Ignore a Communication Culture at Your Own Peril: David Zaslav and Warner Bros. Discovery
You often hear talk about a Corporate Culture, an invisible force field that can dictate action and reaction and create the context for everything you do. That’s why an idea thought of as innovative and a promotion considered worthy in one setting is considered risky and foolhardy in another. It may be an over simplification, but those who have worked and grown within an organization probably have the battle scars to prove this reality.
What is not generally discussed is the subject of a Communication Culture. A concept that has been brought to the forefront in the wake of an examination of communication practices due to COVID-mandated hybrid workforces. Once thought to be dictated by C-Suite leaders, Communication Culture has taken on new importance as the lifeblood of messaging. The need for, and use of, both internal and external transparency is scrutinized like never before as leaders desperately look for ways to not only maintain the ability to execute their vision, but also to just simply retain employees who have taken the pandemic as a personal wakeup call for a work and lifestyle re-evaluation. The unspoken rules of how much to say and when to say it are even more vital to the new employee who no longer has the luxury of a traditional on-boarding process in which they would theoretically have the opportunity to get up to speed on something as vital as Communication Culture.
And if the pressure to understand a Communication Culture is daunting at the employee level, it’s even greater for the executives. A manager’s credibility is immediately called into question if they show a lack of understanding of the Communication Culture upon arrival. Look no farther than the journey of current Warner Bros. Discovery Chairman David Zaslav. Zaslav, who has taken the top position of the newly merged companies with a mandate to repair frayed relations with the creative community due to the prior administration’s straight-to-digital, 2021 COVID release strategy, is also being asked by Wall Street to cut $3 billion in expenses of the newly formed company. These are not easy orders. Zaslav is far from being the first high profile entertainment exec to feel the impetus to show that there “is a new sheriff in town,” but his need for speed to make changes has already taken its toll on company morale and the very bridges he seeks to repair. It’s not so much what he is doing, but his insufficient understanding of the organization’s Communication Culture in making very public bold announcements, that is getting him off to a shaky start. Even though he has had months of meetings and immersive conversations with industry leaders outside of the Warner Bros. family, the results are creating hostility and insecurity that don’t demonstrate he has what it takes to achieve his ultimate goal of stability and success. Perhaps it was his decisive, brash style that brought him to this position, but not embracing an existing Communication Culture will always take a monumental toll on the long-term ability to lead. Stay tuned.