In business, a company’s success largely depends on organizational culture, which comprises widely shared and firmly held beliefs and company-based culture supported by the business structure and strategy. With a solid and well-established organizational culture, employees understand the company’s goals and what the management expects of them in any situation. Employees also know that there are rewards for behaving in ways that demonstrate the company’s values, and thus there are positive workplace environments and improved productivity levels. The employers or management plays an even more significant role in perpetuating and maintaining a strong organizational culture, starting with selecting and recruiting applicants who share similar beliefs and values as the company (Chatman & O’Reilly, 2016). Employers are also tasked with developing performance, orientation, and training management programs that reflect and reinforce the organization’s core values to maintain a desirable culture.
The Culture Crisis at Basecamp
Basecamp, a leading American software company, based in Chicago, has recently been involved in controversy after a significant number of employees left or threatened to leave following a critical change in company policy. In April 2021, the company’s CEO, in a blog post, announced and outlined a new philosophy governing how the company would handle political and societal discussions within the workforce environment (Lyons, 2021). As expected, the policy change did not sit well with the employees, who began expressing their concerns over Basecamp’s organizational culture on social media. The resistance was evident as a third of the workforce preferred to leave, with up to 50 employees accepting buyouts and severance packages offered to any member of the workforce who disagreed with the new stance.
According to a report by The Verge, the motivation for the change in policy stems from an ‘uncomfortable’ incident that occurred among Basecamp’s employees. There was an internal disagreement over a practice introduced a decade ago where customer service representatives would keep a list of client names they found funny. Given that most of these ‘funny’ names recorded were of African or Asian origins, many employees were mortified by the list and considered the practice racist and inappropriately inclusive. While the practice could have started as a mild manner to blow off steam, it developed into an inappropriate representation of the organization’s culture, especially given the current societal and cultural reckoning on corporate responsibility and speech. The board’s decision to prohibit any form of political and societal discussions on internal forums might have worsened the situation.
Impact of Stakeholders
Analyzing the situation at Basecamp, one can easily infer that the stakeholder’s response contributed to the escalation of events. In organizational management, leaders and stakeholders influence a company’s workforce culture and overall environment in numerous ways. Leaders are responsible for reinforcing the values of an organization by helping employees and staff members develop and grow through opportunities, recognition, and goal setting. Stakeholders are more integrated into business management as they influence company operations and decisions based on their interests and objectives with the business.
In the case of Basecamp, the management and stakeholders are responsible for the outrage over handling employee concerns. While the management argued that the decision was made to try and get employees more focused on work, the issues raised by employees present a genuine concern over the company’s organizational culture. The name-listing practice seems to have turned into racial profiling over the years, causing concern among employees about how the company viewed diversity and inclusivity. There were complaints by employees that memos issued by the founders and stakeholders depicted the workplace as being severed by partisan politics when in reality, the ‘political’ environment was caused by Basecamp’s failures (Shemtob & Swift, 2022). Instead of dealing with the issues head-on, the management, led by the founders and current members of the senior staff, seems to have opted for a policy change to shut the conversations down.
The employees’ reaction resulted from their expectations that the stakeholders and management would have dealt with the company’s internal problems and issues related to diversity and inclusivity more constructively. Such decisions disfavor employees who are already marginalized or belong to minority populations as they cannot trust the management and organizational environment to support or help classify their existence.
From the report, there is a dire need for a shift in Basecamp’s organizational culture to one that integrates diversity and inclusivity at all levels within the company. There are numerous approaches to developing a desirable organizational culture; however, I would recommend that the management and stakeholders at Basecamp strive for accountability for equity, diversity, and inclusion within the company values. Currently, the company’s Head of Operations is responsible for diversity and inclusivity, a task seemingly too hefty for him. The company focuses more resources and time on redesigning its moral and ethical standpoint while reinforcing inclusive changes throughout the workplace environment.
The stakeholders and management at Basecamp should redefine the company’s mission and values to help steer the organizational culture towards diversity and inclusivity. In the policy change outlined by the CEO, the stakeholders seem to dissociate the company with politics, urging employees to keep their socio-political causes outside the workplace. In this age and time, a company does not have to support ‘social impact’ to promote inclusivity; instead, the management should establish a clear vision for an organizational culture that works for every employee and staff member. I would also recommend that the stakeholders hold conversations with the management, including senior staff members and the employees, to understand the existing culture and how an actionable plan could be developed and implemented to address the current issues.
Chatman, J., & O’Reilly, C. (2016). Paradigm lost: Reinvigorating the study of organizational culture. Research In Organizational Behavior, 36, 199-224. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.riob.2016.11.004
Lyons, K. (2021). Basecamp’s CEO apologizes to staff in a new post: “We have a lot to learn .”The Verge. Retrieved 13 August 2022, from https://www.theverge.com/2021/5/4/22419799/basecamp-ceo-apologizes-staff-new-post.
Shemtob, L., & Swift, P. (2022). Workplace politics and new boundaries in company culture. Occupational Medicine, 72(1), 50-50. https://doi.org/10.1093/occmed/kqab081