Thursday, July 14, 2011

CEO and culture - Rupert Murdoch and today's living examples

I am in England for a few days this week and, splashed all over the headlines, we have a great example of company culture and how it is set from the top. The hacking scandal at News Corp is Rupert Murdoch's nightmare and a classic case of unethical behavior having been tolerated by him and his senior team for a long time.

The News Corp anti-establishment (anti-journalism) culture, while it led to huge circulation, revenue and the accumulation of wealth and power for the Murdochs, is going to send some people to jail, profoundly damage their reputation and has already caused the death of News of the World ... and I venture is going to spill over to the reputation of that veritable institution the Wall Street Journal. As David Ignatious says in an excellent piece in the Washington Post on the cultural aspects of what is happening "News Corp.’s [I think he means Rupert Murdoch's] identification with the common man seems to have bred an arrogance and contempt for traditional rules." -- and this one is too cute to miss...

The CEO sets the culture of a company - good or bad. His or her behavior, what they do and what they tolerate, more than what they say, sets the behavior and expectations of the organization. As CEO your employees watch every move you make, every expression, and if you cherish building a great culture you need to pay attention to the details.

Reed Hastings of Netflix is a great example on the positive side. He's a warm, smart, very principled person and the Netflix culture reflects that. Tony Hsieh, CEO at Zappos, did a wonderful job of building a customer-centric and humorous culture, and used social media extensively to promote it. In contrast Mark Hurd was not a culture fit for HP and when he fell from grace for false expenses and inappropriate behavior the culture and the board rejected him - although right into the arms of a company that better fits his culture - Oracle - long known as a tough (but very successful) culture.

The little things count and today how you present yourself to the world on social media plays a key role in your culture with your customers and marketplace. I was interviewed this week for an article on CEO blogs (whether to, the risks, the reasons to, how to find the time) and I told the interviewer that my one worry is stepping over the line and offending someone. This is a challenge because if you are perfect then you are boring. I strive for authenticity, opinion and some humor mixed in.

Take Tuesday's example of the fine line -- the InsideView CEO photoshopped into this photo by employees and then tweeted out by @insideview. Funny? or tolerating a culture promoting the objectification of women? One of my customers (a male) was appalled, one of my employees just thought it must be an East Coast company (it is not). (post ed. - I offended this CEO who felt I was stereotyping his Italian descent - which I had not considered - and making judgements of his company's culture - which I was not intending to. My goal was to use the example only to call the question of the fine line. I apologize.)

Culture is set from the top, good culture shines from the leader; fish rot from the head. Social media is here to stay and we face an exciting challenge as CEOs and marketing people to harness it's power in a positive way to build our cultures and make those cultures visible to our customers. And to carefully learn from the horrible example we see playing out in the uk press today.

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