Synapse, Away and Swedbank

December 10, 2019

Synapse, Away and Swedbank

A quick recap to start with:

Synapse, a Silicon Valley fintech company backed by respected VC firm Andreessen Horowitz in their latest fundraising round, is being sued by three female former employees for gender discrimination, as reported by Bloomberg.

Away, a seller of suitcases and bags to millenial instagrammers, moved their CEO to executive chair days after an exposé by The Verge, documenting a toxic culture of undermanned customer support teams being repeatedly pressurised to work overtime to compensate for failure to recruit enough staff.

Swedbank, a Swedish bank caught up in money-laundering investigations regarding their activity in Estonia, appointed a new chairman as they continue their search for a new CEO in their ongoing response to their Estonian issues.

These three companies seem to be at different points in the process of dealing with toxic culture problems.

Denial

Synapse are still in denial about their problems - the Bloomberg piece reports that Synapse sued Glassdoor in September 2019, stating that negative reviews of the culture at Synapse were false. Aside from being an incredibly dumb move legally, this is a dumb move practically too. Negative reviews should either be ignored, or the underlying causes should be addressed. But the legal action against Glassdoor shows the levels of denial present in the leadership team.

Acknowledgement

Away are in the process of acknowledging and addressing their issues. According to reporting in The Verge and the Wall Street Journal, the new CEO for the company was already in place or being lined up before the culture story broke in The Verge last week. This is probably true and is a promising sign. It indicates an awareness that change was required in order to function better. However, it could be a halfway move given that Steph Korey, the former CEO, is remaining as executive chair.

Repair

Swedbank are already through their mea culpa moment, and into hardcore cleanup of their culture, according to their new chairman. Goran Persson, a former Swedish prime minister, and veteran board operator in other challenging circumstances, seems to be taking the task of positive cultural change very seriously.

The longer a company takes to get through that process from denial to acknowledgement to repair, the worse the outcomes for that company will be. Don’t be one of those companies that drags its feet when a toxic culture comes to light. Positive engagement with the issue is the only way to work through it and come out on the other side as a stronger company.

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