Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

When Can a Leader Change The Culture?

Chapter 6:  Corporate Culture -The Invisible Hand of the Company Part 7

Over the last few posts, Harry T. Lobo went from being a successful CEO to feeling “bruised and battered” as COO at a larger company.  One reader told me that reading the post left “an aftertaste of sadness and bitterness.”  I understand the reaction – I had it myself when Harry was telling me the story, in part because it reminded me of times in my own career when I felt the same way.  By understanding what made it hard for Harry, I was better able to understand my own experience.

And what made it so hard for Harry? He was working in a culture that did not match his values, and he was powerless to change it.  For example, Harry believed in long term relationships with customers, but the company culture prioritized the quarterly number.  Let me say that again: Harry T. Lobo, former CEO and extremely effective leader, was unable to change the company culture.  A less capable person would have left, but Harry’s tenacity and self-confidence led him to stay in a toxic situation, thinking “I’m not going to be defeated by this.”  I’ve been there too.

I have come to believe that it is almost impossible for an individual to change the company culture.  Think about it: if it were easy, would so many corporations spend millions on “change management?”  Bain executive Frederick Reichheld outlines eight steps towards changing company culture in his book The Loyalty Effect, a process that takes years.

So my advice? Don’t bother to try to change the company unless:

  1. You are CEO
  2. You have the support of the board
  3. You have absolute power to hire and fire people
  4. You are ruthless enough to clean house.  (Marissa Meyer at Yahoo is doing exactly that right now, and I suspect it will turn Yahoo around.)

Unless all four of these things hold true in your situation don’t bother to try to change the company culture.  Cynical and hopeless?  Not at all.  It is liberating to accept the truth.  The energy going into change can be redirected into your personal life  or towards influencing your local environment within the company.  Or into finding another place to work. Chapter 9 Paint Your Environment will go into solutions for corporate culture in greater depth.

<< Previous Post  Next post>>  Life in a positive corporate culture.

[like]

Comments

  1. I just wonder about the term “toxic cultures”. Shouldn’t I be wise, savvy, grounded and brave enough to survive and thrive anywhere? Nah! Yes, maybe some situations are just inherently toxic. The poor folks in them just don’t know it.

    • Greg Marcus says:

      Roger, you had me going there for a minute.

      And I certainly didn’t realize it when I was in the middle of it. People say “no place is perfect.” True, but most places are better than some of the situations I have heard about (and lived through).

Trackbacks

  1. […] company has a value system, more commonly called a corporate culture.  And as I wrote in Chapter 6, http://idolbuster.com/archives/2006 unless you are the CEO and have carte blanch from […]