Thursday, January 26, 2006

Nurtring a candid culture

Business Times p.B3
Thursday, January 26, 2006

By Moje Ramos-Aquino, FPM
Nurturing a candid culture

The song goes: How do you solve a problem like Maria? How do you keep a wave upon the sand? How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?

You don’t and can’t because Maria is simply being outspoken and spontaneous and candid. You are blessed to have Marias in your organization.

The issue is how to leverage candor and create a candid culture where people with significant resources and bright ideas participate in strategic conversations. A culture of openness, respect and trust where diversity is encouraged and rewarded.

The January 30 issue of Fortune Magazine honors “The 100 Best Companies To Work For In America.” And here is how some of these companies nurture candor and innovation by Betsy Morris and Daniel Roth in separate articles:

Intel is known for its tough, confrontational culture in which employees are encouraged to speak up. CEO Paul Otellini has his own blog. “How cool is that?” says one employee.

At Ikea, 80 percent of employees agree that “people are given a lot of responsibility here.”

To encourage innovation at W.L. Gore & Associates, there are no bosses, job titles or organization charts, just sponsors, team members and leaders.

At Plante & Moran, bad bosses beware: The goal is a “jerk-free” workforce at the accounting firm, where the staff is encouraged to live by the Golden Rule and abide by the credo “Speak up. If it’s not right, we’ll change it.”

Open communication and discussion are vital at Alston & Bird. Everyone is kept in the loop via monthly firm meetings, fireside chats, “town hall” meetings and a daily online newsletter.

Cisco System CEO John Chambers holds monthly meetings with workers and encourages them to ask him tough questions.

American Express has an ombudsperson office to handle confidential complaints. If you have worked 12 to 24 months in one position, you can apply to rotate to a different job or to a different country.

At Hot Topic, workers express themselves, love wearing what they want (including tattoos and nose piercings) and saying what they want.

Feedback matters at Synovus. They solicit employee opinions via intranet that can now be accessed from home and workers are also surveyed online every month.

First Horizontal National has its “Fishpower” culture that puts bank employees ahead of customers and shareholders.

For all of FedEx clock-watching and efficiency, the company is remarkably hands-off. Its delivery workers set their own route. Once they leave the station, they are their own boss. They are expected to decide what’s right for the day. Nicky Cava swears that “the only way you lose your job at FedEx is if you make yourself lose your job.”

Christopher Hunsberger, general manager of Four Seasons Hotel, Washington, D.C., says, “We want individuals to think and be natural rather than just robotically doing things.” Endale Tessema has been working the door for 23 years and does things pretty much as he pleases—no canned speeches, no formal way of opening the door or lugging the luggage. He just makes it up as he goes, and he says people in charge learn from him. “The managers, instead of coming in and imposing things on me, they come in and learn how things work. If they want to change it, they’ll change it later. They have to learn first.”

That policy, those in management say, helps ensure that ideas from the bottom bubble up—and that the hotel’s personality flourishes. “Some employees have been at this since I was in grade school,” says director of revenue management Noel Merainer. “They are the experts on a lot of things that were new to us as managers.”

Get a copy of Fortune and learn from these 100 great companies.

Moje is president of Paradigms & Paradoxes Corp. Email her at

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