No surprise, I’ve been reading the recent coverage on Dan Lyons’ new book with great interest and an eye on culture. As the title, Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble, would suggest, it is a negative portrayal of his time as an employee at Hubspot. His former employer had something to say about it too. To be fair, I’m including links to both perspectives so everyone can decide for themselves.
In my humble opinion:
1. All organizations, startups or otherwise, will always have more to learn about how to create and manage culture.
2. Organizational cultures should purposeful, clearly articulated, values based, and differentiated.
3. Communicated culture must match lived experiences or risk eroding trust and authenticity.
4. Culture should be consistent and integrated throughout the organization while also leveraging diversity.
Hubspot did some things right, and appears to be learning and improving on other things. Dan Lyons’ book created a catalyst for dialogue on the employee experience.
The reality is that there is only so much that can be understood about this particular case from the outside in. Hopefully organizations (and their people) will take this opportunity to look inward and influence their own context. That requires taking action and investing in people.
Boy, Apple’s getting some bad press these days, and I’m not sure it’s deserved. From time to time, I hear the occasional snarky comment at Silicon Valley events. Now the media’s picked up on it, questioning whether their recent decline in stock price has anything to do with their culture. Yes, culture ultimately has an influence on business performance—for better or worse. I sure wish that culture got more credit when things go well. Alas, there’s more attention on cautionary tales than there are on inspiring exemplars. Whether these criticisms of Apple are fair or not, I think this is an opportunity to clarify some things.
Culturally speaking, there is a minimum standard for all workplaces when it comes to professionalism. Some examples: Everyone should feel safe at work, physically and mentally. Barring inherent and agreed-upon risks countered with safety measures that come with dangerous jobs, there is never room for anything that treads on this basic right. Offensive behaviors, such as threatening or yelling at people, is never ok. Discrimination or harassment is illegal.
Beyond basic expectations such as those mentioned above, culture is unique to every organization and dependent on context. Context includes business factors such as competitive landscape, regulatory issues, economic and industry pressures, missions, strategies and goals, etc. People (leadership and all other employees alike), in combination with all their interactions and the environment they create, are also part of the context.
The key for organizations is to align their vision, mission, values, strategies, culture, and their people under constantly changing conditions for the best business results. One way to do that is to be very purposeful and overt, so there is no question around what fits and doesn’t fit. Design of Work Experience (DOWE) enables organizations to articulate and transform into their aspirational cultures. With this degree of clarity, individuals involved are empowered to decide what works for them (or not). So it isn’t a matter of “good” or “bad” culture, but rather a match/no match between the company and its talent.
I’ve never worked for Apple as an employee and can’t speak directly to their lived culture and experiences. It’s clear how they want to operate, however. That works for the type of talent that thrives in the Apple environment at this point in time and the subsequent long-term business results. This includes their notoriously secretive nature to the outside world, as long as they are transparent to the employees that need to know. Like any organization, Apple needs to purposefully cultivate their culture for consistent, desired, outcomes from their people on a continuous basis. It’s easy to judge from the peanut gallery, but you can’t really shake a stick at what Apple’s been able to accomplish overall. There’s so much complexity to pick apart here, but consider this a starting point to think beyond the headlines.
Google announced a huge re-organization yesterday with the founding of Alphabet, it's new parent company. This gives a lot of latitude to explore a variety of new businesses that will be led independently.
With this, they join the ranks of other big "family" companies. Their new peers do okay, but IMHO no one's figured out how to do the conglomerate thing very well, especially when it comes to things like:
COMMONALITIES: What makes them all part of the parent company other than ownership? What should remain consistent with every subsidiary no matter what? Will they be bound by a common mission? (As of yet, Alphabet has not announced a new mission statement)
EFFICIENCIES: There tends to be an inverse relationship between size and efficiency. Work, resources, and money are wasted on multiplying the same thing over and over again. Other parent corporations have attempted to manage this by establishing Centers of Excellence (COEs) and sharing overhead functions like finance, IT, and HR--all with mixed results. These efforts at efficiency tend to decrease effectiveness and add bureaucracy.
CULTURE: Whether the subsidiaries will cultivate their own distinct cultures or share one large one is still TBD. Right or wrong, the reputation of the entire family of companies rides on its worst subsidiary culture. Culture impacts everything from employee morale to company performance. One large mistake in one place ( a poor decision, safety/compliance issues, etc.) could harm the business and reputation of the others. The ability to recruit top talent for future business needs can be impacted as well.
Even writing about these feels daunting. Alphabet's got some big challenges ahead, but...they can also be great opportunities. There's no shortage of opinions out there, but hopefully this unsolicited advice proves helpful:
It is my hope that Alphabet won't be just another conglomerate created simply because Google got too big. Rather, this is an opportunity for them to change the status quo once again and lead the way. Goodness knows the conglomerate model needs disruption. If anyone can do it, they can.
Wow, what a mess this #RedditRevolt has been. It's hard to imagine that Reddit planned for all this to happen on purpose, as some conspiracy-mongers have suggested. Doesn't appear this way at least. Who would subject their own company and personal reputations to such bad PR? The more likely cause was poorly planned and/or executed change. All this was preventable if they acted with an understanding of their stakeholders (users, employees, etc.). As with any organizational change, these stakeholders are the ones who will make change happen. In this case, they revolted. There's a lot that goes into doing change right, but here are some pointers above to get you started in the right direction.
So a retailer, bank, service provider, etc. has a bad culture. While many employees and customers are miserable, we are lucky the mortality numbers are low. Businesses that deal with our physical infrastructure, like utilities and energy companies have even bigger reasons to purposefully manage their cultures...people's lives. As I say above, disaster is totally preventable and totally fixable from here. All they need to do is Design of Work Experience. Let's hope that the message is heard, for people's sake!
When will companies learn? Click on the pic above to learn all about the failures of A&F, partly due to their culture. Media coverage of good and bad cultures are pretty polarized--an organization is either rocking it or crashing and burning. I personally think that we could learn a lot more from companies that are "working on it" somewhere in the spectrum. After all, should we all be in that bucket?
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