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.

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How Is Going To Work Like a Craps Game?

Vintage doctors swag by woodleywonderworks via Flickr CC

Chapter 5: The Pivotal Role Of Circumstance: Hot Tables & Bad Breaks Part 1

Here is my personal story that starts Chapter 5:

Before my first trip to Atlantic City a fellow graduate student at MIT gave me advice on how to win at craps: ‘Find a hot table.  When the table stops being hot, wait for another hot table.’  I’ll be damned if it didn’t work, for the most part. I had an amazing series of rolls.  Everyone was cheering and this older guy in a brown leather jacket kept slapping me on the back every time I made a point.  I remember the feeling of pure elation like it was yesterday.  Before long the table turned, and it was really hard to stop playing.  About an hour later I walked by the table again.  It was empty.  The guy in the leather jacket was walking away, his hands in his pockets and his eyes vacant.  It was 20 years before I saw another table that hot.”

The probability experts are all over this type of thing, and they can tell you how much is luck, and which bets maximize the chance of winning.  The odds of rolling for 30 minutes without losing can in fact be calculated, and will in fact occur from time to time.  If you happen to be playing a hot table you are in for a great time because everyone is winning at that table.  Of course a hot table is very much an exception – most of the time there will be a mixture of winning and losing, where the only control you have is whether to play, and which bets to make.

In my experience, going to work is a lot like a craps game.  The day may go really well, or really badly, with most of the time somewhere in between.

And like a craps game, there are times when we feel like we are making it happen, when in reality things are beyond our control.

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