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,


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!