What Happens When Company Culture Gets a Big Wake-Up Call

When will executive leadership wake up and realize that employees can see through the rhetoric when it doesn’t match their actions?

Perhaps my comments are a bit jaded by a local news story I have been following where the executive leadership called in a big consulting firm to figure out why they were losing money and how best to position themselves for tighter economic times. Hoards of young MBAs floated around the organization for six months, pointing out areas of “opportunity.”

One of those areas was “excessive shift pay”… about $18 million worth.

Pay cuts and union organizing

Back in August, the CEO announced cuts to the night shift pay differential. Norma Rae’s descendant immediately posted a petition on change.org asking the CEO to rescind the cuts, claiming that in some cases employees stood to experience a 20 percent reduction in take home pay.

By an unfortunate turn of events, the CEO had recently returned from a vendor-paid “conference” on a lovely tropical island, and some of the pictures of the “conference” showed up on Facebook.

After 5,133 signatures on the petition, each blasting the CEO for not caring and for her “let them eat cake” attitude, the local papers began carrying the inevitable story about union activity at the organization.

Soon after that , the Board Chairman floated a story in the paper saying they would “look at all of the expense control options more closely.”

Wouldn’t you know it, a week later the paper carries a brief article way in the back (instead of front page, as the earlier articles had been) saying that they would delay the pay cuts AND add merit raises. Oh, and that the CEO was quoted as saying that the reactions in the petition played no role in her decisions to delay the cuts and add merit.

Oh, come on … really?

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A “culture of caring”

I suspect that there is more to the story that caused this organization to be in this unfortunate position of playing defense to employee offense. The question I have to ask is this: does leadership really think that they are building trust and credibility with their workforce with this “decision/retraction” roller coaster? The delay and merit might get them through the initial union organization activity, but what then?

The responsibility of executive leadership is to make good business decisions based on the best data available, to be in tune with the employees needs and level of commitment, and to build trust in all stakeholders that they are making the best decisions possible.

By the way, this organization prides itself on its “culture of caring.”

I think this executive leadership team needs help. It will be interesting to continue watching the drama.

This originally appeared on the ….@ the intersection of learning & performance blog.

Carol Anderson is the founder and Principal of Anderson Performance Partners, LLC, a business consultancy focused on bringing together organizational leaders to unite all aspects of the business – CEO, CFO, HR – to build, implement and evaluate a workforce alignment strategy. With over 35 years of executive leadership, she brings a unique lens and proven methodologies to help CEOs demand performance from HR and to develop the capability of HR to deliver business results by aligning the workforce to the strategy. She is the author of Leading an HR Transformation, published by the Society for Human Resource Management in February 2018, which provides a practical RoadMap for human resource professionals to lead the process of aligning the workforce to the business strategy, and deliver results, and writes regularly for several business publications. Contact Carol at carol@andersonperformancepartners.com.

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8 Comments on “What Happens When Company Culture Gets a Big Wake-Up Call

  1. It’s really insane how much of a disconnect there seems to be between the executives and the workers! And then we wonder why the economy tanks, and why there’s so much distrust going around

    1. Thanks for your comment, Alex. Executives just don’t give employees credit for being smart and seeing through things. So….how do we fix it? (Ah yes, I know that’s rhetorical)

      1. How about we have one day where Executives exchange jobs with the best Employees? It’s a little hardcore, but I think both sides could achieve a brand new sense of mutual respect towards each other’s work

          1. Of course! But if one company has the “you-know-what” to pull it off, it will really help not only the company, but also the brand itself from a PR perspective!

  2. CEO and Leaders lead, Employees observe and follow. If CEO and Leaders lead with integrity and fairness, Employees would see that and be happy and work hard for the organization. Otherwise, if Leaders lead with mean, intimidating, threatening ways, Employees would not listen, but react and would not do a good job.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Sunshine. The interesting thing with this particular example is that the leadership IS very caring and paternalistic. But they just don’t understand that, even as nicely as they say something, if the words and actions don’t match, it doesn’t make any difference.

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