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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What No One Is Saying About Marissa Mayer, Yahoo’s New CEO

Family by Nina Matthews Photography via Flickr CC

As is the custom on Friday, a break from Busting Your Corporate Idol.

Marissa Mayer is the new CEO of Yahoo.  She has an impressive track record at Google, and is eminently qualified to take over.  But there is a big brouhaha and a lot of hand-wringing over her pregnancy.  What really got people going was her comment to Fortune Magazine.

My maternity leave will be a few weeks long and I’ll work throughout it.

The debate has been blistering Melissa Hincha-Ownby at the Mother Nature Network summarized it this way.

This sent the mommyverse into a tailspin. Some mothers praised her determination and work ethic, others denounced her decision as selfish and mourned for the son who won’t spend much quality time with his mother while others think she’s going to be in for a rude awakening once her son is here and she won’t have time to work at all.

I am a big advocate of people-first values, and The Idolbuster has a number of posts about the personal cost of a 90 hour work week, which Mayer apparently worked at Google.

So what people should come first here?

Is it the new baby, and if so does that mean that women should never work with a newborn in the house?  The woman who cleans my house was pregnant one week, and back at work the next.  I was so shocked.  I assumed she would take the week off, but was back right away.  I expect she couldn’t afford to forgo a week of pay.

Is it the employees, investors, or customers of Yahoo who need Mayer’s expertise to turn the company around?  I read Yahoo news multiple times every day, and I want the company to succeed.  In my opinion Yahoo would be just fine if she truly unplugged, but I can understand why she would want to work through.

Is Marissa Mayer herself the person we should put first?  And if we want to, how would we go about it?  Should we save her from herself, and push her into taking a longer or shorter leave?  If I read another “she doesn’t know what she’s getting into” handwringing post, I’ll shoot myself.

Here is the simple truth: none of us know what is best for Mayer or her family.  But our course of action here is simple.  Mayer deserves the basic respect to make her own choices and tradeoffs without our punditry.  She is an adult, and gets to choose what is the most fulfilling path for her life.  The Golden Rule says “Treat others as you would like to be treated,” or “don’t treat others in ways you don’t like to be treated.” And I can’t imagine anyone would want a Facebook poll to be taken about their maternity leave.  It is no one else’s business what Marissa Mayer does in her family life.

And one more thing:  Am I the only one on the world who thinks maybe her husband will stay home with the newborn?  Her husband, Zachary Bogue, is a lawyer and Co-Managing Partner at Data Collective.  The very idea that he would take care of the newborn seems out of the question.

For my marketing friends: we need a phrase to describe the societal barriers that make it hard for men to take care of the family.  We need something that is analogous to The Glass Ceiling.  Somehow The Glass Remote doesn’t seem to cover it.