If you follow the mission and directives of nonprofit organizations, you’ve likely heard of United Way Worldwide. According to their website, the nonprofit “advances the common good in communities across the world. Our focus is on education, income and health—the building blocks for a good quality of life.” However noble their mission statement, United Way has been in the news recently as former employees have come forward with reports of a hostile work environment, prompting an internal investigation.
The United Way investigation began when former employers decided to take a stand against a toxic corporate culture. The allegations of a toxic, hostile work environment came in the form of a letter that was signed by an anonymous group of former United Way of Summit and Media, citing pervasive problems such as racism, sexual harassment, and nepotism. While the word “anonymous” raises eyebrows in conjunction with whistle-blowing, it bears pointing out that these former employees claim they will be subject to retaliation. The letter was sent to United Way board members on July 31, prompting board chairman Mark Krohn to announce the onset of an internal investigation.
Harassment and bullying are just one of the allegations made by the former employees who signed this letter, and this has led to one United Way board member already resigning. One of the first dominoes to fall in the United Way investigation was former board member Elizabeth Bartz, who was in charge of running government affairs in Akron, Ohio. Leadership from the United Way of Summit and Media began investigating Bartz after there were allegations that she had verbally abused employees on social media. Bartz used Facebook Messenger to send a private message to another former employee, calling them a “toothless piranha” and accusing them of attempting “to ruin UW” with their allegations of bullying in harassment—ironically by engaging in bullying and harassment. This led to Bartz’s resignation.
Bartz’s reaction to the anonymous letter might actually validate these anonymous claims by former United Way employees. However, according to an article by the Beacon Journal, these anonymous former employees are feeling ignored after an investigator reported that the allegations in the letter “were mostly unsubstantiated.” A former employee who claimed to speak for the group told the Beacon Journal, “It’s clear it’s not an objective report…We can’t keep talking if we’re not going to be valued and our experiences are going to be diminished. It’s pretty disheartening when someone says they were sexually harassed and they are told it was ‘he said/she said.”
The frustration and feeling of defeat expressed by these anonymous employees are the effects of poor corporate culture in motion. Like a piece of antique furniture with termites, poor corporate culture can rot a company from within. Looking at the list of grievances these former employees are citing—racism, sexual harassment, nepotism—these are all enormous and complex problems that are not created in a vacuum. The corporate culture of the workplace must be an environment where these issues are able to thrive in order to develop a pattern of behavior. When employees make claims about these types of internal issues, it is in the best interest of the corporation to submit to an independent corporate culture audit.
If your corporation or organization is experiencing repeated instances of internal difficulty, it might be time for a corporate culture audit. A corporate culture audit is a program that examines the internal policies of a corporation or organization, how those policies are enforced, how they effect the employees, and how those employees relate to each other as a result. If the corporate culture in a company is good, that positivity is baked into the internal operations, employees feel valued by their organization, and therefore will remain engaged and invested in maintaining productivity. Pervasive, repeated internal problems may not stem from a single factor, but the entire corporate culture of the workplace. Think of a corporate culture audit like a medical check-up for a business or organization. Lauth’s investigators evaluate the culture from leadership down, identifying the major factors in disruption, and advise leadership on how to improve their business from within. For more information on our corporate culture audit program, click here.
Just after lunch last Wednesday, violence erupted in
Milwaukee, WI at the famous Molson Coors factory, when an employee walked in with
a loaded firearm and began shooting, leaving 5 victims and the shooter
deceased. The violence is another in a string of shootings in the workplace that
has corporate leadership wondering what their role is in limiting these acts of
The victims in the Milwaukee Molson Coors shooting were identified as Jesus Valle Jr., 33; Gennady Levshetz, 61; Trevor Wetselaar, 33; Dana Walk, 57; and Dale Hudson, 60. The shooter, electrician Anthony N. Ferrill, 51, is deceased as well. Those victims, Ferrill’s coworkers, are remembered by the dozens of friends and family they left behind, as well as a community rocked by violence. Molson Coors chief executive Gavin Hattersley said in a news conference, “They were husbands, they were fathers, and they were friends. They were a part of the fabric of our company and our community, and we will miss them terribly.”
While many acts of violence in the workplace are perpetrated
by former employees, Anthony Ferrill was a current employee of Molson Coors.
Ferrill worked in the building’s utilities department. While authorities have
not established a clear motive for the shooting, according to the
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Ferrill had a history of dispute with his coworkers
that many have speculated finally came to a head in the events leading up to last
week’s shooting. The dispute may have had racial overtones, with Ferrill
accusing other employees of discriminating against him in the workplace. He had
suspicions that other employees were trespassing at his home, bugging his
electronic devices, and disturbing his property. With the exception of one man,
Ferrill had previous confrontations with all the victims, yet police have
declined to comment on how the shooting occurred.
When shocking incidents of violence like this occur in the workplace,
it’s not uncommon to hear from leadership in the organization that they are ‘shocked,’
or ‘astonished’ at the events that have taken place, or that the violence was
perpetrated by a member of their organization. The reality is that active
shooter events and other forms of violence in the workplace can usually be
anticipated and prevented if leadership is not asleep at the wheel.
Most workplace crises, from violence to theft, can be traced
back to faulty internal operations. That’s why so many corporations are seeking
to have their daily operations evaluated by independent investigators and risk
assessment firms. These investigators come into your business and begin examining
hiring processes, onboarding materials, employee engagement, and the turnover
rate in an attempt to identify the problems that cause frustration within the organization.
In the unfortunate example of Molsen Coors, there was obviously room for more
supervision with regards to intra-employee conflict. If the alleged
intra-employee conflict had been given more attention, it might not have ended
Corporate Culture Audit investigators can provide leadership with the insight they need to improve their daily operations. Investigators can review hiring protocol, identifying risk factors and lack of oversight. They can review security systems, both in cyberspace, and at brick-and-mortar locations to identify weaknesses that would leave the company vulnerable to attack. These are measures that could have prevented the violence that broke out at Molson Coors, and they can protect your company, too.
If your corporation or organization needs a corporate
culture audit, call Lauth Investigations International today for a free quote
on our corporate culture audit program. Our program is built to fit businesses
of any size and is customizable to fit you investigative needs. Call
317-951-1100 or visit us online at www.lauthinvestigations.com
The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, a division of
the Treasury Department in the United States, has finally stuck a blow against
one of the most reckless financial institutions in the nation, Wells Fargo. This
federal department has linked a former chief executive of Wells Fargo with compulsion
on the part of leadership to encourage Wells Fargo employees to set up
fraudulent accounts that would hold extracted fees from customers.
John Stumpf, the former executive in question, has been
slapped with a monumental fine totaling approximately $17.5 million. The extent
of the misconduct was so severe, that the OCC also banned Stumpf from the
banking industry for the rest of his life. He was not alone—a former head of
banking at Wells Fargo, Carrie Tolstedt is also facing a fine of $25 million.
The Office of the Comptroller of Currency has also issued a
notice which argues that Wells Fargo has engaged in toxic business practices
over the last ten years, compelling employees to exhibit “serious misconduct”
in order to meet “intentionally unreasonable sales goals.” The notice went on
to say that the corporation operated within an environment of malignant
leadership, indicated by “…an atmosphere that perpetuated improper illegal conduct.”
Wells Fargo’s head of corporate investigations testified
before the Office of the Comptroller of Currency, informing them that there was
hypervigilance on part of leadership with regards to sales quotas, but
lethargic oversight with regards to illegal sales practices. It was apparent to
the corporate investigator that leadership was indifferent to how
employees met sales quotas, as long as those quotas were consistently met.
Lower-level employees were made accomplices—single cogs in a large clockwork
As the saying goes, “the fish stinks from the head,” and the litigative implications of these proceedings have indicated Wells Fargo reeks of poor corporate culture. Regardless of whether or not it is healthy, corporate culture moves in a cycle, with cause-and-effect factors that can often be traced back to leadership. Not only should leadership be an example for the entire corporation, but their interpersonal conduct within the workplace directly effects their employees’ engagement and productivity. Executives who impose unreasonable or unattainable goals on their employees are setting them up for failure, absolving themselves from responsibility when goals are not met. This leads to a toxic, high-pressure work environment where employees don’t just feel unsupported, but also devalued in the eyes of their employer. Employee engagement goes down, and consequently, so does productivity. This frustrates leadership, which then reacts by tightening their grip, beginning the cycle anew. If your corporation experiences persistent problems with leadership misconduct, it’s definitely time for a corporate culture audit. Corporate culture audits are like checkups for your business. Independent investigators come into your business and evaluate all operations—communication, record-keeping, hiring processes, and employee engagement. They identify the cause of these malignant symptoms and provide the corporation with expert recommendations that will ultimately propel their organization forward. If your corporation needs a corporate culture audit, call Lauth Investigations International today at 317-951-1100 to get a free quote, or contact us online at www.lauthinvestigations.com
Corporations and institutions with relative high visibility have a lot to lose when internal misconduct is exposed. If you are an institution, such as a school, prison, or government body, internal misconduct can strongly shake the public’s confidence in how that misconduct will impact the groups and communities being served. Embarrassing, pervasive issues, such as a business party culture, can really drive down faith in your brand. If you’re a large corporate chain, such as Walmart, or McDonald’s, your corporate culture is subject to criticism from current/past employees, with heavy emphasis on how that corporate culture effects both productivity and the workforce.
Just one week after ringing in the new year, McDonald’s current CEO, Chris Kempczinski, has announced that he plans to bring an end to the business party culture embroiled in their corporate atmosphere. According to The Wall Street Journal, Kempczinski, “…is seeking to restore a more professional culture at McDonald’s after what some current and former employees described as an environment influenced by his predecessor’s late-night socializing with some executives and staffers at bars and flirtations with female employees…” This business party culture was pervasive. His predecessor, Steve Eastbrook, was terminated in November of 2019 after he confessed to having a relationship with an employee. What is particularly problematic about these circumstances is that healthy corporate culture begins with leadership. When leadership behaves ethically within the organization, employees are more likely to follow that example. When executives, managers, and supervisors are not held accountable for bad behavior, it sends a message to the rest of the organization that poisons the well of corporate culture.
But inappropriate personal conduct is not the only challenge
currently facing McDonald’s culture. Strains imposed by the franchises’
renovation program has franchisees challenging their relationship with the
corporation. In addition, unions are still reeling from a decision handed down
by a national union-organizing supervision board, which states that the
corporation will no longer be liable for labor violations committed by its
franchisees. Labor advocates who made their concerns apparent to the board were
ignored, and the decision came down with a 2-1 vote. In the background,
employees continue their cause of “Fight For 15,” in reference to their desire
to have McDonald’s starting wage raised to $15 per hour.
Kempczinski’s promise to diffuse a business party culture within the corporation is a promising start—however, in order to make meaningful changes to the corporation, there needs to be a top-to-bottom evaluation of internal processes, and of the behavior exhibited by leadership—both in the public view and behind closed doors. That is why so many institutions and corporations are subjecting their internal operations to a corporate culture audit to ensure that they won’t be caught unawares about the debilitating, pervasive issues within their organization. Regardless of quality, corporate culture moves in a cycle. The actions of leadership filter down through the workforce, influencing productivity and engagement from employees. Employees either contribute positively or negatively to the corporation as a result of that leadership, and that leads directly back to leadership in a supervisory capacity. For the sake of a long-beloved American corporation, let’s hope that Kempczinski follows through on his promise for change.
Corporations that have seen a decline in their corporate culture are turning to internal investigation and risk assessment firms for help in 2020. The discourse around corporate culture has evolved significantly over the last few years, with employees voicing their desire for work-life balance and how corporate culture directly impacts their decision to stay with a company. Leadership is better-educating themselves on how their actions feed into the cycle of corporate culture, and how they can improve employee retention by making meaningful changes that grease the wheels of success in their business or organization. However, many corporations have their anxieties about conducting internal investigations in a fishbowl—where employees are able to see the methodology in motion—and how this will impact their workforce and their business.
Corporations can find themselves open to scrutiny from both
their employees and their customer-base when they announce an impending
internal investigation. Some corporations, for a myriad of reasons, opt to have
internal investigations under a cloak of classification in order to protect the
integrity of the investigation—however, in the interest of transparency, many
corporations opt for a visible investigation, warning employees, shareholders,
customers, or all of the above, of an impending internal investigation. This
means that the investigating bodies will be under a microscope of scrutiny
within the corporation, as their methodology, decorum, and their practices will
a source of debate around the proverbial watercooler.
Regardless of who is contracted to conduct the internal
investigation, or under what level of declassification, if there is visibility
of an investigation, there is a delicate balance of transparency and
professionalism needed in pursuit of the truth. One of the most difficult tasks
an internal investigator has at the inception of the investigation is
establishing a rapport with relevant parties, such as leadership and the
workforce in order to garner frankness from persons who will be crucial to the
Investigators must establish credibility with the client and
relevant subjects in the case. This means ensuring those individuals are aware
that the investigator shares their values and is only interested in identifying
problems to improve the business—not damage it—indicating a high level of
accountability that will have a ripple effect throughout the corporation or
In tandem with establishing credibility, investigators must
be straightforward about their objectives, outlining what the client hopes to
achieve and their proposed methods of reaching that goal. Investigators must
never make promises they cannot keep by making declarations before they know
the facts. Corporate investigators must always pursue a resolution to a
business’s problem that does not impair their long-term goals—by the same
token, it is imperative that the investigator informs the client that there
might be some negative consequences as the result of their findings, such as
turnover, further inquiries, or bad publicity.
Objectivity is key in any internal investigation. It’s one of the reasons some companies elect to have a private investigator or risk assessment firm conduct their investigation, as opposed to an in-house investigator or member of house counsel. No employee with a stake in the outcome of the investigation, even indirectly, may be 100% objective in identifying pervasive issues in an organization. In addition to that objectivity, an independent investigator—unknown to the corporation or organization—investigators can move through a workplace undetected. This will take the edge off of the “fishbowl” factor that is common with internal corporate investigations. Private investigators can adopt a persona and conduct their investigations without the eyes of concerned coworkers; interviewing employees, collecting evidence, evaluating the location, and reviewing internal communications can all be conducted in plain sight.
Internal corporate investigations with a “fishbowl” factor can be an inherent challenge for corporations. Above all, it’s important to remember that employees are your greatest asset, as they feed into a cycle of corporate culture that can successfully stimulate your business or organization. An appropriate level of trust and care must always be taken when subjecting your workforce to an internal investigation. When employees feel valued, they will become empowered and engaged to give their best to the benefit of your organization.