Feeling Trapped: Can HR Leaders Take On a Toxic Culture?

Feeling Trapped: Can HR Leaders Take On a Toxic Culture?

Culture is having a moment in the sun. In our analysis of earnings calls, Gartner discovered that culture was the most frequently discussed talent issue in 2017, while mentions of the word increased 12 percent from the previous year. When we discuss culture change with HR leaders, their objective is usually to align the culture to changing business models or strategies, in order to accelerate and improve the outcomes of those transformations. A culture challenge is often phrased as: “We need to be more innovative,” or “we’re not as inclusive as we could be.”

But recent events have prompted another set of conversations on what to do when you find yourself in a culture that requires not just an adjustment, but a true overhaul. Many companies have recently faced public scrutiny for possessing workplace environments deemed “toxic”—in terms of enabling sexual harassment, bullying, discrimination, or other forms of unethical conduct. Over the past two years, we’ve seen several high-profile organizations undergo significant organizational restructuring to address this issue. In the #MeToo era, as the corporate world engages in a long-overdue reckoning with sexism and sexual harassment, more of these toxic workplace cultures are sure to be uncovered.

When we talk about a “toxic” culture here, we mean something more than just a low-performing culture demonstrated by low employee engagement, siloed workstreams, or high turnover. Those issues are worth addressing, but cultural toxicity is higher stakes. Toxic cultures engender malevolent harassment or corrupt business practices, protect the perpetrators of these toxic behaviors, and create an unsafe environment for employees, permeated with fear and anxiety. While the symptoms may vary, toxic cultures can directly and acutely damage a business’ reputation, profits, and employer brand, while doing real harm to employees and their careers along the way.

Many HR leaders have walked into a new position, only to find themselves in a deeply toxic culture, and wondered what’s next. Of course, since the door is right there, many of these leaders give feedback with their feet, understandably unwilling to fight a force as large and as nebulous as culture. On the other hand, fixing a toxic culture is one of most powerful and positive legacies an HR leader can achieve, in terms of both employee welfare and the health of the organization.

Before leaving a culturally toxic organization behind, HR leaders should determine whether there is an opportunity to partner with relevant stakeholders and address this problem. Here are some steps you, as an HR leader, can consider:

Read more

For Volkswagen, Culture Change Is a Bumpy Road

For Volkswagen, Culture Change Is a Bumpy Road

Since 2015, when Volkswagen’s emissions cheating scandal cost it billions of dollars and severely damaged its reputation, the German automaker has taken some major steps to clean house and reform its corporate culture, including several rounds of management shakeups and the resignation of its head of US operations. Late last year, VW revealed that it was making some other changes like speaking English instead of German at management conferences and creating more opportunities for women to advance to leadership roles, in an effort to bring more diversity and international perspective to its leadership.

Shifting cultural paradigms at large, legacy companies is never easy, however, and Volkswagen is no exception. In particular, the company has had a hard time convincing managers of the need to change, CEO Matthias Mueller, who took the helm in the aftermath of “dieselgate,” said on Monday. Reuters reports:

“There are definitely people who are longing for the old centralistic leadership,” Mueller said during a discussion with business representatives late on Monday. “I don’t know whether you can imagine how difficult it is to change the mindset.” Before “dieselgate”, there was an extreme deference to authority at VW and a closed-off corporate culture that some critics say may have been a factor in the cheating.

Read more

Uber Says It’s Overhauling Culture After Scandals

Uber Says It’s Overhauling Culture After Scandals

In a call with reporters on Tuesday, Uber director Arianna Huffington joined newly appointed chief HR officer Liane Hornsey and Rachel Holt, who heads its North American operations, to discuss how the ride-sharing startup has responded to allegations of sexual harassment and widespread sexist behavior at the company that came to light a month ago, which prompted calls from investors and current and former employees to address what they described as a toxic workplace culture.

According to the Verge, there were no major announcements on Tuesday’s conference call, as the Uber leaders “acknowledged that there were serious problems with the company, but sought to convey the message that things were well in-hand”:

Huffington repeated her promise to hold [CEO Travis] Kalanick’s “feet to the fire,” as well as her declaration that there would be “no room for brilliant jerks” at Uber in the future. Hornsey discussed efforts to improve Uber’s hiring processes and training programs to improve diversity and ensure that efforts to report harassment and sexism aren’t sabotaged or ignored[.] …

“We need to bring more humanity to the way we interact with drivers,” Holt said, before ticking off all the things Uber was doing to accomplish that. This includes easier-to-read earnings statements and a new app feature that allows riders to correct pick-up locations without canceling a trip in-progress. Uber will also take into account the number of trips completed by a driver when weighing deactivation as a result of rider complaints, Holt said, so a driver who completes 10,000 trips receives more deference than a driver who completes just 10 trips.

Hornsey also confirmed that the company’s first diversity report was on its way; that report is currently expected to come out early next month.

Read more