Culture in the Mainstream?

There is a story on the front page of the business section of the Washington Post today about the new CEO of Fannie Mae. The subhead states, “CEO Daniel H. Mudd Must Fix Problems With Accounting and Culture.” Wow! Organizational culture goes mainstream! Many people know that Fannie Mae (an organization created by Congress in the 1930s to keep money flowing into the home mortgage market) is a large organization in this area that was hit hard by an accounting scandal. I was impressed to see that attention to culture was identified as an important part of turning it around.

But I was disappointed that the article did not really address the culture issue head on. It did make reference the Fannie Mae’s reputation among external audiences as a bully, but it really only talked about the new CEO’s personal behavior aimed at doing things differently (he’s been making “goodwill” visits to former adversaries and has been more cooperative with Congress, for example).

I think Mudd’s actions are great. In his first appearance before Congress, he actually apologized. But culture change is not only about the CEO doing things differently in public. It includes that, certainly, but it is much more complex, and it absolutely involves everyone in the organization.

Perhaps the Post business section is not the best place to get into the trials and tribulations of Fannie Mae’s culture change, but I think it was a disservice to say in the headline that Mudd is working on culture and then only describe activities that were impacting reputation.


  1. 18.11.2005 at 6:35 pm

    It’s interesting that they put accounting and culture as the things to fix. I think that’s about right. You can’t do anything without money, but nothing is worth doing if your culture is screwed up. My experience recently has led me to believe that companies–and nonprofits in particular–need to spend more time crafting their culture. One of my sister organizations does great work, but I believe their fundamental culture is passive-agressive. They choose to ignore it and do the whole status-quo thing and it holds them back light years.

  2. 21.11.2005 at 2:47 pm

    Hi Nick,
    You’re right on, Nick. And your point illustrates why it’s so hard to do culture work in organizations–it requires you to confront the “bad” stuff as well as the good. If you ask a company to “craft it’s culture” it will end up writing up lofty statements about commitment to quality and individual freedom and customer service and you may end up seeing some of those “successories” posters on the wall. The real valuable culture work, however, gets at the stuff you mentioned. We’re passive aggressive. We don’t tell each other the truth. We value hierarchical position more than ideas. Whatever it is, it has to be “outed” before it can be changed.