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What Happens When Groupthink Goes Wrong at the Executive Level


People are increasingly choosing to work for companies with mission statements and core values they can feel good about. It runs the gamut — whether environmental sustainability is a focal point, or social justice on a global level, or something else. These ideologies can make or break an employee’s faith in a company, particularly when what’s written on the “about us” or careers page doesn’t match the internal messaging or company culture.

It’s the job of the C-suite to set goals and put policies in place that facilitate positive, specific ideals and measurable outcomes for the entire organization. But often, it isn’t a lack of wordsmithing or choosing a mission that stalls progress (or worse, runs counter to it); it’s a lack of accountability and structure at the executive level. In order to bring these good-on-paper ideas to life, leaders need to allott dollars, time, and expert talent to them. In reality though, big bets and revenue-based growth opportunities tend to take priority. Why then invest in progressive mission statements? And what happens when a company goes against its beliefs?

The ROI of diversity and inclusion

There’s a reason we’ve seen an uptick in Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) roles in recent years — and it’s not just good PR. As Mondo reports, tech giants like Google, Microsoft, and Apple have had CDOs since 2016. Without a person tasked with employing inclusive initiatives, hiring practices, and programs, innovation and revenue can both take a hit. In fact, a 2018 McKinsey report found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 21% more likely to experience above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile. Similarly, for ethnic and cultural diversity, they found a 33% likelihood of outperformance. Diversity and inclusion are key for a healthy bottom line, but they’re also pillars of culture when it comes to retaining talent. Without them, it’s easy for an executive team to develop groupthink, rather than actively solicit ideas from all employees.

When mission statements don’t match the fine print

But what happens when even the most theoretically forward-thinking, enlightened companies aren’t on the same page with their employees? Bad PR, angry workers, and a whole lot of explaining to do — publicly and internally. And of course, new promises must be made.

Take Google, for instance, and the now-infamous walkout of 2018. Thousands of Google employees in New York, Singapore, Berlin, Zurich, Hyderabad, and several other offices took to the streets on November 1st to publicly protest the company’s mishandling of sexual harassment; particularly in the case of Andy Rubin, the creator of Android mobile software, who exited the company with $90 million in 2014.

While other companies have had similarly high-profile public protests (like last year’s strike by nearly 8,000 Marriott employees), Google employees set an important precedent in the age of “woke” workers. Thanks to social media, ethical violations — expensive or not — in the workplace can become common knowledge. And on social media, ethical violations go viral… and aren’t easily forgotten, or forgiven.

How to get on the same page as your employees

Granted, a multimillion-dollar exit package following an accusation of sexual harassment is a bit different from, say, quietly throwing all the recyclables in with the trash when your company claims to have eco-friendly practices in place. Regardless of scale though, the point is to choose your policies carefully — and then back them wholeheartedly. That requires breaking away from the comforts of groupthink, as well as hiring and training executives and employees who can employ important policies tactically.

But what if you’ve lost sight of your mission? Or you’re trying to adopt a new one? Chances are you already have one powerful resource at your disposal: your employees. The people in your organization are likely eager to help your business do good, not just well. It makes their everyday experience richer and helps company culture thrive inside and outside of the office. The good news is that there’s a foolproof way to get insights from your employees: ask questions, listen to the answers, and then put a plan into action.

Get feedback and measure employee engagement data

For starters, it should always be easy for employees to give feedback. A year-end survey or non-anonymous Google Form is likely to produce skewed, too-late, or inauthentic results, whereas more structured quantitative and qualitative confidential feedback collected on a regular cadence will generate more honest responses and give you insights you can actually track and measure. It’s helpful to have a solution that specifically measures employee engagement and can help you make smarter use of the findings.

There are other ways to build a culture of employee engagement, but the surefire way to know what your employees want and expect from your company culture, core values, and mission statement is to ask for opinions and have regular, candid discussions around your goals as an organization. Frequent feedback makes it possible for leaders to know what’s happening at every level of the business, avoid scandals and surprises, and retain talent.

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