Looking back at the year of 2017, it was quite an interesting year for company culture. Here are our observations of what defined it:
1. Another scandal made culture a board issue
2017 was another year where a corporate scandal vaporised billions of dollars in shareholder value. Über saw its share price drop 15%, equalling $10 billion of value, after the now famous blog post of Susan Fowler turned viral. Susan, a software engineer who after leaving Über, exposed an organization that encouraged employees to sabotage for others in the name of advancement and a management that turned a blind eye to misbehavior, including sexual harassment. It cost Travis Kanarick the job as CEO of Über. As he had fostered this aggressive culture, the board did not think he could be a part of the solution and ousted him. Following Wells Fargo’s sacking of its CEO John Stumpf, and Volkswagen’s CEO Martin Winterkorn stepping down with cost for its emissions cheating now up to $30 billion, boards have taken notice of the value that can be lost if the company culture promotes inappropriate business practises and behaviours.
2. Toxic workplaces and #MeToo
One of the words that was most frequently used to describe workplace culture in 2017 was “toxic”. Über was not the only case. The start-up and venture capital world saw both founders and top executives having to resign after sexual harassments being revealed. The discussion about “bro cultures” rose yet again and erupted as the Harvey Weinstein allegations started. The hashtag #MeToo turned into an avalanche of revelations of misogynistic behaviour. Specific hashtags were also used to expose established sexist behaviours within specific industries. When companies now review their procedures and structures to either avoid scandals or to aspire to take the lead, it is eventually the locker room talk, the role models, the stories and more that define if their culture is be known as toxic or not.
3. More companies started seeing culture as a brand
A study from last year showed that 40 percent of HR leaders indicated there is more pressure today to maintain an attractive culture for recruiting purposes than in the past. This is known as the Glassdoor effect. However, reviewers on Glassdoor don’t talk about the core values written on the walls or on coffee cups. They talk about the behaviour and characteristics of the company’s executives, and the culture that they establish. This new transparency forces more companies to see its culture as part of its brand.
4. Culture change projects beyond core values
Many culture change projects are now related to becoming more digital, agile, innovative, collaborative, feedback oriented etc. These desired cultures may not be a part of the company’s core values. As culture is increasingly seen as a dominant factor for success or failure of an organisation’s ability to change or execute projects, culture is now a key aspect of operational excellence. The focus on Digital Transformation, still a buzzword in 2017, also places an imperative of having the right mindset and culture in place in order to succeed. Managing culture has become a part of the job for almost any line manager, not just a once in a while HR push for core values.
5. Culture Change is Changing
Companies who see an increased need to manage their culture, also look for new ways to do so. The spread of pulse survey tools and other people analytics continued in 2017, and now make it easy for managers to continuously assess the shape of their organisations. Many companies trust their social collaboration platforms as tools for innovation and for transformation. The combined effect is that unwanted culture characteristics and undesired behaviours are discovered more quickly. It also often means they have to be acted on more quickly. Companies aiming for a more agile culture have now started to seek more agile ways to change their culture.
As a result of all of the above, 2017 was an important year for company culture and how to manage it. It continued to move away from being an isolated HR task, to be a success factor that needs the commitment of the CEO and that becomes the interest of any manager with operational responsibility. At the same time, it has also become more clear that culture can turn into a liability when not managed well, or not at all. New tools give more people the possibility to influence culture, and allow companies to more work actively and continuously with their company culture. We look with excitement to how companies will manage culture in 2018.
Michael Daun, CEO/founder of Wellevue – the world’s most exciting culture change tool!