The Role of Culture in Workplace Harassment

Text reading "The role of culture in workplace harassment" over picture of a woman in a workplace yelling.

Barely a day goes by recently without another high-profile celebrity, media executive, politician or person of prominence being exposed for inappropriate sexual behaviour and workplace harassment.

Much of the work I do in my consulting practice is focused on the role culture plays in the development, progress and success of every organization, and that does not exclude the issue of workplace harassment.

I am frequently asked why culture is so integral to organizational results and the answer is readily explained by recent events that have occupied much media space.

We have witnessed people falling from dizzying heights, careers being lost and reputations being irreparably damaged as people come forward testifying against past egregious behaviours.

Each new allegation serves to further validate the indisputable role of culture in society and in every organizations because in each and every case the predatory behaviour has occurred for one reason and one reason alone: it has been accepted and tolerated.

Culture = Status Quo

Culture simply means “this is what is normal around here,” or “this is how we do things around here.” However, just because something is accepted does not make it acceptable and this is the critical lesson haunting people whose past poor behaviours are now leading the 6:00 o’clock news.

Culture is simply a repeated pattern of behaviour that is deemed okay by those who do it and not viewed as wrong or inappropriate by those who are aware of, and condone it.

And too often culture extends to the destruction of those who are courageous enough to come forward to report errant behaviour.

In a hierarchical organization culture will seldom change permanently until those at the very top of the organizational chart commit to doing two things: mandating the change, then conducting themselves as exemplary role models for expected behaviours.

I have often heard that changing organizational culture is a lengthy and tedious procedure that will only succeed if attempts to change are made slowly and with endless patience.

Those same pundits often go on to proclaim that for culture to change, everyone involved has to willingly buy in to the new expected behaviours before they will commit to practising.

Making a Change

Not so. In my experience, having guided many organizations to successfully implement culture change, this is an erroneous perspective. Culture can, and will change as quickly as the leaders commit to the change and follow a very simple process for ensuring compliance.

The emerging stories of disgusting behaviour will, without doubt, lead to significant policy and style changes in many organizations. Sadly though, most of these changes will enjoy only a short life before delinquent behaviours re-emerge and a sense of entitlement reverts to previous levels.

Permanent cultural change requires not only mandated behaviour changes, but also a massive change in the collective mindset of an organization. This means skilled repeated messaging by senior management along with a clear understanding of the consequences of noncompliance.

If it is true that we get what we tolerate, the message that this type of behaviour will not be tolerated and will be dealt with in very swift and harsh fashion, must be conveyed loudly and clearly to every member within in organization.

And those willing to come forward and report unacceptable behaviour need to be assured of the absolute safety of doing so and be guaranteed protection from those seeking retribution.

Remember this, culture is the operating system which drives every organization. The best policies, procedures, strategies and tactics will never produce optimal desired results when they are incompatible with an existing culture.

If you are a CEO who recognizes that your organizational culture must change if you wish other things to change, and you have been led to believe this to be a long and painful journey, give me 30 minutes and I will share with you compelling evidence that this is not so.

Think culture doesn’t matter, let me leave you with the sage words of Lou Gerstner, former IBM CEO, “Culture isn’t just one aspect of the game, it is the game.”

If you are that CEO who needs a reset in your organization, I can help. Call me at (403) 203 0343 or (888) 929 0343. You can also email me at tellmemore@strategicpathways.net and we can begin work.

Till we read again.

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