The scandal at Uber over ignored sexual harassment allegations has turned the spotlight on company culture. With all of the recent energy around that topic, there is not much being said about the roots of a company culture. But ignoring the roots of culture is dangerous.
What is at the root of a culture? Simply put, a lot of humans who are going to interpret rules, expectations and policies. Until the roots are addressed, any action to establish or change a company’s culture will only have a temporary effect.
Of course, it’s essential that strong leadership send a clear, strong message about the culture. Equally as essential is to have policies, practices and processes in place that are objective–not open to interpretation. Subjective policies, practices and processes will counteract all of the constructive work of the leadership and the message.
Where is the danger?
Fuzzy language, processes and expectations are the danger, and they hide in plain sight. “Fuzzy” can refer to subjective language that is open to interpretation. That is where the few bad apples who want to break the rules will hide.
Like Uber, a financial services company in the southwest U.S. had to recover from its first sexual harassment scandal and had to recover quickly. Until that point, it had been a “boys’ club” culture in which the stock phrases prohibiting sexual harassment had been circulated, but the policies were fuzzy, with plenty of room to protect the cronies who were used to getting around the rules.
Phrases such as “will not be tolerated,” “unwelcome conduct,” “an offensive environment,” are examples of fuzzy language. This is where the people who might cause trouble begin to rationalize their actions and hide behind the interpretations....
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