Managing Corporate Culture and Responsibility in an Era of ‘Explosive’ Messaging, Part 2
This is part two of a two-part series. You can read part one here.
Cultures can “drive” organizations in any number of ways with any number of outcomes. American Apparel was built on a culture undergirded by poor management and unhappy employees who, after a promising start and a "60 Minutes" profile, had little, if any, commitment to the health and strength of the organization. The brand grew quickly and, for a time, was admired for providing low cost, “cool” made-in-America apparel. It hit a cultural nerve.
However, if you're building a company culture based on “American values,” you have to actually have those values in place and they must be fully operational. In regard to American Apparel, as the company grew there was no corresponding value system that acted as a touchpoint or a point of guidance. The CEO was ultimately removed for a variety of reasons made public through the dismantling process. The brand faltered and collapsed as much from a failure to build a culture that inspired and provided balance and values that matched the earlier publicity as from a lack of creativity and newness in the product.
Take another, more recent example. Uber has been one of the “fast-tracked successes” of Silicon Valley. Disrupting a whole economic sector, the company aimed to reinvent ride service by providing improved performance with managed cost. Yet undercutting the entrepreneurial and growth-focused culture of Uber was a disconnect between leadership behavior and publicly stated philosophy. With the CEO removed, the “new” Uber continues to exist, but it remains to be seen if it continues to be the leader in the category.
As quickly as gains are made they can be lost, and poor social media PR can destroy any nascent endeavor. The reputation of Uber has been heavily damaged, drivers are far less loyal (what's there to be loyal to?) and, by default, the competition is in a far stronger position to take market share.
The list of examples goes on and on, especially in this period of continual business disruption. Values, culture and communication are all interwoven, but into a far tighter connection than ever before. Read Glass Door for real-time employee feedback. Watch the progression from a leaked email to a front-page expose. If not managed and solidified, culture can quickly go from the strongest support of an organization to the strongest point of its competition.
Back to Social Media
To return to our initial comments, in the age of information overload, the responsibility of organizations and their leaders to create a living culture and value system is greater than at any other time. It also makes effective leadership more of a challenge. Too many available channels of communication and information, whether truthful or not, are accessible. We now live in an environment where anyone can write anything about anybody and find an outlet for it at any time. Yet even in our highly litigious society, there aren’t enough lawyers and courts to address all the misinformation and half-truths that are found on Twitter, in blogs, on “alternative news” sites, Glass Door, emails and texts.
Hence we return to our initial argument: corporations now have an even higher level of responsibility to their employees and customers. They must be as transparent and clear about their goals and plans as possible, as well as about their actions, decisions and results. This is not to say that every successful corporate culture is the same or every corporate culture needs to follow the same road map. Whatever the culture, it needs to be made clear and understood, at least by its employees, and actions cannot work in opposition to values, words, beliefs. Each of us has worked for organizations that weren't Chobani. But if the culture is known and expectations are clear, one cannot complain. It's a tall order, but in this day of “whirling information” transparency is an absolute necessity. Yet it seems that in our current reality we seem to be going in exactly the opposite direction.
Our argument isn't that every company must operate in the same way or be the same. Our argument is that if you're clear about what you are, there's less likelihood for surprises that go out into a multiplicity of communication channels beyond the control of any organization. The rapid speed of current communication allows for very few mistakes. The major mistake is not to take this into account and to assume that people either ignore what they read or hold back when they're unhappy.
Communication is an important tool, and one that's available to everyone. As a famous movie tagline once stated, “Be afraid. Be very afraid.”