wells fargo, business culture

Did Tim Sloan, the new CEO of Wells Fargo, tell us a lie? As the sell-at-all-costs sales culture at the banking giant became known to the public, Sloan stated “I’m not aware of any overbearing sales culture” at the institution. Yet, with the data we have now, it’s clear that employees worked in an environment where they were pressured to take unethical action.

Consider for a moment that Sloan was telling his truth. He would not be the first boss to report a specific certainty – when in fact an entirely different reality existed within the company.

In over two decades of supporting companies equip their teams to do big things, we’ve observed what could be considered science fiction: Organizations where employees operate in parallel universes: What the boss believes . . . and what employees know to be true.

Such a culture is dangerous, of course, because no one ever knows what is real. Consequently, employees must invest their time in creating two sets of plans. This drives massive amounts of chaos, ambiguity and swirl into the organization.

How does it happen? How does the boss operate in a reality that is not the employees’? In the spirit of Halloween, the answer can be put this way: Meetings with the boss are all treat – and no trick. In other words, most meetings with the boss are designed to create the emotional outcome of pleasure vs. pain.

We’re amazed at the number of companies that tolerate cultures which require employees to spend days (yes, days) preparing for a 30-minute presentation to the big boss. Sadly, these investments are usually made not to impress decision makers, but to ensure anger or displeasure isn’t provoked – and retribution delivered.

It’s well known the boss doesn’t like surprises. As a result, the data employees need to deliver is sanitized until it’s recognizable – meaning it’s what the boss wants to hear. No tricks, here. Only treats.

All CEOs must be accountable for the culture within their organization. Sloan may have told us the truth about the sales environment within Wells Fargo, but it was his truth . . . running parallel to the universe and reality within which employees operated.

His error reminds us all: Make certain our meetings aren’t filled with information we want to hear (treats). And when we receive bad news (tricks), welcome it.

Image courtesy of Siripem at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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