A bad culture will cost you money (and everything)

Don't have a culture of silence at your firm

One of the most unbelievable things about work to me is that old-school, high-up-the-ladder guys always give total lip service to ideas like “culture” and “employee engagement.” I understand why on face. Those are soft, fluffy topics. They can’t immediately go to a balance sheet and make you money. Those things (the balance sheet, the monies) are really the focus, but we can’t say they’re the focus, so we talk about other things — even though no one with a brain really believes those other things (“… building a culture of teamwork…”) actually matter. Here’s another way to look at it: how often do your top people sit down and talk about finances, margins, revenues, and targets? OK, a lot, right? Now compare that to this: how often do they talk about people, who should be where, etc? Probably a lot less. And when they talk about people, they’re probably discussing headcount as relates to revenue, and not “Well, this person is really talented, so maybe we should advance them to…”

Bottom line: people chase the Almighty Dollar at most orgs, and everything that can’t directly be tied to that is something that “… can be mentioned in a speech,” but when we get back to the day-to-day of doing what we do, there will never be any follow-up.

At a micro level, I can see the point of a C-Suite guy. People have left jobs/organizations for decades and those jobs/organizations have been fine. So, people can be lost and it works. It’s OK. So why worry about someone being “engaged?” If they leave, we’ll replace ’em. Right? Right. The process will be harried as shit, and analysis paralysis will set in at every level, but … we’ll replace ’em. OK. So ignore people. Focus on products and processes, baby!

Let’s think about this at a macro level, though. Like an Enron-type level. What happens if you have a fucked-up culture and some people are doing less-than-stellar ethical things? Well, now that’s a recipe for disaster. Here’s the NYC prosecutor who dealt with Madoff, for example:

“For years, there were good people, or reasonably good people, who knew at Galleon that something was fishy, who knew at Madoff Securities that something was fishy,” Bharara says. He prosecuted the cases involving insider trading at the Galleon Group and the fraudulent Ponzi scheme that landed Bernard Madoff in prison. “The great tragedy and regret you have is those people didn’t do anything about it.”

Yep. Culture of silence. Don’t challenge the bosses. Everyone is too busy. Etc, etc.

Most guys read this and think “Bhaha, that’s a 1 in 10 million shot it could happen to me.”

Two words on that: Joe Paterno.

No one ever thought his career would end that way, and then he’d die.

Two more words on that: Coach K.

You think the Duke program is 100 percent clean? It’s not. There’s been cracks in that foundation for years. His exit will be similar.

More from the prosecutor:

A culture of silence can hurt a firm. It breeds an environment where bad things happen but people don’t feel comfortable speaking up. “You want to create a culture in which people are going to come and tell you, ‘I have a little bit of a concern that we have this unit that’s playing fast and loose,’ ”Bharara says.

See, at this point it’s a problem. We love to create these worlds where decision-makers are untouchable except by their direct reports, and we’re supposed to sit in our cubes/offices and grind away at our deliverables, but honestly… stop and think about every place you’ve ever worked. There’s probably at least one person in every place that you looked at and said, “Well, he might be stealing…”

There are people like that all over the fucking world. You’re telling me you’ve never been 100 feet from one in an office?

You have.

And you know what? You probably said nothing to any manager of yours, any other manager, HR, etc.

These are where the rubber meets the road on “the value of culture.” You may look at it and say, “Oh, well, my people are clean/great!” or “If they’re doing something, they’ll never get caught!” Bullshit.

You can talk all you want about “a culture of transparency” on the slide deck at your big event every year, or when you meet shareholders, but you know what? You actually need to live that, or else the end for your team/org/self could be quite embarrassing.

Ted Bauer

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