HOW TOXIC IS YOUR CULTURE?
BY BEN DIPIETRO
The Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation hearings further exposed the political chasm in the United States, and specifically placed a harsh spotlight on the toxic culture that permeates the U.S. Congress.
Partisan bickering sunk to new lows during the Kavanaugh saga, further hardening each side into its position, lawmakers egged on by the intensity and passion of their respective constituencies, each side convinced it is right and determined to “win” at all costs.
All of this drama and emotion comes as the nation this month marks the one-year anniversary of the Harvey Weinstein sexual misconduct allegations—a pivotal moment in the #MeToo movement. Since the arrest of Bill Cosby in December 2015, crisis-management firm Temin and Co. reported last week that 810 high-profile men have been accused of sexual harassment or worse.
“A dramatic shift is occurring in organizations everywhere, and corporate boards--especially women board members--are paying serious attention” said Temin and Co. Chief Executive Davia Temin. “No one wants to be a ‘#MeToo company’ today.”
The attention generated by these cases, coupled with the arrival this week of new sexual harassment training laws in New York and Delaware, should prompt companies to at the very least review their current policies, if not remake them.
All of which makes this a good time for an organization to ask itself if there are signs its culture is turning toxic and, if so, what can it do to make it better?
One sign to check for is whether there is a lack of trust within the organization, said Hui Chen, the first-ever exclusive compliance consultant to the U.S. Department of Justice's Fraud Section who now works as a compliance advocate and consultant.
Trust is a measurable metric that can help take the temperature of the group, she said.
“How do they interact at lunch? Do they socialize?” are two questions to consider when trying to determine your organization's cultural temperature, said Chen. While the office isn’t a place where everyone needs to “be a family,” as some companies tout, or where people come together to sing "Kumbaya," she said it does need to “be a place where people do see each other as human beings.”
Among the items to check when taking the temperature of a culture is whether it is validating and inspiring creativity and collaboration, and whether it encourages risk-taking, said S. Chris Edmonds, head of the culture-building company The Purposeful Culture Group and author of the book “The Culture Engine.”
“That doesn’t happen in organizations where there is no trust or respect,” said Edmonds.
Other signs of trouble include people not participating during meetings; workers seeking reassurance outside of meetings; fewer collaborations between departments; and people acting overly polite to each other. Two of the most ominous signs, said Edmonds: talented people choosing to leave the organization and people not showing the proper respect to colleagues when disagreements arise.
“That is a big red flag,” he said. “I coach senior leaders to inspire vigorous debate, but people can debate ideas and still honor the people they are working with. The idea of having leaders pay attention to the quality of these interactions is a bold place to go.”
Another issue is most senior leaders don’t pay enough attention to culture, and either ignore a situation or delegate a problem to someone else, said Edmonds.
“The only people who can adapt, modify or change a culture are these senior leaders,” said Edmonds. “The thing I try to tell leaders is to pay as much attention to how your people are treating each other as much as you pay attention to the business results. Coaching values is as important as results and 99% don’t do that.”
Edmonds advocates creating an organizational constitution to realign your culture if it’s showing signs of strain. That means setting expectations through an expression of values and holding people accountable to adhering to those values.
Putting the framework in place is just the start. “It’s not just about announcing new rules, it’s about senior leaders living them, coaching them, praising aligned behavior and redirecting misaligned behavior,” he said. “It’s only going to be critical to everybody in your organization if you do it first.”