How My Mom Judged My Husband and What That Has to Do with Building/Changing a Corporate Culture

When I first started dating my now husband, my parents were not very happy. They feared that as a Caucasian guy, he would be prone to divorce, since Western cultures don’t value marriages as much as a traditional Chinese family. To combat that stereotype and to win my parents over, my husband wrote quite a few long letters, professing his love and his commitment to family life etc., and had my brother translated them word by word for my parents. My parents listened, but we could tell that they weren’t convinced.

Then one day, we moved back to the Bay Area. We went to see my parents, and almost instantly, we felt that they were much warmer towards my husband. Later on, my Mom said, “We don’t judge by what someone says. We watch what he/she does.” Upon hearing this, my husband told me that my parents were really smart…

As I was musing over this one day, it dawned on me how much similarities there were to building or changing a corporate culture. Following these three simple steps, and a CEO (my husband) can win over any skeptical employees (my parents).

  1. Identify Your Partner(s) in Crime

  2. Draw up a Plan and Communicate Often

  3. Do What You Say and Be Consistent

Identify Your Partner(s) in Crime

In order to build (or change) a corporate culture, the CEO must first identify at least one ally that share his/her vision. Ideally, such an ally has the trust of the employees. Obviously, if I did not have faith in my husband and shared his vision, he wouldn’t have gotten very far with my parents, left alone changing their minds.

Draw up a Plan and Communicate Often

Once the desired work culture is identified, the CEO needs to come up with a plan on how to execute that within the company. He needs to communicate his vision to the employees, listen to their feedback, and make adjustments as necessary.

Communicating often is important, and stating the obvious. If there are gaps, people tend to fill in those gaps unconsciously by themselves, and in doing so, they make assumptions that are usually, incorrect.

Do What You Say and Be Consistent

While frequent communication is important, don’t ever expect that words alone would create the corporate culture you want. Most employees, even if they come from a similar corporate culture, remain skeptical in a new environment, or when a new corporate culture is being built. This is even more difficult when employees come from a different culture (like my parents). They would quietly watch the CEO’s actions, and trust would build up slowly each time the CEO does what he/she says, but everything can crumble down quickly if there is an instance that the CEO does not deliver (or worse, does the opposite).

We have all seen companies where the stated culture is to value innovation and creativity, and yet the people who get promoted are not the calculated risk takers but the conservative no-sayers. We say that we value employees’ opinions, and yet the truth tellers are marginalized (or punished) and employee suggestions are rarely implemented (unless the suggestion comes from the leadership circle)… Nothing makes employees cynical and kills a corporate culture more quickly than inconsistencies. So before you say anything, make sure that you have a plan on how to deliver that, and then make sure that you do deliver.

Over the years, some of my Chinese relatives got divorced, and remarried. My husband and I are still living happily ever after (with many arguments in between). We even moved to China for a few years to be close to my parents after they retired. As my parents watch us, they have started saying things like, “You should move back to the U.S.. It’s not easy for G. living here. You have to be more considerate for him.” I know that they have truly embraced him.

When employees truly believe in and embrace a company’s culture, they start looking out for the company’s welfare, without prompting. Their faith and loyalty is priceless. While building/creating a corporate culture is never easy, just remember this ultimate reward.

- S. Wallace