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Scarlett of Suburbia

Field Notes from The Motherhood

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August 2009

A Good Way To Change a Corporate Culture

“So, Peter, how do you change the culture of a company?”

Such a simple question. I wanted to give him a simple answer.

But a culture is a complex system with a multitude of interrelated processes and mechanisms that keep it humming along.

Performance reviews and training programs define the firm’s expectations. Financial reward systems reinforce them. Memos and communications highlight what’s important. And senior leadership actions — promotions for people who toe the line and a dead end career for those who don’t — emphasize the firm’s priorities.

In most organizations these elements develop unconsciously and organically to create a system that, while not always ideal, works. To change the culture is awkward, self-conscious, and complex. It’s better to avoid it if possible.

“Why do you want to change the culture?” I asked him. “The firm seems successful. Highly profitable. The culture seems to be working to support those goals. Why not keep it?”

He had to think for a few moments. “It’s not sustainable. Eventually we’ll lose our best people. No one will want to work here.” And then he paused. “I won’t want to work here.”

That was good enough for me. But maybe not for everyone else. They’d spent years playing the game by a certain set of rules and they were playing to win. Now the head of the firm wanted to change the rules mid-game. Not easy to do. And not particularly subtle. We’d have to consciously change all the elements that have developed over decades to make up the system.

Or would we? In the late 1970s, University of Illinois researcher Leann Lipps Birch conducted a series of experiments on children to see what would get them to eat vegetables they disliked. This is a high bar. We’re not talking about simply eating more vegetables. We’re talking about eating specific vegetables, the ones they didn’t like.

You could tell the children you expect them to eat their vegetables. And reward them with ice cream if they did. You could explain all the reasons why eating their vegetables is good for them. And you could eat your own vegetables as a good role model. Those things might help.

But Birch found one thing that worked predictably. She put a child who didn’t like peas at a table with several other children who did. Within a meal or two, the pea-hater was eating peas like the pea-lovers.

Peer pressure.

We tend to conform to the behavior of the people around us. Which is what makes culture change particularly challenging because everyone is conforming to the current culture. Sometimes though, the problem contains the solution.

“Stories.” I said to the head of the firm.

“Excuse me?” he responded.

“You change a culture with stories. Right now your stories are about how hard you work people. Like the woman you forced to work on her wedding day. You may not be proud of it, but it’s the story you tell. That story conveys your culture simply and reliably. And I’m certain you’re not the only one who tells it. You can be sure the bride tells it. And all her friends. If you want to change the culture, you have to change the stories.”

I told him not to change the performance review system, the rewards packages, the training programs. Don’t change anything. Not yet anyway. For now, just change the stories. For a while there will be a disconnect between the new stories and the entrenched systems promoting the old culture. And that disconnect will create tension. Tension that can be harnessed to create mechanisms to support the new stories.

To start a culture change all we need to do is two simple things:

  1. Do dramatic story-worthy things that represent the culture we want to create. Then let other people tell stories about it.
  2. Find other people who do story-worthy things that represent the culture we want to create. Then tell stories about them.

For example, if you want to create a faster moving, less perfectionist culture, instead of berating someone for sending an email without proper capitalization, send out a memo with typos in it.

Or if you want managers and employees to communicate more effectively, stop checking your computer in the middle of a conversation every time the new message sound beeps. Instead, put your computer to sleep when they walk in your office.

Or if you’re trying to create a more employee-focused culture, instead of making the bride work on her wedding day, give her the week off.

We live by stories. We tell them, repeat them, listen to them carefully, and act in accordance with them.

 

http://blogs.harvardbusiness.org/bregman/2009/06/the-best-way-to-change-a-corpo.html#

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Growing Old in America: Expectations vs. Reality – Pew Research Center

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66% of us think a person is old when they can no longer drive a car. Great research report by Pew – lots of bar charts and yummy stats. Click on the graphic for linkage to the report.

We Are Social Media Sharecroppers | Conversation Agent

Friendfeed was (and still is) arguably one of the web’s most interesting and reliable applications, particularly in comparison to Twitter’s legendary flakiness. The service aggregates pretty much any RSS feed you can throw at it, dispensing and indexing it in near real time. Think of it as Twitter, Google, and Facebook, all rolled into one. Perhaps too complicated to ever crack the mass market – but an irresistible playground for hyper-active, hyper-noisy early adopters. 

The same users are screaming bloody murder today over what will most likely be Friendfeed’s swan song. Facebook clearly purchased the company for its technology and engineering team, and is unlikely to preserve the Friendfeed website after assimilating its better features. That’s the take of Friendfeed’s community, in any case. They’re vocal about it – angry, even. I confess I had a tear or two over it. Being populated by social media movers and shakers, the Friendfeed story is punching well above its actual weight.

The real take away

There’s a lesson in Friendfeed’s sale for all of us who spend time with social media, interact with customers online, or guide corporate digital outreach. Here it is: We are playing in somebody else’s yard. And we can be told to go home at any time.

That API your team just wrote an application for? It can be changed overnight – or disappear entirely. Maybe you’ve spent months developing a customer base on some promising service. A quick weekend deal, and that service is gone. Just business, of course. Companies don’t run on promises and rainbows forever, and cash is king in a tough economy. Things can change in the blink of an eye.

In a way, businesses working social media channels are sharecroppers. So are all the users. They labor on the services, both creating and receiving value.

YouTube Now Bigger Than MSN

http://mashable.com/2009/08/10/youtube-july-growth/

—————————————————————————————————-

Bridget McKinley

Manager, Strategy

Organic, Inc.

D: 248.454.4503 | M: 313.231.2779 | E: bmckinle@organic.com

2600 S. Telegraph Rd., Ste. 100, Bloomfield Hills, MI  48302

AIM: motocross33

www.organic.com

www.threeminds.com

This email is intended only for the person or entity to which it is addressed and may contain information that is privileged, confidential or otherwise protected from disclosure. Dissemination, distribution or copying of this email or the information herein by anyone other than the intended recipient, or an employee or agent responsible for delivering the message to the intended recipient, is prohibited. If you have received this email in error, please immediately notify us by calling our Help Desk at (415) 581-5552 or by e-mailing us at helpdesk@organic.com.

Using Twitter as a Collective Mood Ring

Two Vermont researchers are using Twitter to study crowd interactions and public opinion, intend to establish a public sentiment index (akin to the Dow Jones Industrial Average).

http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/11/using-twitter-as-a-collective-mood-r…

—————————————————————————————————-

Bridget McKinley

Manager, Strategy

Organic, Inc.

D: 248.454.4503 | M: 313.231.2779 | E: bmckinle@organic.com

2600 S. Telegraph Rd., Ste. 100, Bloomfield Hills, MI  48302

AIM: motocross33

www.organic.com

www.threeminds.com

This email is intended only for the person or entity to which it is addressed and may contain information that is privileged, confidential or otherwise protected from disclosure. Dissemination, distribution or copying of this email or the information herein by anyone other than the intended recipient, or an employee or agent responsible for delivering the message to the intended recipient, is prohibited. If you have received this email in error, please immediately notify us by calling our Help Desk at (415) 581-5552 or by e-mailing us at helpdesk@organic.com.

Your “Real” Friends are Your Online Friends (or so Says Gen Y)

via an August 10, 2009 article on:

How Chrysler Improved Bankruptcy

the Chrysler transaction gave the structure a 21st century makeover, which culminated in a court of appeals decision filed on Wednesday that cleared the way for the carmaker to move forward with its plan to emerge from bankruptcy. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected appeals by opponents of the Chrysler bankruptcy plan — notably the state of Indiana which has pension plans invested in Chrysler — to delay the bankruptcy proceedings.

Chrysler moved through court at lightning speed, convincing judges to allow it to skip district court and finishing in just 42 days from the time it filed its Chapter 11 petition.

By June 10, Chrysler had sold its assets to an alliance headed by Italy’s Fiat, which now holds a 20% stake and management control of the carmaker. The United Auto Workers union, through a voluntary employee benefits association (VEBA), currently owns 55% of the new Chrysler, while the U.S. and Canadian governments together have a 10% stake. The U.S. Treasury is providing $6.6 billion in exist financing, and Fiat is expected to increase its holdings when U.S. coffers are repaid.

Chrysler’s speedy exit from bankruptcy is attributable to two efforts: the groundwork done by its management to negotiate with the unions, suppliers, dealers, and Congress before filing for Chapter 11 protection, and the legal strategy of putting eight executives, including then–chairman and CEO Robert Nardelli and CFO Ronald Kulka, on the witness stand.

“We let the business tell the story rather than the lawyers,” says Corinne Ball of Jones Day, the lead attorney for the Chrysler rescue. It was management’s deep understanding of the business that allowed the bankruptcy court, appellate court, and Supreme Court to understand the urgency of expediting the process, according to Ball.

“Delay was our greatest fear,” recalls the attorney, who says the time line for exiting bankruptcy was dictated by the ability of Chrysler and its dealers and suppliers to operate as going concerns. Without an accelerated process, Chrysler, as well as some of its dealers and suppliers, was headed for extinction, she believes.

The marketplace consensus was that no automaker could survive the typical lengthy Chapter 11 proceedings. As the executives explained on the stand, cost-cutting measures lead to plant shutdowns, which in turn lead to idle production lines. That automotive supply chain can absorb such operations halts for only about six to eight weeks. After that, dealers run out of inventory and financing, and suppliers run out of receivables.

One more article from a business perspective (CFO) about what Chrysler did right…

The 10 Most Expensive Cars in the World

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Wonder why the beautifully-designed Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione didn’t make the cut for this list.

Twitter scoops GM launches | Freep.com | Detroit Free Press

According to their reports on Twitter, it sounds like GM is preparing some crowd pleasers — including a Chevrolet Camaro convertible and Cadillac CTS coupe.

GM emerged from bankruptcy as a new company July 10 and has been working to recast itself as a new automaker striving to listen to customers and their desires.

Noreen Pratscher, a GM spokeswoman, said the company brought in about 100 consumers to see the design center and drive vehicles at the Milford proving grounds. The group heard from GM executives, including GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz.

“The hope is to introduce consumers directly to the new GM,” she said.

GM CEO Fritz Henderson is expected to hold a news conference Tuesday at a similar event for the media to give an update on the new GM and make a product announcement.

But perhaps some of his thunder was stolen via Twitter.

Joel Feder of the Minneapolis-area wrote on his Twitter page this morning that the director of Cadillac told him that the CTS Coupe “is coming!!”

“Looking at Camaro convertible,” he wrote. “Wow.”

He also mentioned a Buick compact sedan. “I’d roll in this. Hot!”

The group also apparently got to see the new Buick crossover SUV announced last week.

Feder wrote that he got a glimpse at the “Buick version of the Saturn Vue.”

“Wow hideous,” he wrote. “Seriously though hideous. Enclave is still hot.”

He said all of the new Buick vehicles that they were showed are coming in the next two years.

Feder was impressed with the 2010 Chevrolet Malibu.

“So sad we have till 2012 for this new Chevy Malibu,” he wrote. “You don’t understand how good looking it is.”

Curating digital content and creators has become another job for the PR|Marketing|HR mashup.

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