Volkswagen is accused of installing software on 11 million diesel cars to skirt the law, deceive customers and improve financial results. Former CEO, Martin Winterkorn, resigned and now German prosecutors say they are investigating him.

OK, so we feel a little better but we shouldn’t think the problem has been removed. It’s important to hold people accountable but not sufficient. Volkswagen needs to resist the urge to stop there.

Things like this don’t happen only because there are bad actors. Wrong decisions that are tolerated or rewarded, keep the cycle going. A culture of dishonestly supports the bad decisions and perpetuates the power of those who make them. It makes it tougher for people to speak up when something isn’t right. Over time, collective habits and beliefs take over without awareness.

The new CEO of Volkswagen, Matthias Müller needs to look for cause. That means identifying individuals who had the knowledge and power to make decisions, not just those who took the actions at the lowest level. He should also look at the habits and beliefs within the company; these are powerful, and often unconscious, drivers of behavior.

Matthias Müller has a brief time to use this crisis to find cause and correct it, restore the reputation of the company and give customers good reasons not to jump ship. Here’s what he should do:

  1. Learn about the company—fast.
  2. Watch what people do, look for patterns.
  3. Look for cause—don’t stop at blame.
  4. Be candid.
  5. Reset the focus of the company from profit to excellence.
  6. Acknowledge and praise those who help the company improve, even if it comes with criticism.

Most organizations would rather risk obsolescence than make room for the non-conformist in their midst. — Warren Bennis

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