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April 1, 2021 28 min

Micho Spring has been a highly respected political and business leader for many years, beginning as a young Chief of Staff to Mayor Kevin White and now as an advisor to companies around the world as the leader of Weber Shandwick’s Global Corporate practice and the Chair of the Board of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.  She talks about the critical importance of corporate culture, and for companies and company leaders to deliver on the values they claim to hold.  “It used to be enough to have a conscience, but now you've got to have a plan - and you have to deliver on it!”

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Weber Shandwick


“The role of corporate culture has evolved dramatically.  When I started working, it was the Jack Welch days when culture was Six Sigma, and it was all about military discipline to deliver shareholder results. Now comes this generational change, where we see a generation of employees who come to work expecting their values reflected and expecting that their companies are working towards solving  societal problems.”  


“It used to be enough to have a conscience, but now you've got to have a plan - and you have to deliver on it!”


“The delta between what you say and what you do has become the greatest area for reputational risk.”


“It is not easy to lead in a divided society and we have had really have seen with a lot of our clients they have to make decisions that are not 80/20 favorable, but are 55/45 favorable, and no matter which way you go you're going to get an undertow of complaints.  But, if you can stick to values as opposed to issues that you stand for, then you can sort out specific situations with a little more of a compass.”


“Now talk about a change, employees (at Coinbase the digital currency exchange) challenging the CEO who is trying to define what could and could not happen in the work culture (discussing politics and activism at work). That is something that we haven't seen before.”

“We (at the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce) want to lead and our (diversity) goals are based not on the Boston we are, but on the Boston we want to become.”


Big Ideas/Thoughts


Cultural Audit

I remember very well in one crisis where we saw the incredible difference when we went in and surveyed between employees who were able to work from home and employees who had to experience the culture at work - that was the dividing line.  It wasn't that the company wasn't principled and welcoming across gender and race, it was that the office culture was toxic.


When you referred to a culture competency analysis, what is that, and what is the information you're trying to elicit that will help your clients?

Well, you're trying to elicit what are their values and are they clearly understood throughout the organization and are employees seeing that the behaviors of the company are consistent with those values.

We're talking about an era of diversity; a generational diversity, it's certainly racial, ethnic, gender, and it's important that the culture becomes something that can bring all that together. That's very different than the old simplistic, "Here are the three things.  Let's put them on the wall and have people know that we believe in something."

When Twitter kicked the former President off, the reason they said they did it was because of their employees and how they felt about it.  Clearly, whatever values they have articulated were not consistent with enabling this kind of civil discourse, and so it was interesting to me that The New York Times story I read was actually the number one reason they made the decision was ‘our employees didn't feel comfortable with this.’


"No high-performing jerks" is a phrase was really coined by Arianna Huffington in the Uber situation, Think about it, right, because that's the tension. You've got people who are delivering results, but boy, they're corrosive in terms of the culture.  Now,  I don't know about you guys, but we would put up with a lot of high-performing jerks in my time, right?  It turns out that the balance, the risk reward balance, of having people who are corrosive to your environment, but delivering results has gone the other way. Now, in a lot of places, there's no second chance because it's just too visible and it shows that you're not committed to your values if you're going to make an exception, just because this person makes enormous amounts of revenue for the company.




How can boards hold senior management accountable for sticking to their values without getting into the weeds?

I think it's really the same way we've always held CEOs accountable, which is really how we measure performance, how we reward them.  This has become important enough that, however it's framed, it's important that they know that company's reputation, as Warren buffet has famously said, it takes a long time to build, but boy, it can go quickly. Right?  It's holding them accountable at the performance level. I don't think boards can get into the weeds because we don't know enough about the company's day-to-day hiring and firing decisions to really make good judgments. 


The model is really to hire CEOs who have societal acumen as well as business acumen. And that means that they understand the 360 impact on people of their actions, whether it's people internally or externally, and that are sensitive to it, are taking it into account. That is a new mark of leadership. It requires EQ for sure - and much more EQ than it has in the past.


Taking a leadership role in Boston  - Becoming the Chair of the Board of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce

I do think it's a pivotal time for the city and there's no question when I arrived at City Hall we had just been through a civil war with busing and not only was the economy questionable, but really the threads that united us were so torn apart, it really was a civil war.  So, to weave that fabric back together and lift the city into a world-class city it became, was very much Kevin White's vision and I was lucky to have a front row seat and play a role in really that pivotal time. 

Now I think if that (past time in Boston) was after a civil war, I think now the city is coming out of a world war.  You go and walk through downtown and we've a lot of rebuilding to do. And I think it's a time again, hopefully the bright side is so much of the solutions for this pandemic have come right from Boston.  Our life sciences ecosystem has led in addressing the pandemic.


What goals have you set for diversity on the Board of the Chamber?

Our goal is to lead in this regard and to set standards for the business community. So not only have we set five-year goals of 50% women, 37% people of color and then goals beneath that. We intend to ask our members, not only ask our members to follow suit, set goals and make them public but we're gonna help them get there through partnerships that we have formed and helping them find candidates for their boards.

Under the leadership of Jim Rooney, who's got both political and societal acumen for sure, we have been able to be very proactive and weigh-in throughout this last year and I think we can play a role in being a very good partner and leader that can get the Greater Boston economy to really deliver on its full potential.

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