corporate culture

Human Resources: A Dismal Profession?

In all the discussion about Wells Fargo in the wake of their sham accounts scandal, there’s been no real mention of who or what was the direct architect of their corporate culture. In my opinion, human resources should be responsible for the integrity of an organization’s culture just as much as the CFO might be responsible for the integrity of that organization’s numbers. I’ve worked in HR – early in my career, I was an HR professional, and throughout my career, I’ve worked with HR roles within my portfolio of responsibilities – and I think it’s safe to say that HR needs to be held accountable for the cultural makeup of a company. They’re the team that develops incentive programs like the ones that allowed 5,300 employees at Wells Fargo to lose their jobs for following their culture’s status quo. They’re the team responsible for ethics training, handling whistleblowers, and helping employees deal with the strain of impossible sales quotas. In my new book (out in January) and in previous blog posts, I’ve compared workplace cultures to ticking time bombs, which go off when a company’s leadership neglects the reality of a workplace structured for scandal. When a culture is a ticking time bomb, HR is almost always part of that problem, either in the form of discouraging whistleblowers, creating programs that don’t truly address interpersonal conflicts associated with sales goals, or creating a veneer of caring about customers and employees that’s entirely false. I suspect much of this went on at Wells Fargo – just look at the HR gobbledygook on their website (which hasn’t been updated since 2015) for evidence of this. However, as much as HR can be part of the problem with workplace culture, they can also be part of the solutions to fix those problems – if only HR professionals had the courage and honesty to stand up, acknowledge cultural issues, and inform leadership in order to make actionable changes needed to avoid disgraces that harm customers as much as they harm the organization’s reputation. 

Photo: Getty Images via Wall Street Journal 

We Still Need to Talk about Volkswagen

As seen in this article, the continual neglect by Volkswagen executives to consider their emissions cheating scandal a “real problem” in the months leading to the sudden announcement shows a fundamentally toxic corporate culture. It’s one thing to have cheating be a habitual aspect of your business, but it’s quite another to see cheating as so normal that it’s only worth setting 10 minutes aside in a meeting to discuss its possible financial and reputation-based ramifications. While some of the leadership of VW responsible for the scandal have left the company, VW still has a lot to prove in terms of repairing its image – both to customers and to current employees who may have been compelled to cooperate with the emissions cheating for fear of losing their job. Read more about their conduct at The New York Times.

Photo Credit: Justin Lane for European Pressphoto Agency, via NYT

Is Valeant Pharmaceuticals the Next Enron?

Companies where employees may be forced into engaging or witnessing illegal, unethical activities often have toxic environments for workplace well being. If the criticisms being leveled against Valeant are true, it would be unsurprising to discover a poisonous corporate culture at play. For more on the unhealthy work environment at Enron, check out the documentary “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.” Read more on Valeant here.

Cooking the Books in Bunches

When corporate wrongdoing is considered the norm, companies are better able to rationalize bad behavior and culture. When a corporation is revealed to be up to no good, like the recent Volkswagen scandal for example, the rest of the industry takes notice. For this reason, whistle blowers need to be supported by corporate culture, so that industry-wide practices can be above board both ethically and legally. Read more at the New York Times.

Is Your Corporate Culture a Ticking Time Bomb?

Corporate cultures that discourage employees from reporting wrongdoing are ticking time bombs. Situations like the Volkswagen scandal should be keeping senior executives up at night – what if there are legal and ethical breaches in their organizations that they’re not aware of? What if the employees in the know are too afraid to bring issues to their attention for fear of retaliation? Questions like these prove that creating a psychologically healthy workplace isn’t just in the best interest of employees – it’s another form of risk-management for CEOs who want to avoid becoming the next VW. Whistle blowers will only feel comfortable coming forward with essential information if the workplace culture is based on trust and encouragement. Here are two great reads on the VW scandal: Volkswagen says Whistle-Blower Pushed It to Admit Broader Cheating and VW Lost its Moral Compass in the Quest for Growth

"The Impact of Workplace Bullying"

A staggering 80% of people feel they are in an “unhelpful or hostile work environment,” according to Mental Health America. I spoke with Rex Huppke at the Chicago Tribune about how pervasive workplace bullying is, and how it is often an ingrained part of company culture itself. The only way to get employees to trust their HR departments enough to share their experiences is to create trustworthy corporate cultures. Read the full piece here.