How employee protest power is transforming corporate culture

Mark Schaefer
4 min readAug 19, 2019

One of the tenets of my consulting philosophy is that changing a corporate culture must come from the top. There is no such thing as a grassroots culture change. The change must start with a leader at the highest level that can sponsor — and demonstrate — a long-lasting adjustment in the trajectory of a company.

Corporate culture is everything when it comes to changing a company direction. And that change has always had to be internalized and sponsored at the top.

Or so I thought.

An example of corporate culture gone wrong

A short example of the impact of leadership on culture:

A few years ago I was working with a Fortune 100 company on their first content/social media initiative. This was a model program. The Marketing VP understood and supported the change and the execution was amazing.

Within two years, we had one of the most successful social media initiatives in the industry. The metrics were soaring, exceeding all expectations and it represented a huge cultural shift at this hundred-year-old company.

Then the company went through massive merger. There were too many marketing chiefs and the sponsor of our effort was replaced by a leader from the new company. That person just didn’t understand the digital world and wanted to kill the social media marketing program.

And, she did.

Within three weeks of her arrival, the benchmark success we had created was dismantled and years of work went down the drain.

Cultural change can start with the right leader.

Cultural change can end with the wrong leader.

There has never been an exception in my career.

Until now. Something is shifting.

New organizational dynamics

You’ve probably been reading news stories about tech workers taking cultural change into their own hands through protests and walk-outs.

The revolt is part of a growing political awakening among tech employees about the uses of the products they build. The trend began as concern inside Google…

Mark Schaefer

Keynote speaker, marketing strategy consultant, Rutgers U faculty and author of 10 books including KNOWN, Marketing Rebellion, and Belonging to the Brand!