Culture is Everyone’s Job



Hi, I’m Ginger Hardage, and I’m the founder of Unstoppable Cultures. Previously, I was senior vice president of Culture and Communications at Southwest Airlines, where I spent 25 great years. It’s a pleasure to be with you today.

I want to talk about how culture is everyone’s job and three things you can do this month to address the most talked about organizational culture concerns. When we’re out with Unstoppable Cultures and I’m speaking with organizations or companies or trade associations across the country, three topics continue to dominate. Leaders want to know how to address some of the debacles that are making headlines today. I’d like to share the most talked about scenarios that we’re hearing.

Culture is Everyone's Job

Number one is when senior leadership fails the organization.

When Senior Leadership Fails an Organization

I think you can see from this headline about Lululemon, and in it a statement about the resignation of the CEO, and the company says there was a range of instances where he demonstrated a lack of leadership and fell short of standards of conduct.

Screenshot of the News Headline

And here, this headline is all about Nike. In April, The New York Times published an in-depth story on the toxic work environment at Nike, and this story from Fast Company details that since then a trickle of male executives have quietly left the athletic apparel giant in the wake of detailed allegations of sexism against female employees.

Screenshot of the News Headline: 3 Things we Learned about Nike's Toxic Work Culture this Weekend

And then I think we all heard about the chief executive of Audi, the luxury automaker that’s owned by Volkswagen, where that CEO was arrested on suspicion of fraud in relation to the German car maker’s emissions-cheating scandal. Their chairman was detained a week after his home was searched, and German prosecutors are really making a focus of a probe of their investigation of Audi and emissions controls.

Screenshot of the News Headline: Audi CEO Arrested in Diesel Emissions

It was not your imagination. There is definitely more pressure on CEOs, and more of them are resigning because of it. So here is some analysis from Spencer Stuart that we have compiled that shows CEOs resigning under pressure. 2016, there were 9% of CEOs. In 2017 that rose just 15%. And just in the first quarter of 2018, 31% increase in CEOs resigning under pressure. And when CEOs resign, it magnifies the impact on the rest of us in our organizations, all the way from our employees to our customers to our shareholders to our stakeholders.

Graph showing CEOs Resigning Under Pressure

What is the number one thing that all of us can do if we find ourselves in this situation? Have a plan and be prepared to work that plan. One major trade association estimates that only 56% of organizations are really ready for a crisis or have a change of management plan in place. Your organization may be too small to devote a lot of resources to such a plan, but at a minimum, take the time to invest in at least identifying a firm that you could call when time is of the essence for your organization.

Anticipate scenarios, as we’ve learned from the recent headlines. A leadership failure can take many forms: tweets, videos, employees coming forward. All of these things have downed numerous management teams in recent months. If your organization’s large enough, make sure your internal audit, your communications, your legal, and other departments are all partnering together to really identify the risk because do we think Audi really was prepared for the arrest of their CEO?

Anticipate Scenarios

Next thing you need to do is designate a crisis team. All organizations, especially if you’re a public company — you know, the board’s going to take a lead if it’s a crisis involving your CEO, but regardless of the type of reputational crisis that you might be experiencing, identify a team of experts who really can help you develop that crisis team and are prepared to rehearse their roles in responding to a crisis. Also, take the time to find a primary spokesperson who could respond to the media and a team of individuals who are trained to respond to social media.

Designate a Crisis Team

You’re going to need to communicate quickly and frequently, because in the absence of information coming from your company, your audiences are going to make up their own answers, and best-in-class organizations are already ready withholding statements, press releases, various templates that they’re ready to be able to respond quickly in a crisis.

Communicate Quickly and Frequently

Demonstrate a bold action plan, and avoid the most common mistake that most companies make, and that is failing to apologize. Have the courage and the vulnerability to admit a failure because it can really shorten the duration of almost any situation, and articulate what you are doing, the specifics, to prevent the crisis from occurring again. Large brands can use all of their channels to talk to their audiences, some even use paid advertising. We’re going to look at one of those such ads. Vern Oakley, whose organization creates corporate videos and analyzes how companies respond, recently brought this particular ad to my attention. It’s Uber’s CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, and it’s a real teaching moment about the elements of a recovery plan, so let’s take a look at that ad.

Demonstrate a Bold Action Plan

The second scenario we’re hearing when we’re out on the road is about when your employer brand takes a beating.

When your Employer Brand takes a Beating

Only 29% of employees in this particular example that we’re looking at here are willing to recommend their employer to a friend. One conclusion about this company is that employees don’t feel that they have a say in the solution and that they don’t feel that they can make an impact. In some industries, the turnover rate of hourly workers is 50% in the first 120 days. Can you imagine the drain that has on management time and training dollars? That level of turnover doesn’t allow you to have a stable culture at all or one to take root. Here’s action item number two. If you find yourself in this situation, how to reverse, how much a bad employer brand is costing your company.

You’ve got to start with listening and then take corrective action. You know, listening can take many forms, an employee listening survey, listening tours with your senior management to various locations, but then the management team needs to put bold action plans in place. You may need to do management changes, policy revisions. You’ve got to put in place constant feedback loops. There are many actions, those are just three of them, that may be necessary for you to respond.

Start with Listening, then take Corrective Action

Send a clear message on workforce harassment and abuse. Let’s just look back at two of the examples we talked about earlier: Nike and Lululemon. Decisive management action was taken, leadership was changed, but it’s important to have other devices in place to be able to respond such as hotlines and feedback mechanisms. What is in place to really reinforce the dialogue and say that we have zero tolerance environments?

Send a clear message on Workforce Harassment and Abuse

Use storytelling, but start inside the organization. Share examples of how customer feedback is talking about your employees, especially those stellar examples of how they’re serving your employees. Use your storytelling on every challenge to reinforce your brand. Use leadership emails, intranet, social media, because stories are really what people remember and it engages our hearts and our minds at the same time.

Use Storytelling

What are you doing to highlight your employees? Because they are your best brand advocate, and the best employer branding lets our employees be the face of our companies in everything from advertising to social media.

Here’s a video from Shopify that was pointed out by Glassdoor. It’s a great example of a strong employer brand.

Highlight Employees

Here’s our last scenario, scenario number three. What we’re hearing is when culture isn’t considered a strategy. I know you’ve all heard the saying culture eats strategy for breakfast, and even the best business strategy will fail if our employees aren’t engaged in achieving that strategy. All organizations have culture, and some of the ones we’ve discussed today just aren’t on the healthy side. Our last action item, demonstrate how purpose can change an organization.

When Culture isn't Considered Strategy

One of the first things you do is be the kind of leader that others want to follow, and as leaders, what we do always trumps what we say because remember, employees are watching and they’re watching how we live the values of our organization every day.

Be the Kind of Leader Others want to Follow

You’ve got to motivate that through modeling behavior, so how are you aligning your recognition programs, your incentive programs to really enforce the values of your organization? Analyze how that formal and informal recognition shows up under your leadership.

Motivate through Modeling Behavior

What are we doing to connect employees to the purpose of our organization? Because as leaders, that is the role of our organization, to connect employees to the uniqueness of our organization and help them understand the difference that they’re making in our organization and how that can really change their lives.

Connect Employees to the Purpose of the Organization

Here’s one final example, and this one comes from KPMG, the financial services firm. The company created an app and a challenge. The challenge was to find 10,000 stories that really did talk about the difference their employees made. They created this great app. It’s an example all of us could take. It could take a different form, but it’s a thought of an idea we could all follow through.

And this one, this employee, created a poster from this app that says, “I help farms grow,” because, in this example, this employee works with lending institutions, and he helps find money to loan money to small farms and ranches, and in turn, he really makes a difference. He helps farms grow. Another example, an employee said, “I help fight terrorism,” because this employee worked again with lending institutions and helped prevent money laundering, because money laundering could, in turn, help money get back into the hands of the terrorist, so the saying, “I help fight terrorism.”

I Help Farms Grow

Thank you for tuning in today about the three things that we’re hearing in Unstoppable Cultures as we’re out on the road talking to organizations and trade association what leaders throughout our country are thinking about. I know some of you have inquired about the Unstoppable Cultures Fellowship, and we’re hosting that in Santa Fe, New Mexico at the Four Seasons resort November 12th through 15th, and we hope you can join us. We know some of you are already signed up, and some of you are still inquiring.

It’s going to be true immersion into culture. We’re going to have four outstanding leaders who are going to serve as coaching. We’ll have someone from Chick-fil-A, someone from Disney, someone from Navy Seals, and also filling in from Southwest Airlines as well. So you’ll be able to spend quality time with these individuals, people who have really built the culture of these outstanding organizations. Chick-fil-A, Disney, Navy Seals, Southwest Airlines, they’ll be sharing the lessons they have learned.

Unstoppable Cultures Fellowship

The most important thing we want to do at the fellowship is make sure that we help you, whether you’re an entrepreneurial organization starting off and you’re trying to get your culture right or you’re a culture that’s been around for a while and you’re just trying to figure out ways to enhance it. We’ll be working with personal plans developed for you in how to go about making your culture at your organization unstoppable. You’ll be able to work with the other organizations. We’ll be building an alumni network based on the other organizations who are there, and then I’ll be following up with coaching sessions, three months of coaching sessions with you, to make sure that you’re staying on track, that you’re happy with where you’re able to implement the many things we talked about and learned about at the fellowship, and we want to help you make it stick and make culture real and make it unstoppable in your organization as well. We hope you’ll join us for the Unstoppable Cultures Fellowship, Santa Fe, New Mexico, November 12th through 15th, 2018. Thank you.