I was intrigued by this NYT piece about the cultural changes at Fannie Mae (slightly edited here).
Among the mortgage giant’s new house rules:
1. Demonstrate humility.
2. Communicate openly.
3. Make the company a no-spin zone.
4. Respect the views of others.
5. Minimize internal politics.
6. Apologize and quickly fix mistakes.
The company was criticized by investors and lawmakers for making arrogance an art form. It relied on an army of professional lobbyists and powerful strategic alliances in the housing and finance industries to silence critics. And when federal investigators found almost $11 billion worth of accounting errors in 2004, Fannie denied it had any problems, choosing to attack its regulator instead.
Now, Fannie’s chief executive, is trying to change the company’s old ways. But even he acknowledges that it will take far more than a new mission statement to prepare the company for the political and business challenges ahead.
I’ve seen a lot of different company cultures in my work (although I’ve got no experience or opinion about Fannie Mae specifically) and dealing with company culture is a huge part of the gig. I know some folks make an explicit offer to change company culture as part of their explicit outcome; for me, I’ve more looked at ways of influencing individuals within a culture in smaller ways through experiences. The indirect approach. And that seems to be a natural offshoot of trying to succeed as a consultant in a new culture anyway.
I think it’s enormously challenging (and the article makes that case as well) to effect cultural change inside an organization. In many ways its like trying to encourage a certain demographic of the public to adopt a product or service, and in many ways it’s much harder since the outcomes are not so tangible (number of burgers served, number of new subscribers, profit) and since the thing you are looking at is all around you. For most companies – the customers are “out there” but the culture is “in here” with them, and obviously harder to see.
I am intrigued and encouraged to see corporate culture being part of the mainstream business conversation; it’s very important. I don’t have many of the answers, certainly nothing that makes a pithy blog entry, but I know the terrain and I respect those who travel it.