While some corporate leaders struggle to figure out how best to handle dissent and debate in the workplace, PNC Financial Services Group CEO Bill Demchak not long ago told employees in an internal blog post that the ability to disagree is a strength that helps to define his company’s inclusive culture. —DM
Let's Agree That We Can Disagree
By Bill Demchak, Chairman, President and CEO of The PNC Financial Services Group
A few days ago, I received a letter from an employee opposing a position I'd taken in a blog this spring. It was strongly worded, but it was well thought-out and presented the employee's point of view in a respectful way.
I wasn’t bothered at all by the fact that the employee disagreed with me, but I was alarmed to find they felt the need to send their letter anonymously for fear of retribution. That bothered me greatly.
I want to be very clear about this—we DO NOT take action against employees because they disagree with leadership. If you look back at my blog posts—even the recent one about benefits enhancements—you’ll see that there are often many employees who have expressed opposition to or disappointment in positions that I’ve taken on any number of issues. I have, quite honestly, been thrilled to see that even when we don’t agree, we can behave as adults and professionals when we’re expressing ourselves on issues about which we’re passionate. The rest of the internet could learn a lesson from us—from all of you—in that regard.
Of course we have to monitor comments on blogs and in other forums to ensure there is no abuse and that we continue to be respectful of one another. But in the years since I began blogging, we have never censored a single employee comment or taken action against any employee because they voiced an opinion that differed from mine. And if I ever hear that managers anywhere within the company are doing so on their own, I will move swiftly to correct that behavior.
I'm proud of the level of dialogue we've been able to achieve even around some pretty sensitive issues because of what it says about the open and inclusive culture we're working so hard to create. Being inclusive does not and should not mean we exclude any voice … even those that may dissent.
I understand that there are times when an employee might feel the need to report a potential ethics violation anonymously or perhaps to contact employee relations without sharing their identity. I support your ability to do that. But no employee should ever fear retribution for expressing an opinion or concern (especially to me) in a respectful and professional manner.
I have been saying for years that diversity and inclusion at PNC go beyond race, age, sexual orientation and other demographic identifiers to include diversity of thought and experience. And I mean it.
We can hold different positions on important issues. We can debate them while maintaining our professionalism and remaining respectful of one another. We can disagree strongly—just like you probably sometimes do with your family and friends—and still like one another, still work productively with one another, and still celebrate one another’s successes.
We will not always agree on every issue. That’s OK. It's actually a strength of the diverse and inclusive culture that we’re working together to build, even if the process isn’t always smooth or easy.
And while part of my job is to articulate how PNC’s values apply to the way we conduct business internally and externally, I’m not at all opposed to hearing from you when you disagree with me. In fact, my whole life I have learned more from the people who disagree with me than those that go along with whatever I say. Keep it coming.
I may not always be able to respond to every comment or every letter directly, but I promise you that I read them all, I value what you have to say when you take the time to reach out to me, and I believe wholeheartedly that there is room for all of us here at PNC.