How Does This Happen Anyway? The Quest to Understand How Many Can be Subject to the Abuse of One

How Does This Happen Anyway
Culture Profit or Pain - The secrets to creating a healthy organizational culture

We have been plagued with reoccurring stories of how one individual after the other has been accused of perpetuating terrible crimes on multiple victims.  These violations occur over a period of time and involve multiple victims. While many things contribute to establishing an environment where deviant behavior can be repetitious, I submit that the most powerful enabler is the culture.  In my book on culture, titled Culture- Profit or Pain, I write, “Culture enables or disables an organization’s ability to achieve strategic objectives. Culture drives behavioral standards and expectations. Culture is manifested in the human dynamics of how work is accomplished, or in some cases, not accomplished.”  Culture is the understanding we all have about how we will work together. That includes the rules, rewards, and consequences associated with our behaviors.

In the book, I reference organizations who had wonderful ethics statements yet are now well-known for the scandals that toppled their fame and fortune.  Culture and behavior are inextricably linked.  Consequently, a root-cause analysis of why repetitive, damaging and despicable behavior existed in the organizations recently in the news, will likely reveal that there was a culture that enabled such activity.

In another section of the book I state, “Culture is reified as a source of influence in organizations through rewards and reinforcements. Unfortunately, leaders often do not pay attention to some of the sources of influence within the organization until a problem manifests itself.”  Sometimes a reward mechanism is the lack of accountability.  In other situations, it may be the lack of clarity around uncompromised adherence to ethics.  Unfortunately, in some instances, political and social power freezes others from taking appropriate action against suspected violations.  I recall a time when our family was heavily involved in a youth athletic organization.  The fundamental principles of the organization were to first build the character of the athletes as a priority over how many games they won. We defined victory by the character of our young athletes and not by their win-loss record.  As was the case every 8-10 years, a group of parents comes along who believe the focus should be reversed.  They eventually split from our group and form a competing group.  That group typically implodes within the next 5-10 years and usually not without some level of public drama or embarrassment.  Any organizational culture, whether corporate, athletic, civic or otherwise, must establish a set of unyielding ethical standards.  These standards will drive the written and unwritten expectations that members have about cultural expectations.  These standards enable members to hold each other accountable.  Many of us have had experiences with a low-performing culture.  Reflect on all of the “warning signs” that we may have chosen to overlook.  We have also had experiences with high-performing cultures. Reflect on the elements that we resonated with most from those cultures. Now, look around.  Leaders have a responsibility to ensure that the organizational culture is healthy.  History tells us that many well-meaning leaders are simply not cognizant of the role that culture plays… until it is too late.  Fortunately, when it is “top of mind”, you and I can be deliberate about what culture we choose to be around. 

How do you identify a good culture?

John F. Edwards is a motivational speaker, author, and talent development expert who works with people and organizations to Lean Forward into success and avoid failure in uncertain times.  You can learn more about the book, Culture- Profit or Pain, at   Follow John on twitter @Edwards_Group

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