Recent developments regarding sexual harassment allegations have leaders of companies scrambling to eliminate the potential for these behaviors in their companies and mitigate risk. Unfortunately, many of these efforts, albeit altruistic in motive, are tragically flawed in approach.
Rewriting employee manuals and company policies will have little to no effect on preventing a toxic culture. Human behavior is controlled by three things (listed from highest to lowest effectiveness):
- Personal moral compass ("I shall" and "I shall not")
- Culture ("We shall" and "We shall not")
- Policies, rules, laws ("You shall" and "You shall not")
The first two on the list are intrinsic. They are highly effective and inexpensive to administrate. When those two fail, we tend to go litigious. Number three is extrinsic and the least effective.
So, hire well. Screen candidates to assess their personal moral compass, and be intentional about building a corporate culture that is intolerant of sexual harassment and abuse. Here's how.
Draw your line.
Start with this exercise:
- Hang a piece of butcher paper on a wall and gather your team around it. Draw a black line horizontally across the center of the paper.
- Above the line, ask the group to answer the question, "What behaviors do we tolerate?" Below the line, have the group answer, "What behaviors don't we tolerate?"
Caution: Do not be aspirational. Tell the truth. Are people late for meetings? Then "being late" goes above the line. Do you hear gossip at work? Then "gossip" goes above the line. The key is to get people to tell the truth, and in this context, truth means describing things as they actually are.
Once everyone in the group is satisfied that the paper truthfully lists the behaviors they have been tolerating and have not been tolerating daily, draw a line on a second piece of paper. This time, ask the group to list behaviors that, from this moment forward, they will tolerate and advocate for above the line. Then, below the line, list the behaviors they will no longer tolerate. Ever.
Again, this is not an aspirational exercise. Make sure each person who fills out this second chart is committed to living into this culture starting immediately. If they write it on the paper, they are now committing to living into these behaviors.
Everyone enforces your culture.
Everyone in the group should agree that anyone who witnesses behaviors that are below the line has an obligation to call out the offender, regardless of who they are.
This is essential. In a peak performance culture, the lowest-level person in the organization feels obligated to call out the highest-level person in the organization should they see behaviors that breach what was documented on that paper. Culture is enforced by any and all.
Keep the second sheet of paper somewhere it will be seen, like near the coffee pot. Each month, gather to see if what people are experiencing in the company matches what is written.
If not, there are only two choices: change the behavior to match the paper or change the paper to match the experiences. Repeat monthly.
This straightforward process will have profound implications for your corporate culture. All you need is a couple of big sheets of paper, some markers, a commitment to honoring your word, and a heap of moral courage.