency.  On the road, the engine was much less efficient in eliminated toxic emissions, but in laboratory tests, the software would detect that a test was underway and alter the engine to yield more acceptable results.  In short, the software cheated the emissions test and, as a result, the company advertised and enhanced sales using bogus eco-friendly credentials.  The company will lose many $Billions and may not even survive.  Major changes have already occurred and many senior managers and leaders have been fired.  The investigation revealed several key points dealing with company culture:
    1. No one had the courage to admit that ambitious goals to improve engine efficiency could not be met.  So, to avoid communicating this failure to management, the engineers devised a way to cheat to obtain desired results.
    2. The mere fact that engineers would believe that the environment favored cheating is a heavy indictment on the poor culture at VW.
    3. Management failed to create an open environment that encouraged collaborative problem-solving and truthful communication.
    4. Management failure to admit their failure and quickly and decisively deal with the problem might explain the entire situation.
    5. Management failed to establish reasonable goals and provide a system to monitor progress truthfully.
    6. The overall culture was one of micromanagement, intimidation, fear, and capitulation.

By creating a culture that exhibited an “achieve my objectives, by any means necessary”, accompanied by fear and intimidation, you get a company culture that says that cheating is an acceptable approach, unless you get caught.  Never allow yourself to be in such an environment.

  1. “A Job I Love” – Throughout this edition of Fortune, were quotes like these:
    1. “I’m thankful to wake up every day and go to a job that I love”
    2. “Today’s workers are looking for a corporate culture that values them and their contributions”
    3. “When you empower people, it allows them to do what’s right for themselves and for our customers”
    4. “The culture aligns with my values.  Performance is expected and rewarded.” It is clear that a positive culture is created by ensuring we allow employees to be full and valued participants in the success of the company.  Participation in decision-making, work environment, and the ability to contribute are key attributes of companies on the Top 100 list.

So, what can we do to drive our culture to one defined by purpose, values, empowerment, and involvement?  What is your own personal take-away from this?


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