Tag Archives: change

CEOs: Imagine You Are The Janitor

OK, I promise this will be the last entry on cultural change. At least for a while.
But I wanted to return to the topic that started this arc: changes in corporate culture. You might recall how I postulated that a company could change its culture only if that change started at the top. The CEO needs to live the culture that he wants the whole company to have.

But that raises a question: can a CEO, from his top of the heap position, even successfully think through cultural issues? Go back to my prior example, where there is a culture of being late to meetings because the CEO is always late to meetings. If the CEO is always late, but nobody is late to the CEO’s meetings (because he is the boss, after all), then maybe he doesn’t even realize that this culture exists, and that it wastes everyone’s time. His time isn’t being wasted, so perhaps he doesn’t even see the problem.

If this is true of the CEO, it is likely true of other high level executives, depending on the size of an organization. So how can these oblivious executives work to develop a functional corporate culture? Here I turn to the work of John Rawls, a titan of political philosophy.  Rawls tried to develop a political system that maintained the liberty of markets while countering the tendency of market economies to perpetuate economic disadvantages.

In his masterwork, A Theory of Justice, Rawls balanced these two competing strands through an invention he called the veil of ignorance. Rawls suggested that policy makers devise policies via a thought exercise in which they ignored their actual station in life and imagined how the policy would affect the least advantaged person in society. By operating behind a veil of ignorance as to how policies would affect them personally, they would develop policies that were fairer to everyone.

Maybe CEOs and other top executives should sometimes step behind a veil of ignorance. As a thought experiment, it’s not really that hard. Ask yourself “How would the average employee feel about this? What about the lowest ranking employee?” Only a CEO whose ego has been stoked to l’etat c’est moi proportions will not be able to imagine how his underlings might feel. In the case our always late CEO, surely he will recognize how people feel when he is always late to their meetings.  And if he is so Louis XIV that he is truly unable to imagine how others might feel, then that company’s culture is utterly doomed and everyone should just leave.

Shock & Awe – The Good Kind

Last night’s results created the type of shock and awe that we can all use. Not so much shock for me, since I’ve been confident of an Obama win for about a week, but definitely awe.

I was watching the results last night with about 20 friends, and we are generally a boisterous crowd. But when Obama gave his acceptance speech, we were utterly silent. That silence was not because we wanted to hear Obama’s dulcet tones; it was because we were struck speechless by the import of the moment.

America’s first black president. Think about it. We did; in mute awe my friends and I contemplated the greatness of that achievement. None of us are black, but we all recognized how important this was. Obama’s election probably won’t solve all the country’s race problems, but it sure feels like a big step. How can you not love a country where a black man named Barack Hussein Obama can rise from modest means to become president?

Yet our awed silence transcended Obama’s race, for there was a sense that his election represented a transformation of American politics. Votes for Obama were votes against divisiveness and for unity. They were votes against dishonesty and for solutions, against paralysis and for progress. They were votes that swept aside the past eight years, years of Bush and DeLay, of crony capitalism and Terri Schiavo. We were silent because Obama’s victory justified – wait for it – the audacity of our hope, our hope for change.