I recently had and opportunity to assist the new CEO of a $60M business on a competition. What should have been business as normal had become confusing, and they were about to miss out on a significant opportunity. I did not contribute anything more than asking a couple key questions and providing strategy guidance.
At the conclusion of our final conversation, I asked the CEO how he got into this situation in the first place. He said, “All that people bring to my office is sugar candy.” His point was that he had not yet built a culture where people bring him bad news. Only good news arrives. I thought about “sugar candy” on the way home and remembered a time in my career where the company was attempting to create a culture of providing help needed and it back-fired. The managers were taught to use the “five-whys” and to offer help. What actually happened was subordinates were “five-why’d” to the point of feeling like idiots and the offer of help had the tone of “do you need me to do it for you?” People took their issues under cover. It was less painful.
I learned from that experience that the culture a leader creates is not always the one they want. The communication tools the leader uses might dictate the resulting culture. I need to explore this when the time is right with my CEO friend.
Have you seen small errors derail cultural change efforts? What could have been done differently?