When Cultures Get Sick
Measles, a disease once thought to be completely eradicated, is making a comeback. The flu vaccine was only 23% effective this year as long-identified strains continue to mutate. Hospitals breed superbugs and must continuously adapt to stop the spread of potentially fatal infections. Just as healthy people can be felled overnight by a new disease or drug-resistant bacteria, companies can sicken and even collapse if their culture is allowed to get seriously unhealthy.
Consider the historic demise of technology giant Nortel Networks. At its peak, the century-old enterprise was the largest company in Canada with sales of $30 billion and 100,000 employees worldwide. An innovative powerhouse that invented the digital switching capability of telephone networks, the company had a long history of creating new products, and, indeed, new markets. It had developed a leadership system that valued and rewarded both risk taking and value creation.
And then it caught something, and fairly suddenly the culture began to show symptoms of serious illness.