Managing the Issue of Your Corporate Culture

A blog by a company engineer that went viral forced Uber CEO Travis Kalanick to face the troubling reality of abusive behavior by one of his managers. The health of corporate culture has suddenly become a very hot topic that merits serious issue management.

A blog by a company engineer that went viral forced Uber CEO Travis Kalanick to face the troubling reality of abusive behavior by one of his managers. The health of corporate culture has suddenly become a very hot topic that merits serious issue management.

'Managing issues' usually refers to an external problem or threat. Increasingly, it is becoming an internal matter centering on corporate culture.

Sexist, patronizing and predatory management behavior isn’t new, but it is suddenly making news headlines – and not in a good way. A telling marker of the new significance of corporate culture is that CEOs of publicly traded companies are being asked routinely about it in earnings calls with analysts. That reflects a concern by investors who view shaky corporate cultures as a financial risk.

There has long been grumbling – around the water cooler and in the ladies room – about inappropriate and unfair management practices. There have been movies such as “9 to 5” and “Norma Jean.” However, the buzz was mostly in the wind until social media emerged as the great equalizer. Suddenly bad boy behavior can and has become the talk of the town.

When Susan Fowler wrote a blog about her unsettling experiences as an engineer with Uber, it went far and wide on Twitter and Facebook. The ride-sharing company couldn’t make a clean getaway and was forced to face up to its corporate cultural history and begin to install stronger personnel policies. It needs to recast its corporate culture.

This isn’t just a problem for big-guy corporations. It can infect a company of any size.  And it definitely is not an issue that can be papered over with some whitewashing PR.

The trend instead is for companies to talk up their internal policies of zero tolerance for unacceptable actions. However, if you decide to talk the talk, be ready to walk the talk. You need to police your own ranks, take seriously any complaints and act when you find abuse by punishing the abuser, not the abused.

There may have been a revolution of sorts against political correctness, but don’t confuse that with relaxed sensitivities by employees or by customers to workplace wrongs. Research suggests customer loyalty can be squandered by bad treatment of employees. You could say bad behavior equals bad business.

Even if your business is on a roll, don’t assume everything is okay. Keep your eyes open and watch for signs of a toxic workplace environment. A smart issues management approach is for business leaders to lead by example. The best way to prevent a corporate crisis is to send a clear message you are paying attention and won’t tolerate demeaning or predatory acts by any one, any time.