Tough Questions to Ask About Your Culture

Bad behavior. Harassment. Assault. Over the past few weeks we’ve seen a tidal wave of reports of sometimes unbelievable behavior by leaders in politics, media, and many other industries. None of this is new. It’s just coming to the surface. And, for those of us who are old enough, it’s not surfacing for the first time.

These incidents and behaviors didn’t happen in a vacuum. The ones that don’t get media attention don’t happen in a vacuum either. Whether in a corporate, government, educational or non-profit setting, organization cultures have either implicitly or explicitly permitted them to happen. You may look at your organization and say, “that doesn’t happen here.” but I think far more of you would say, “yes, it does or could happen here.”

Now is the time to take an unvarnished look at your culture and ask some difficult questions:

  • What does our culture reward? If someone gets things done or gets great results, are bad behaviors ignored?
  • Are some powerful people’s behaviors the elephant in the room? Is it common knowledge that they behave in an unacceptable way but no one addresses it?
  • When concerns are voiced, are they ignored or shrugged off as “just how that person is”?
  • Is favoritism common? Is it an unspoken rule that some people can say some things while other people can’t?
  • Is it a significant concern that, if someone raises an issue, there will be retaliation?

These aren’t easy questions. Your company may currently be very successful (making money or impact or enjoying a great public reputation). However, answering yes should be viewed as a warning sign that your culture may be permitting very bad behavior and your good reputation may be short lived.