Most leaders work hard to create the right culture.  What’s the easiest way to damage one?

Building a positive culture takes work, dedication, engaged leadership, and a clear vision of what could be.  Unfortunately, damaging it takes almost no energy.  In fact, sometimes all you have to do is nothing at all.  Here’s one of the most common ways that it happens:

For whatever reason an employee starts harassing another employee.  It might be a peer, subordinate, or even a leader.  The result is the same.  It might start off small with inappropriate comments about a person’s gender, attractiveness, or race.  Left unaddressed, the behaviors are almost certainly guaranteed to continue and grow.  Soon, other people are noticing.  Sadly, they rarely step in for fear of becoming a target themselves.

Eventually it escalates into a full blown harassment situation.  By the time it finally gets reported and addressed, it has progressed into a major, highly visible situation.  People ask:  How could this happen here?  Why wasn’t it reported sooner?

By then, the damage is done.  Employees, and often the public, see that this behavior is allowed by the organization.

So if we know it takes a lot of time and energy to build a great culture, why do we allow them to get sidetracked by these types of behaviors?  There are a variety of causes, including:

  • The belief that it won’t happen here. Yes, it can, especially if you aren’t proactively working to prevent harassment.
  • The assumption that employees know better. While we’d like to think that our employees have a strong moral compass, it’s best to make our expectations clear in our organization’s values and not leave it to chance.  Talk about them regularly to ensure people understand your expectations.
  • The expectation that issues are reported. Often this is not the case.  Being the victim and needing help can be difficult to admit.  In addition to being uncomfortable stepping in, bystanders often assume that leadership already knows about the situation.

What should we do to protect our culture?  It’s simpler than you might think.

  • Make expectations clear. Make certain your team knows what is acceptable and what is not.  Never assume that everyone is on the same page.
  • Talk about harassment. If your employees know that it’s a topic that is discussed on a regular basis they will be more likely to address issues as they arise.
  • Proactively look for potential situations. Don’t wait for issues to come to you.  Ask about them in advance.
  • Have multiple open doors. Employees are more likely to report issues if they have multiple reporting channels available to them.  Communicate them and demonstrate a willingness to listen to anyone who comes to you.

An important first step to creating a positive culture is to make certain that your employees feel safe.  If they don’t, the rest of your work on culture won’t matter.

Not certain where to start?  HRM offers an interactive anti-harassment training program that is customized for each organization.  It encourages dialogue between employees on harassment issues and trains them on effective bystander intervention.  Let us know how we can help!

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