This post is not about how to create a culture free of sexual harassment. Yes, I’m encouraged by the cultural upheaval that is occurring globally as a result of the very courageous women and men who are stepping up and speaking out. Every workplace that shifts positively as a result of this movement is a win not only for current employees, but for future employees as well.
Instead, I propose we look at how the same conditions that resulted in a culture of sexual harassment can affect your business in other ways too.
Not following the rules
Many companies have policies and procedures for their employees to follow should a case of sexual harassment occur. Yet many of the victims we are hearing about either didn’t follow the procedures or the people who received the reports didn’t take the appropriate action. When employees follow the procedures and nothing happens, they lose faith in the leadership. This doesn’t apply just to sexual harassment. What about the employee who faithfully follows the bureaucratic purchasing and procurement polices? While it takes them months to get a deal done, other employees break the rules, sign up suppliers quicker and are recognized for a job well done. If you don’t need to follow this procedure or policy why follow any?
I’m not suggesting you build a thick bureaucratic procedure manual to cover off every move your employees make. However, if you have rules in place either to comply with legal and regulatory obligations or to protect the safety of your employees for example, it can’t be one set of rules for some employees and another set for others. This sets up a culture of perceived unfairness which can be the catalyst to losing trust, loyalty and engagement with your employees.
What are the key rules in your organization that need to be followed in order to be successful? Is there a system of support that encourages your employees to follow the rules?
Everyone is accountable for organizational culture
Harvey Weinstein’s behavior was well known within the company and the entertainment industry. The board has rightfully been challenged as to why they didn’t deal with it. Beyond this however, are many other people in the organization who stood by and didn’t do anything either.
Former Shark Tank investor and high tech advisor, Chris Sacca publicly posted on Medium how revelations of sexual harassment in Silicon Valley have impacted his perspective. “I’ve learned that it’s often the less obvious, yet pervasive and questionable, everyday behaviors of men in our industry that collectively make it inhospitable for women,” he wrote. Sacca says that while he’s considered himself one of the “good guys,” he’s now seeing that he played a role in preserving the status quo. “The passive acceptance of exclusionary words and deeds is not okay.”
If you want to create a strong vibrant positive culture, everyone has to play a part in holding each other accountable to live by the values of the organization. Standing by and letting culture vultures chip away at the culture you have defined as necessary for success will only result in a downward spiral causing more and more employees to disengage.
Pat Lencioni, author of The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team identifies accountability as one of the five key components required to create a high performing team. “When teams don’t commit to a clear plan of action, peer-to-peer accountability suffers greatly. Even the most focused and driven individuals will hesitate to call their peers on counterproductive actions and behaviors if they believe those actions and behaviors were never agreed upon in the first place.” This applies to your organization’s culture too.
This means that all employees need to understand their role and be supported when they make the effort to build the culture by calling out misaligned behaviors. How well does your organization support those employees who not only actively demonstrate those key positive core values but also call out those who don’t?
How trustworthy is your organization?
Organizations with leaders behaving badly are being exposed every day. These behaviors have existed because employees didn’t feel safe or supported enough to speak up. While the focus right now is on sexual harassment behavior, that isn’t the only negative behavior that can exist in the workplace. Bullying, manipulation, control, empire building, information hoarding, and lack of attention to safety…….the list goes on.
You may feel that your culture is good enough and sexual harassment is not an issue. Your employees have a trusted outlet to raise harassment complaints, and every single complaint follows with immediate and appropriate action. And by the way, I would suggest that the US Capitol Hill action of requiring sexual harassment victims to attend 60 days of counselling as the first step in the complaint process as inappropriate action. So let’s be clear about what constitutes appropriate action.
But where else in your organization could your employees utilize a more trusting outlet for behaviors that are inconsistent with the values of the organization. Are your teams evolved enough to be able to constructively offer peer-to-peer observations when someone falls off the rails? Is your management team committed to coaching their employees when an inappropriate action, like breaking the rules, takes place?
Culture is either your greatest asset or your greatest liability and many companies around the world are learning just what a liability it can be. I believe it’s a wakeup call for all leaders to take a hard look at their organizations and how they can shift potential disadvantages into amazing opportunities.