Opinion: Fix your company culture before it becomes a full-blown crisis
SMRT, Singapore’s rail operator, is in crisis mode. Things just got worse when one of its trains collided with another, leaving dozens of commuters injured.
Before this, it experienced a flooding, internal fraud, a fatal workplace accident, and not to mention a litany of breakdowns.
SMRT CEO Desmond Kuek, an army general who took the helm in 2012 after the company experienced massive disruptions the year before, attributes the problems to “deep-seated cultural issues.”
You don’t need half a decade to fix a company’s culture. Consider Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella, who engineered a successful change in the software giant’s culture within three years.
Microsoft has about 10 times the number of employees of SMRT.
The SMRT debacle, coupled with Uber’s long line of public failures culminating in the ouster of founder and CEO Travis Kalanick, show one thing: the best form of crisis management is prevention.
In the technology industry, we talk of “technical debt” – where convenient but sub-optimal software fixes result in an unstable product that could cause all kinds of problems for users down the road.
But do not ignore cultural debt. After all, people maintain systems, as SMRT learned the hard way. A broken culture won’t just break a software. It puts the entire business at risk.
It’s the boiling frog syndrome. Broken processes and cultural problems – such as a tolerance for sloppy work or sexual harassment – will cause internal problems and resentment. They may not seem serious, and are therefore ignored.
But in the age of social media and virality, the butterfly effect looms large. As these problems fester, one public incident could turn your cultural debt into a full-blown crisis.
A public letter from an ex-Uber employee was all it took to snowball into the #metoo movement that’s affecting not just the tech industry, but now Hollywood. Dozens of powerful executives have been given the boot.
For managers and bosses everywhere, the lesson is clear. Prioritize your company’s culture in all your processes, from hiring to quality control. Update your cultural values if needed; it’s not an empty corporate exercise.
It is better to nip problems in the bud before they haunt you.
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