A mature man dressed formally in a suit wearing glasses with a sceptical expression how to tell the telltale signs of change.

The Telltale Signs of Change

What a difference a week makes. And the revelations of the last six days will take several moments for the world of business to absorb. Yes, I’m referring to the saga that is Open AI. Let’s have an interruption of the scheduled Ethical Insight as we look into the signs of an internal community in existence.

When last did you hear of a CEO being fired, only to have the workforce send a letter to the board with two simple demands:
  • Get back our CEO
  • You leave.
I’m referring to the recent situation with OpenAI, the artificial intelligence research company. Last week, OpenAI’s board voted to oust CEO Sam Altman without providing a reasonable response to the world much less to employees. In response, 747 members of OpenAI’s team (97% of the workforce) signed a letter demanding Altman be reinstated and the board members who fired him resign.

Presence and Accountability Strengthens Loyalty

Usually, when a board takes action there may be a few grumbles and tears. As the company’s demigods, no one openly questions or challenges them. It took four board members to kick the co-founders out of their own company. Then reluctant to go into details as to what happened they felt it necessary to take such drastic action.  Getting a reaction from the workforce is the first sign of change.
Where senior members of a company have no engagement with the people around them, no feathers are ruffled when they’re removed. However, it’s becoming more apparent that distant shareholders and board members don’t have the clout they once commanded. To show up for the AGM and the occasional onsite visit means nothing. Directors who are seen spending time with the people on the ground, working alongside the team are building relations.  They become more than the name on the official paperwork. 
The “vague statement” hack no longer works in a world where answers to the most complex theories can be found with a couple of taps on a phone screen. People want to know, some because they’re nosey and others because they are invested, not only in the company but in the person who has been nurturing, opening doors and giving them the opportunity to excel.

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Purpose-Driven Leadership Inspires Loyalty

Whereas once a dark cloud of doubt and uneasiness would follow the disgraced CEO, this situation was far from usual. The sign of change is clear because OpenAI’s biggest investor was waiting with open arms to welcome the ousted CEO.
Investors want a return and will follow the money. Yet the board seem to have overlooked this small important detail.  It comes back to the old mantra, people do business with people. 
They were not the ones that investors were liaising with. Therefore being overly confident or lacking enough knowledge about where the loyalty lay, gave rise to the biggest investor leaving with the former chief.
From the outside looking in, it’s portrayed that is CEO is in it for more than the status and corner office.

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Money Alone Can't Curate Culture

This is the first time hearing of a company being dismantled so quickly. Apparently, X (formerly known as Twitter) was an open mic stage for other tech companies. It was reported that the platform became the headhunting recruitment board. Offering the employees matched salaries to jump ship now that the captain had been pushed overboard.
The same old solution is offered for every potential problem – money. Perhaps they were able to tempt the 3% with the offer of matched salaries but life is more than money. To have over 700 individuals sign an open letter to the board is a prime example of a trusted community.
That isn’t something that you can buy, it’s curated over time with as much focus on the team as anything thing else in the business. A company culture can’t be bought.  By setting rules and developing best practices through HouseRules will assist in moulding the right internal community. 

Getting lost in the crowd is not necessary a bad thing when that's in your business, amongst your people.

Underestimating Workforce Cohesion Is Risky

This story has a happy ending as the company was returned to its original owner and it seems the workers won the battle. Although I’m not entirely sure there was a battle, just a trying week where the community had to show the world their solidarity. It also allowed for a proper clear out of those who didn’t align with their values, in this case, the board.
The show of support and cohesion demonstrated by OpenAI’s employees stems from what is advocated for at CAS Ltd – a strong internal community. HouseRules is where company policies, culture, and operations align behind a shared mission and values. When this foundation exists, individuals are invested not just in a paycheck, but in the organisation’s purpose and leadership that enables them to accomplish personal growth in addition to company success.
While the board may have had the authority to remove a CEO, they underestimated the power of OpenAI’s internal community. This view of inside the company reveals that authority alone is weak without earning loyalty, whereas an engaged workforce like this can even face down a board. Every company should strive to develop the trust and common purpose that galvanises people to take action together. Establishing collaborative HouseRules provides a framework any organisation can use to build that exceptional level of alignment and community.

If you’re now thinking about the alignment between leadership and culture within your own organisation, you can always book your free consultation. We can examine ways to strengthen employee engagement through  HouseRules.

Time is precious and I appreciate you spending yours with me. If something in this piece resonated or you want to share, don’t hesitate to reach out. Until next do all you can to enjoy la dolce vita.

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