Hello MT,

    My company has a poor culture for a number of reasons. We have a new CEO who recognizes the need to redefine the culture. Unfortunately, he has agreed to work with HR to implement their plan.  HR is out of touch with the people at the company, and have condoned the poor management (lack of honest communication) of the past, which has led us to where we are today.  

   We have succeeded in spite of ourselves, and from a business perspective, there is a HUGE amount of opportunity on the horizon.  However, this is clearly not enough to improve the mood.  

  The results of HR's efforts have only reopened old wounds and broken trust, as survey results and interviews which were supposed to be kept confidential were not.   The CEO is not aware of this.  

    I would like to introduce him to MT, especially the feedback model. I also feel the need to tell him the word on the ground in response to the surveys.  We need to close this chapter and move on, but with his knowledge of HR's contribution to the situation, as they will want to be involved in all culture improvement efforts.  My boss has no objection to my suggestion, but questions any likelihood of impact.

   Should I just keep my mouth shut?

mattpalmer's picture

I'm not understanding where you sit in this.  If your boss isn't the CEO, then you're at least two levels away.  Have you got a relationship with the CEO?  You can bet that the head of HR (or whoever reports to the CEO with responsibility for HR) has a half-decent relationship with the CEO, and anything you bring up will be evaluated in that light.

I'd also be *very* wary of making statements like, "The CEO is not aware of this".  That is a very factual statement, and I have a hard time believing that you have absolute knowledge that the CEO has no idea what HR has done.  You *might* be right, but I have trouble imagining that you have enough evidence to be able to credibly support your statement.

Your boss appears to be giving you a strong signal to leave things alone.  The statement that he/she "questions any likelihood of impact" sounds like a subtle way of saying that you're tilting at windmills, and should leave it alone.  Is your boss fairly non-confrontational in general (high S/high C, in DISC parlance)?  If so, "questioning impact" is roughly equivalent to me (as a very assertive person) saying "are you *nuts*?!?  That's a terrible idea!".

My recommendation is to leave the situation alone.  If your CEO is, indeed, acting in exactly the way you're describing, and with the knowledge you assert (that's a *very* big "if", by the way) then I don't think your CEO is any good.  However, if your CEO is no good, getting in his face about the dumb choices he's making isn't going to help the situation any, and you just destroy your professional credibility in the process.

When I make that recommendation, don't think that I'm defending your new CEO or HR.  I have a dislike of "bad HR", and I have deep concerns about the judgment any senior executive who sees HR as being any more than bookkeepers of people's pay and benefits.  Almost everything that HR sticks their nose into in a typical large organisation should be done by effective line managers, in my opinion.  But getting involved has a very low probability of success.  Best to use the whole situation as fodder for your delta file.

smudgejet's picture

One of MT's recurring phrases is "do what you can with what you have".  Think of how this is being applied by the new CEO.  She needs culture change and she is using a tool at her disposal.

How many times do CEO's create culture change during their careers?  She is probably flying blind, and will correct the course as she sees results.  If you are right, and HR's course is wrong, you will see course corrections over the next couple of years.  

And that is my second comment.  Culture can be difficult to change.  I would think in terms of years rather than days, weeks or months for an organization that is succeeding, even in spite of themselves.  An organization that is failing can be changed quickly by wholesale replacements.

(Gender has been changed to protect the innocent.)  ...........................smudgejet


mattpalmer's picture

Culture never changes quickly.  I believe I read it takes something like 7 years to completely change an ingrained corporate culture from top to bottom.  I'm trying to do it in a small company (~50 people) and even at our size, it takes quite a bit of time.

cim44's picture
Training Badge

Agree with above. I'd suggest that you focus on what you can do to support the CEO through your actions vs. making suggestions.  If you raise issues, focus on the behaviours that others are doing that are roadblocks to your established goals.  Other things may take care of themselves anyways.

You might want to listen to the recent casts about the myth of the just world.

Something I've found from experience is that even though you might think you are the only one that realizes something, its rather unlikely that that is the case.  So you may wind up looking both dumb and arrogant by raising this.  Not a good combination.


lilith's picture

All of you have touched on my concerns. To provide context:

Yes, I have a pretty good relationship with the CEO, two levels below him in a small company.  

Yes, my boss avoids conflict.

I am a high I, and am in touch with people across the company and the CEO has asked me in the past to let him know about the general feel for employee sentiment.  This is also why he agreed to HR's plan to bring in a consulting company to administer a survey and hold interviews to try to get more info. The problem is one of the executive team has approached several people thanking them for their feedback, and noted what that feedback was. So much for confidentiality. This has been an issue in the past with HR.

I am sure he will find out about this eventually.  Despite his previous invitation (it was very informal) I am still hesitant to share this information.

Doris_O's picture

I would not touch this. Little good can come from being the messenger that points out the HR department's failings. 

Just because an organization has recognized that a change of culture is needed, does not necessarily mean the change that occurs is better for everyone or what you think should happen. Organizations do not change to improve the mood, they change to achieve a particular business objective. Culture is a pretty murky business objective. If cultural improvement is the stated objective, I'd stay clear of it all and focus on doing great work within your scope of responsibility. Just keep on delivering results and making your boss look good. The rest will sort itself out in time.


GlennR's picture

Should you keep your mouth shut? Yes. For all of the reasons above. Reading your first paragraph, I can see you have strong opinions.

Do not whine, moan, or complain about this to anyone. Chances are word will spread and you'll be perceived as negative.

Exception: If you are asked a direct question by someone as part of an official work group tasked with changing culture, then frame your response as a solution to the problem. That means not blaming HR., but suggesting a different course of action

There is never any profit in complaining about any department, HR, marketing, or whatever (but especially HR).

lilith's picture

 I decided to go with everyone's advice and kept the info to myself. Several others let the cat out of the bag, and the fallout has been significant in terms of company morale. Not sure what will happen next, but there is a plan to put together a small group to specifically address how to improve culture.  I have been asked to be on that group.  I am going to talk about the MT Feedback model. Will keep you all posted.  Thanks again for helping me get perspective!

GlennR's picture

Way to go! One further piece of advice. Remember the casts about pre-wiring a meeting. If you want to propose any change, such as adopting an MT model, meet with team members privately and sell them on the concepts before the meeting. You'll also be able to identify and meet any objections. At the least you'll know who opposes you.

If you bring this up without pre-wiring, it's going to be  (nearly) everyone against you.

Good luck!

lilith's picture

 I totally forgot about the pre-wiring a meeting podcast!  Awesome advice!  Thanks!

dmb41carter36's picture

I hate the "Surveys" that big companies make you take. I'm going on a bit of a rant here, but it drives me nuts.

First off, surveys very rarely actually get HONEST opinions. Many are afraid of supposed confidentiality (see the OP as case and point). Second, surveys ask really dumb questions. Like, "Do you feel the company is headed in the right direction" or "Do you want more feedback from your boss". You might as well ask "Is the sky blue" or "Would you like a million dollar raise".

Perhaps worst of all, if your company is large enough it does these "Global surveys". They roll up the results (which invalidates them). Next, the dog and pony show starts. They roll out "Cross functional teams for change". The company hand picks the perfectly diverse team, flies them all over the world and makes a professionally produced video trumpeting the results. The company pats itself on the back and moves on. What a crock. It's actually insulting to those of us who care enough to see through the veil. Why not save the money of the fancy consulting company, printed materials, custom website and nonsense. Instead, hold a raffle for biggest improvement idea. Give multiple prizes. Start a new development program to attract and keep talent.

I agree with Matt Palmer, culture change takes years, and actual human interaction. No stupid survey is going to help my culture. Getting out of the ivory tower and down to the people is a million more times accurate lay of the land, than some crazy survey.

lilith's picture

 Thanks DMB41CARTER36 for the awesome post.  Totally agree.  And you are spot on about the nebulous quality of the questions and subsequent answers. But the CEO wants to make a change, so I will support it and do what I can.  Which may include stealing your ideas.  They make sense for my company.Thanks again for the post, and the laugh!  :)

GlennR's picture

I'm going to disagree to a certain extent with DBM41's comments about surveys. First I will stipulate that there are some awful ones out there, poorly crafted and communicated to employees in a crude and inefficient manner. However, I have seen some that did provide management with data they needed to hear and in many cases it was taken very seriously. Nor were they a tiny percentage.

However, the reason I'm commenting here is because I totally agree with his or her's last comment about "Getting out of the ivory tower and down to the people..."

If you are a manager, especially of employees who interact with customers, you need to be out on the front lines spending a day or so at a time shadowing them as they interact with customers. This is also true of production, engineers, and even IT. To abuse a cliche, your front-line staff are the tip of the spear and you and your department exist to increase their effectiveness and the effectiveness of other staff.

I have just finished writing a case study on a very successful initiative that began when I was traveling with one of my front-line staff (whom I don't directly supervise). At lunch I asked her, "Tell me, what's your biggest challenge." One brainstorming session, a flurry of emails and two meetings followed....

Boom! Nine months later, we have a best practice that we are already trying in other markets.

I challenge you to add to your "Next Actions," "Schedule travel time with front-line staff." (And I don't mean on your "Someday-Maybe" list, either:-)

In my case I wasn't trying to change culture. But senior managers can often do that if they get out from behind their computers and spread sheets and visit the front-lines.