[Office Ecology] Culture Change, from Co-Labs to Personality Tests

Happy almost-Halloween, culture keepers.  Welcome to the October edition of the CharlesBank Consulting newsletter! 

CharlesBank Consulting: Strategic People Practices for an Innovation Culture 

First, some "me" news: I’m excited to be a member of an expert panel discussion through Next Wave Hire about how to build amazing cultures on Wednesday, November 9 in Boston—even though during a prep conversation I wasn't sure if I should share a provocative opinion I have. “You should share it!” replied the moderator, the CPO at Forrester. “You’re a panel expert!” (Yes, we were talking about the phenomenon of ‘perks’ at work.)  Come join us! It’s guaranteed good conversation. I promise to share opinions.

Her next question was: Do you think company culture is different for different generations? 

What do you think? You can sign up here: http://nextwavehire.com/event/best-culture-boston-secrets

The fall finds me working night and day on diversity, inclusion and unconscious bias issues with IBIS Consulting– and mulling over some of the workplace culture moves that could change society at large.

Could Culture Change at GM Bring Us Self-Driving Cars?

The CEO of General Motors, Mary Barra, has launched some new initiatives designed to change the culture at GM:

  • “Co-labs” to address cross-functional issues
  • Twelve months of leadership transformation training for the senior team
  • Quarterly two-day off-site that Barra leads with her senior leadership team, "focused not on strategy but on their own interactions"

It's that third idea that I really like. Two days a quarter to work on collaboration? That will seem like far too much to just about everyone I know. And yet take a moment to visualize just how effective those remaining days could be with beautiful collaboration.

It's interesting how hard it is to talk about how we work together. 

Fast Company asks, with all this brilliant collaboration, could a revolutionized GM culture make the self-driving car ubiquitous?

Mary Barra is Remaking GM's Culture and the Company Itself [Fast Company]

"Mary believes that if we change the behaviors [of top managers], people who work for us will see that and emulate it," says HR chief John Quattrone. "There won’t be this dysfunction that we had before."

But Can We Just Change Behavior?

Is that how culture change works? We just change people’s behavior? How?

Say you’ve got one of those intractable cultures. Something’s not working. You’ve tried and tried to make process and environment changes, but problematic issues persist. You’ve started to wonder if maybe the problem lies with particular people. Or maybe a particular person. Maybe you, for instance. 

Leaders Can Shape Company Culture Through Their Behaviors [Harvard Business Review]

Want your employees to be engaged? Put your phone down and look them in the eye when they talk. 

Want people to be on time? Start meetings on time even if not all participants are there yet.

You get the idea. Model the way (and cheer/reward/support others who do). That's not the whole answer, but it's a start.

In Other News, Big Banks Still Not Modeling the Way on Integrity

Whether lying to investors about the value of bad mortgages or hiring prostitutes to entertain clients, recent missteps by bank employees keep proving that updated ethics manuals do not an honest culture make. So….what to do? According to recent news reports, banks have not figured it out.

It's important to note that they seem to want to target bad actors instead of change systemic policies. How are they doing this? Through things like:

  • Personality tests 
  • Trying to identify employees who are engaged in fraud (apparently the people who won't take 2-week vacations – never knew that!) 
  • Asking risk and compliance officers to evaluate “material risk-takers” such as bankers and traders as part of the annual performance evaluation
  • "Bad Banker" database

The Senate asked why all the focus on "rolling bad apples":

“Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley asked a panel of government officials who regulate Wells Fargo […why they] attributed the problem to rogue individuals rather than a pervasive culture of structural incentives installed by bank executives.”

...But got no real answer. It's easy to point fingers at individuals, but changing culture takes more work. 

Wells Fargo Scandal Reignites Debate About Big Bank Culture [Reuters]

Dudley Says Supervisors Need to Monitor Bank Culture [Wall Street Journal] 

Toolbox: Yes, Ask Them, Even If They Don't Always Tell the Whole Truth

I think quarterly engagement surveys can be really useful, even though people do sometimes lie on them (How to Know if Workers Are Engaged (Don't Ask Them) (CIO Magazine). I think, though, that they don't lie about the really important things. So what to ask? 

Make sure the questions have answers that can be acted upon. While I like the new questions for millennials such as "What could the company do to help you achieve a better work-life balance," and I've tried out a few different sets of custom questions, I'm still partial to the trusty Gallup Q12, which drives the respondent to self-reflection. 

Try taking it for yourself, right now; the answers will tell you if change is needed.

  1. Do you know what is expected of you at work?
  2. Do you have the materials and equipment to do your work right?
  3. At work, do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?
  4. In the last seven days, have you received recognition or praise for doing good work?
  5. Does your supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about you as a person?
  6. Is there someone at work who encourages your development?
  7. At work, do your opinions seem to count?
  8. Does the mission/purpose of your company make you feel your job is important?
  9. Are your fellow employees committed to doing quality work?
  10. Do you have a best friend at work?
  11. In the last six months, has someone at work talked to you about your progress?
  12. In the last year, have you had opportunities to learn and grow?    

Consulting services include: Coaching, Retreats and Facilitation, Competency Mapping, The Right Physical Work Environment, Mission/Vision Development, Leadership Circle Profile Assessment, and more strategic people practices for an innovation culture: http://charlesbankconsulting.com

With IBIS Consulting, I also conduct diversity work, from assessments to e-learning programs, on topics such as diversity and unconscious bias.

Reach out and let me know how you are doing! And Boo!


Labor Day Edition

Culture Keepers,

Welcome to the special Labor Day edition of Office Ecology, the newsletter from CharlesBank Consulting. 

I imagine you are, as I am, conducting those familiar late summer rituals: 

  • Biking to the community pool only to find it closed; 
  • Trying to understand why you are wearing a tank top when in fact you suddenly need a parka; 
  • Shopping for a first-day outfit with a second grader only to give up and take her for brownies once it's determined that there is simply nothing that is not too gray, black, white, colored, patterned, ruffled, skirted, panted, pocketed, embellished, buttoned and/or not buttoned. I guess she can wear tattered summer clothes for a while yet. 

Labor Day kicks off a cycle of work rituals too; budget time, appraisal season, planning ahead and, if a culture is so inclined, engaging in reflection. How you structure the reflection time can make the difference between sitting on the steps of the poolhouse in your inexplicably dry swimsuit wondering why the schedule is so hard for you to read, as opposed to doing an Olympic-level high dive off the springiest board in the deep end to the applause of your children and pool acquaintances. 

Consider a retreat; consider one in which you think through the desired objectives of a conversation with your team ahead of time; accept openly that not all things that come up in conversation will be comfortable, and some great ideas may not get to receive follow-up, but these are not reasons to avoid talking; one in which you share a draft of the 2017 plan and are transparent about either asking for real input or simply expressing curiosity about feedback from others.

Finally, on Labor Day, honor a person working hard, even if just for a silent moment. Maybe it's you, or perhaps someone you know well, or maybe it's someone you know barely at all. What would help that person thrive? 
A few articles to wrap up summer:

Stemming the Tide of Incuriosity

The smart, critical leaders that I know usually yearn for smart, critical staff who ask questions. But how to embed this attitude into the culture? Consider replacing brainstorming sessions with relevant-question sessions. 

The Power of Why and What If [NYTimes] 

"The idea is to put a problem or challenge in front of a group of people and instead of asking for ideas, instruct participants to generate as many relevant questions as they can. ...[But] for questioning to thrive in a company, management must find ways to reward the behavior---if only by acknowledging that good questions have been asked." 

Important note: Don't model incurious behavior while employees are learning to question.

Good Advice: "Early, Often, Ugly"

I love this interview with the CEO of Open Table, who says: 

"[Update me] early, often, ugly. It’s O.K. It doesn’t have to be perfect because then I can course-correct much, much faster...No amount of ugly truth scares me." 

Christa Quarels of Open Table [NYTimes]  

She also says, "The paradox of owning what you know and what you don’t know is that you actually seem more powerful as you expose more vulnerability." So true.

To Compete or to Noncompete...

...This has been the burning question in Massachusetts, which tried and failed this summer to revise the ubiquitous employee contracts that restrict post-employment work for competitor companies for a period of time (usually 1-3 years). For a while now, it's seemed like the "cool" employers use noncompetes for nearly everyone...but rarely enforce them. Still, even with the idea that it might not be enforced, an employee could be forgiven for feeling daunted by a noncompete contract---and even stifled from innovation.

The MA House and Senate both came up with intriguing solutions to this issue, but then adjourned without compromise. What will happen? I guess we'll have to see in January.

Non-Compete Law Reform Doesn't Make It in Massachusetts [Fortune] 

CharlesBank Toolbox

I love starting off retreats with an exercise I call "personal histories." Yes,it's great that everyone gets to know each other better. 

But more important than that, I think, this exercise gives everyone's voice a chance to resound in the room, right off the bat. It makes it easier to add to the mix later on.

Exercise: Personal Histories

Provide the group with a large flip chart on which you've written six questions. They can be the following questions, or ones you make up. Make sure that there are deep, important questions on there, and that there are simple, easy questions, too. Go around the room, and allow each person to choose one and answer it aloud. Then maybe go around the room again, for a total of two questions. (If it's really fun, you have my permission to go a third time.) 

  1. What is your favorite type of party to attend? (Halloween, New Year's Eve, etc.)
  2. What has been your favorite concert to attend, and why?
  3. Describe a situation (personal or professional) in which you would like to have a 'do over.'
  4. What is the funniest sitcom you have ever watched?
  5. If you could jump into the pages of any book you've ever read and actually experience the story firsthand, which book would you choose?
  6. If you have to write a one-sentence mission statement for your life, what would it be?
  7. In your opinion, what is the worst first impression you have ever made (personally or professionally)?
  8. What is your favorite foreign language to hear spoken?
  9. Share the funniest thing that has ever happened to you on a date. 
  10. If you could own any prop that was used in a movie, what prop would it be?
  11. What would it take (financially or otherwise) to get you to spend the night in a remote mansion that is supposedly haunted? 
  12. If you could have served on the jury of any trial in history, which would you choose?
  13. On a scale of 1-10 (1: you can't stand it, 10: you love it), how well do you like your given first name?
  14. More than any other, what professional skill do you wish you were better at?
  15. What is one thing you have never done to celebrate your birthday that you would really love to do on your special day?

There's more where those came from! Special thanks to Maria McQuaid. 

Consulting services:

This fall, I will have a couple of open coaching slots, so please reach out if you're interested.

Coaching, Retreats and Facilitation, Competency Mapping, The Right Physical Work Environment, Mission/Vision Development, Leadership Circle Profile Assessment, and more strategic people practices for an innovation culture:


With the phenomenal IBIS Consulting, I also conduct diversity work, from assessments to e-learning programs, on topics such as diversity and unconscious bias.

Happy End-of-Summer!


June Newsletter [Office Ecology] To Innovate, Diversify!

Culture Keepers, 

For the last few months, I've been working with a specialized diversity consulting firm, addressing bias and inclusion challenges at a range of organizations. Some of our clients are universities, some are NGOs, and some are big, big companies---the kind with a reach that extends around the world. This has left me wading knee-deep in a diverse group of cultures and expectations, complementing my culture and coaching work at CharlesBank Consulting nicely.

Unconscious bias stems from a survival mechanism of the brain, and it's always there. Our biases can work with us or against us when we're hiring; can be debilitating or enlightening when we're managing; can create the box we're stuck in or take the lid off when we're leading; you get the picture. That "gut instinct" we have about other people is also a bias, and it pays to learn to manage it. When there is too much homogeneity among leaders, from experience to style, innovation suffers. 

In higher education settings, people often want to define their own identity. But corporate employees tend to be more accepting of labels, whether race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality or another dimension on the diversity spectrum. Even with tacit acceptance, identity politics are ever present in the workplace. Ignoring them doesn't make them go away. 

IBIS Consulting has three decades of experience helping organizations understand to mitigate bias. Reach out if you're interested in learning more about the off-the-shelf e-learning, instructor-led training, interactive theater or any other culture-building approach on offer.


Workplace Culture in the News


Sometimes Women Get Inordinately Boring Tasks and None of The Fun Stuff.

Eventually, They May Leave.

Alright, there's more to the story than that, including further proof of the old adage "people leave managers, not companies." But I find that this study on female engineers represents a lot of what happens in the corporate world. Do men have more fun?

http://spectrum.ieee.org/view-from-the-valley/at-work/tech-careers/are-women-being-pushed-out-of-engineering-because-men-have-all-the-fun [IEEE Spectrum]

Annual Appraisals, Numbers, and Morgan Stanley

In an effort to be more balanced and to make annual appraisals more useful, Morgan Stanley has stopped rating people on a number scale:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/03/business/dealbook/morgan-stanley-to-rate-employees-with-adjectives-not-numbers.html [NYTimes]

Top Ten Worst Companies to Work For

Just in case you need confirmation that customer satisfaction and employee engagement are inextricably linked:  

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/worst-companies-to-work-for_us_575b26b0e4b0e39a28ada793 [Huffington Post]

Facebook and the Faceversary

They take anniversaries very seriously at Facebook. A visit to the Zappos campus last year revealed undeniable investment in anniversaries, recognition and rewards, and all-out swag (a cool t-shirt for every milestone imaginable). These companies are on to something. Is it about seniority? Or is just about recognizing personal milestones? Anniversaries are about the person, not the company. It's a small gesture that I've always noticed is surprisingly effective.

http://www.breitbart.com/tech/2016/06/06/former-facebook-employee-compares-company-culture-to-a-religion/ [Breitbart.com]

CharlesBank Toolbox

One simple but incredibly effective tool that I learned from the Coaches Training Institute (CTI) is called the "Three Levels of Listening."

1: Internal Listening. Focus on our own internal needs and opinions. Hear other’s words, but prioritize our own stories, judgments, interpretations.

2: Focused Listening on Other. All attention directed one-way, from listener to speaker. Hard focus, like a laser, on understanding message of speaker.

3: Global Listening: Developing awareness of everything that’s not being said, including the space around each of you.

It's so hard to get out of the internal chatter stream of Level 1 listening ("What should I make for dinner tonight? What's happening in my next meeting? Do they think I'm unqualified for this project?"), but so rewarding and useful to truly be in Level 2, even for a few minutes at a time. One homework assignment this summer: Build your Level 3 Listening. Do you know anyone who excels at this? Study what they do. As a coach, I've learned that Level 3 listening is possible even over the phone. 

Consulting services on offer:

Coaching, Retreats and Facilitation, Competency Mapping, The Right Physical Work Environment, Mission/Vision Development, Leadership Circle Profile Assessment, and more strategic people practices for an innovation culture:


To unsubscribe: http://charlesbankconsulting.com/unsubscribe

Happy Summer!

February Newsletter: Equal Talking, Zero Whining

Culture keepers, 

Is there a positive correlation between good company culture and actual cold hard cash? Payola? Profit? 

I get that question often in my work at CharlesBank Consulting. It would be so nice to be able to sit down and calculate an ROI on, say, increasing transparency among your staff. But I’ve often had to rely on anecdotal evidence in my answers, and large-scale studies circa 2000. In the absence of fresh data, building an empowering culture just seems like one of those obvious good things that eventually leads to improved performance and a better bottom line – something we have to assume without a bright set of numbers.

Happily, a six-year study out this week demonstrates an affirmative answer to that question. 

The Relationship Between Corporate Culture and Performance  [Wall Street Journal]

It’s not exactly an ROI culture calculator, but the sales machinations of dozens of auto dealerships were assessed against markers such as felt mission and sense of purpose among employees, and those with high culture scores ended up with high performance, too. 

"Something Happened That Made the Culture Go Wrong"

Google spent a year learning that great teams have these common factors: 

1.) Equal talking: "As long as everyone got a chance to talk, the team did well...But if only one person or a small group spoke all the time, the collective intelligence dwindled."

2.) Equally high social sensitivity: team members were all very good at being able to read things like body language and expression, easily measured with the Reading the Eyes in the Mind test, or countless hours together. 

1 + 2 = 3.) Ultimately, these two elements help create psychological safety.  

Bottom line: If you want innovation, make sure employees feel comfortable airing and resolving issues, making mistakes, and trying out approaches and ideas without being judged.

The Times today published a set of NINE, count 'em, nine, in-depth articles that present analysis and findings on work today. It is so rich with information that I recommend buying the Sunday print edition and setting aside about twelve hours to read it. 

In addition to teams, they cover meetings, post-cube office environments, the case for blind hiring, lunch, and more. 

Holacracy gets an overview in the meetings article, as does the Managers vs. Makers theory; the office environment article questions whether napping lofts help anyone. But the common element in every article seems to be that people need the permission to be themselves at work.

From the powerful article on the work-life equation

"For years, an image of professionalism was closely tied, perhaps especially for women, to a strict respect for boundaries -- to the presentation of the self, at the office, as someone wholly unencumbered by the messiness of home life."

That is precisely what must change, they state (and restate) in multiple contexts.

The Work Issue: Re-imagining the Office [NYTimes]

Fully Formed Adults Don’t Whine

Netflix’s legendary HR strategist Patty McCord reports back on the hard line she drew with fussy employees. “I had had it with the baby attitude. No, you don’t get to whine about your T-shirt, you’re 40 years old.”

Netflix’s culture revolves around the idea of attracting only “Fully Formed Adults.” Doesn’t that sound great? That’s why they don’t need to track vacation days, or have performance evaluations, and that’s why they fire freely, too. They assume adults can handle it.

The Woman Who Created the Netflix Culture [Fast Company]

As McCord herself eventually got fired. [Fast Company]

Fairness + Safety + Control = :)

The Times' Adam Grant reminds jobseekers of the importance of digging up the dirt on culture, and he says it comes down to 3 factors expressed across 4 basic questions. 

Do the questions he recommends resonate for you, in your organization?

1. Is the Big Boss Human?

2. Can the Little Person Rise to the Top?

3. Will I Get Fired?* 

4. How Will the Boss React to Mistakes?

The answers to these questions will lead the candidate to big reveals about fairness, safety and control, which are ultimately the key factors in lasting satisfaction at work.

Ask About Culture and Only Culture in Your Job Interview [New York Times]

*(I actually asked this one during an interview once. It led to a fruitful conversation and a job offer.)

CharlesBank Toolbox 

Edgar Schein, famed cultural theorist formerly of MIT (but now of Palo Alto, as he recently told me over email) laid out the original structure of company culture in three layers:

1.) Artifacts: The things in an environment that you can feel, touch, taste, smell, and hear (such as people laughing, or not; natural light, or lack of it; etcetera).

2.) Espoused Values: The things you say about what your organization stands for – values, goals and approach. 

3.) Underlying Assumptions: The things everyone actually believes about what the organization stands for and how it functions – and these fluctuate all the time.

We want alignment between these three elements. When the alignment is off, there is an organizational disconnect. 

So how do you find out if they align? Simple: Ask!

What do you do if there is a disconnect? Not so simple, but it starts with intentionally uncovering, and then taking a hard look at, the real problem (this brings to mind the poem One Train May Hide Another, by Kenneth Koch).

And remember, every place has a culture, whether it’s intentional or organic – even if it’s two people and a bare light bulb.

Consulting services on offer: Business Development, Coaching, Retreats and Facilitation, Competency Mapping, The Right Physical Environment, Misson/Vision Development, Leadership Circle Profile Assessment, and more strategic people practices for an innovation culture: http://charlesbankconsulting.com

Thank you for reading my newsletter!

May your culture shine bright,


Cedar Pruitt

CharlesBank Consulting



December Newsletter: Think Globally, Act Locally...At Work

Culture keepers,



Welcome to the final newsletter of 2015 from CharlesBank Consulting!


As the year turns, the most pressing cultural issues aren’t emerging from companies, but the elements of global culture clash are expressed on a micro-level on the hard-working, innovative project teams of Boston: the desire to truly be heard, the fear of unfamiliar thinking, the threat of the other. Fundamental human desires can’t be ignored without cost. 


Be Human Anyway

Indeed, uniquely human skills of cooperation, empathy and flexibility are in demand by employers. 

How the Modern Workplace Has Become More Like Preschool [NYT] 


The Conversation about Parental Leave Builds Momentum

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg breaks ground by taking two months of paternity leave, while Marissa Mayer at Yahoo vows to “work through” her limited maternity leave after having twin girls. It’s almost impossible to assess the gender models given the divergent state of the companies. But as more CEOs follow in Zuckerberg's footsteps, perhaps more employees will be able to honor their roles in both work and family.

Taking the Risks Out of Paternity Leave [WaPo] 

Opinion Post from a Female Entrepreneur: Crazy Talk on Marissa Mayer [LinkedIn]


In the most plaintive and tragic terms imaginable, one woman regrets her employer’s inability to extend her maternity leave past twelve weeks.

A Mother Asks Why She Had to Leave Him So Soon [NYTimes blog] 


Should CEOs hover?

The only sane response to the cube farm was the open floor plan, but what to do with the CEO? Employees get nervous when the power center of the company is listening in...and possibly judging them. I think an accessible leader is worth that cost, as long as the leader maintains an awareness of the impact of hovering. There's a difference between support and judgment, and employees know it when they feel it.

The CEO Who is Everywhere 



Here are some wonderfully simple coaching questions that you can use today to elevate a conversation from the mundane to the life-changing:


  • What’s the most important thing to you about this issue?
  • What’s the risk of not taking action?
  • What is currently impossible to do that, if it were possible, would change everything?
  • What’s the thing you’re not saying?
  • What else? What else? What else?


On my blog and on LinkedIn, I offer a delicious recipe for employee lawsuits. Just stir and bake!


Consulting services on offer: Coaching, Retreats and Facilitation, Competency Mapping, The Right Physical Environment, Misson/Vision Development, Leadership Circle Profile Assessment, and more strategic people practices for an innovation culture: http://charlesbankconsulting.com


I look forward to seeing you in 2016!

May your culture shine bright,



Cedar Pruitt

Founder, CharlesBank Consulting



Top Ten Ways to Get Your Employees to Sue You

10. Don’t write down your core values

Employees can make their own interpretations about what’s important in your organization. And once they’ve figured it out, they can act on their assumptions.

9. Don’t be intentional about your culture

Let it grow and flourish organically. Who knows what will happen? And who cares, really? Culture – that special sauce of attributes, behaviors and customs – doesn’t impact the bottom line…right?

8. Don’t create a competency model

Who needs to document a set of skills, behaviors and attributes? By laying out the expectations of every employee at every level and creating a framework for dialogue throughout the performance management cycle, you’re making things too clear.  Keep them vague enough for prolonged lawsuits.

7. Don’t have a compensation strategy.

You know who should decide comp numbers? Individual hiring managers.

6. Avoid bonuses.

There should be no structure that lets people understand where they fall in relation to others and how their performance measures up against company-wide expectations. Just pay them whatever you pay them and hope that they eventually soak up legal fees in a nice lawsuit.

5. Just say no to internal communication.

If you hold on to information and keep it restricted to a core group, then you will not need to worry that employees feel trusted. And if they don’t feel respected and trusted, then maybe they will sue you.

4. Create an “us vs. them” community.

If employees feel excluded, dominated, or bullied, then perhaps, when you fire them, they’ll sue you!

3. Terminate in a way that makes employees feel a little less human.

You can deliver the news, along with a severance package, in a nice way. You can deliver it in a not nice way. You can not deliver it at all and see what happens then.  Or have someone who disagrees with the decision deliver it.

2. Skip compliance and sexual harassment education.

The employees can probably figure it out on their own. Or maybe not.

1.     Whatever you do, do NOT train your managers how to manage.

Obviously, they already know!




Emissions and Omissions [Office Ecology 2]

Hello culturians, 

Welcome to another issue of Office Ecology, a newsletter from the newly minted Charlesbank Consulting!

When company culture makes the news, it’s usually for the wrong reasons. I nearly sent out breaking news bulletins when the exposé on life at Amazon broke in August, but I figured I’d let the exchange settle down and contribute a summary, below. It’s hard to know how to learn from Amazon, though. Do we boycott or celebrate a privileged white-collar culture that uses certain brutal cultural practices to innovate? People I respect fall on both sides. I don't work there, but I’m not boycotting, either. 

Volkswagen, however, is almost the inverse of Amazon, and theirs is a culture with some nice chewy lessons to deliver now that they've been revealed as world-class deceivers on emissions. While Amazon employees are encouraged to fight bitterly and at length for their ideas, Volkswagen culture is deeply insular, influenced by its geography (remote Wolfburg, Germany), origins (the Nazis) and management (family-dominated). With no real diversity of thought, and no outside opinions, challenges to the wrong course were never forceful enough to budge the overt action of VW leaders. So if VW encouraged diversity, and respected outside opinions (like the EPA), would they have architected a process to mislead consumers about their impact on the environment? Hypothesis, and I’m just throwing it out there: Diverse dialogue increases innovation and decreases evil.

The VW board, an amalgamation of people chosen by the family and the union, is focused on maximum job creation, employing almost twice as many people as Toyota. Could that be why they exist? Tellingly, they do not have a mission statement, but they do have plenty of verbiage about offering attractive, safe, and environmentally sound vehicles....

Problems at Volkswagen Start in the Boardroom

Culture starts at the top; omissions of dialogue led to an undercurrent of silence, and it’s going to be a very expensive silence for VW.

Performance Reviews: Yes or No?

The New Yorker: The Push Against Performance Reviews

I like the headline "Study finds that every single person hates performance reviews." And yes, Deloitte is once again leading the pack with their two-assertion process in place of detailed yearly write-ups: 

1. On a five-point scale, rate the statements "Given what I know of this person's performance, and if it were my money, I would award this person the highest possible compensation increase and bonus" 


2. "Given what I know of this person's performance, I would always want him or her on my team." 

Performance reviews are not in style right now.

What does this mean for the annual appraisal? Should we keep doing it? So far, my sympathies lie with the "for" category. We need a structured time for dialogue. I can tell you from experience that it rarely "just happens." Someone has to force it - either a strong manager or a confident employee. And are we to expect that all people crave feedback? Sadly, how to receive feedback is not something that gets taught in school, to confirm depressing-but-true recent statements by Laurene Powell Jobs: "[Schools] were created for the workforce we needed a hundred years ago." For that we have Thanks For the Feedback, by Stone & Heen. Let's all take a moment to re-read it.


Using secret feedback mechanisms encourages that least favorite of company politics: two-faced-ness. Isn’t that what they are calling it these days? You say one thing in private and another in public? When the feedback source is kept secret, it’s rarely rooted in the success of the other person. This reality undermines teamwork. Transparency, on the other hand, promotes teamwork.

Then again, as the Times writes, "Jeff Bezos has created a culture in which employees know exactly where they stand." That is one version of transparency. 

I find this article to be a decent overview of the situation and related articles:

 "Work Policies May Be Kinder, But Brutal Competition Isn't"

And more

Backlash Against Living Wages

Just found this fascinating. What a great concept - pay everyone enough to allow them to pay their bills. Who could find fault in that? Well, a lot of people, it turns out.

Phenomenal Parental Leave

A year? Like in Europe? A year? They must be trying to create a culture that supports women and autonomous adulthood. I like that, even as I worry about their balance sheet, like a true American.


I like to engage the right brain. Doesn’t everyone? It lets us be here now. And frees us from all the analytical planning and scheduling that we spend retreat time doing. 

Here's one tool I’ve used in my retreats lately to engage the right brain, as a short break from left-brain thinking: 

Everyone has a marker, paper, and thirty seconds. Once the thirty seconds is up, everyone passes the paper to their right. The only rule is that they must build on the image by connecting to an existing mark on the page (and making their own marks). Thirty more seconds pass. A picture is emerging. We repeat, until all have drawn. Once each person has their original piece of paper, we stop. Now each team member has a team-created piece of art. Each artwork is very different, because each beginning was very different. And perhaps most important: each person has been freed from the tyranny of planning for just an instant – and is rooted back in their authentic selves, in the moment. We go back to planning, but there is something a little more light-hearted in the air.

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Here's to cultures that thrive,



“Listen,” I heard him say in his young, tough voice as I gathered my boxing gloves and sweaty wraps and stuffed them in my husband’s weathered yellow bike bag. “I want to talk to you.”  In the middle of friendly suburban mom goodbyes, my boxing instructor had pulled aside a classmate of mine who was scheduled to spar in a bout in downtown Boston in a few days. But first he looked her in the eye, and spoke carefully and quietly. “I want to talk to you about your technique. But before I do, I want you to know: I am only giving you this feedback because I really want to see you succeed. Do you want to hear it?” She nodded vigorously and stepped away from the crowd of us to take the time to really hear what he had to say. Her openness to change was obvious even from outside the conversation.  Her shoulders were relaxed, her eyes were open, and she was looking at him. She trusted him to have the right expertise, and to know how to observe and engage her. He knew how to deliver punches, and feedback too, in just the right way. And the stakes were high enough to motivate her to be at her best. She’s going to be getting hit, over and over, and hitting back, maybe, in front of a lot of people.  She’s got to protect something that couldn’t be less abstract: her own physical being, the same person who is a mom to two daughters and at the center of their universe. That’s a lot to keep safe.

Witnessing their exchange made me think of work, from the punches we take in the ring in front of an audience –and also those punches that we feel and throw out of the ring, those punches that come when we don’t even know there’s a ring nearby. Boxing is clean, tidy fighting. It happens in one place and everyone involved knows they are involved. Work in an office isn’t like that. Sometimes you just get pummeled, metaphorically speaking.

But feedback at work can be delivered as though it’s by a good boxing instructor. When it is delivered well, it will be received and applied with a great deal more care and attention than feedback that is indirect, implied, rudely stated or delivered without consent.

Next time you have something you need someone to hear, and it will involve change on their part, ask them if they are ready for it. Look for signs that they will hear you.  Show them that you can listen to them. When you want to say it, lay it out straight. Demonstrate the wrong way. Demonstrate the right way. Point out differences in each way. And most importantly, DO want them to succeed. Want them to succeed enough that they can hear it in your voice.  And then tell them. Tell them. Because in a ring-less world, most of us are listening hard to hear anyone cheering for us. 

When Org Charts Lie, and Die [Office Ecology 1]

Summer can feel so delightfully slow, but change is in the air. In my consulting practice, as I work with companies to develop their culture and strategic HR, facilitating retreats and coaching leaders, I find myself continually uncovering great stories of organizations and leaders grappling with the conscious change of beliefs, attitudes, traditions and institutions. And I want to share them.

Welcome to my let's-call-it-quarterly newsletter, Office Ecology, building expertise by featuring some of those stories:

Zappos Pioneers a Fresh Approach to Company Growth

As I learned first-hand in May while spending a week at Culture Camp in the Zappos headquarters, Tony Hsieh and his team are in a truly tenuous position, making transparent the downside of traditional hierarchy and freeing themselves of bosses, job descriptions, and the expected. What was really interesting to me was the fact that in spite of the uncertainty, employees were incredibly passionate about the mission ("Live and Deliver WOW") in a way that you might never link to selling shoes online. They are truly pioneering the re-creation of intentional culture. 

From the article: "But as Zappos grew, innovation slowed. The staff expanded, more managers joined the ranks, and the freewheeling culture lost momentum. “We had gone from being a fast speedboat to a cruise ship,” one longtime employee said.

When Google Leaders Rotate to 'The Bench' 

Google is not the only company with executives OFF projects yet ON payroll, but it's always good to learn about how they keep their innovation culture humming.  It's also useful to learn how to retain talent during inevitable business shifts.

From the article: "It helps keep people off the market," one former Google executive says. "It helps keep the institutional knowledge if you need them back for any reason."

Using Code to Improve Recruiting

The recruiting process should always include an interview focusing on 'culture fit.' But what happens when 'culture fit' means 'hire someone like me'? The research is in, and it continually demonstrates that diverse thought leads to increased shareholder value. Sometimes it takes a little automation to find those candidates.

From the article: "Language like “top-tier” and “aggressive” and sports or military analogies like “mission critical” decrease the proportion of women who apply for a job. Language like “partnerships” and “passion for learning” attract more women. So where do humans fit if recruiting and hiring become automated?"

Why One Company Abolished Performance Reviews and Forced Ranking  

Can informal networks solve the problems created by org charts? When HR played the role of embedded analyst, that is precisely what it found. 

From the article: "A series of communication problems with a key customer had resulted in missteps and quality concerns. The obvious, traditional solution might have been to focus on the salespeople who met the customer. Instead the HR team reflected on an intriguing line of research: the idea that organizations are networks, not just hierarchies and business units."


I'd love to hear about your org chart innovations, whether they are happening now or perhaps somewhere in your future vision. Enjoy the summer!