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.

Consulting services on offer: Coaching, Retreats and Facilitation, Competency Mapping, The Right Physical Environment, Misson/Vision Development, and more strategic people practices for an innovation culture


Here's to cultures that thrive,