How to change organizational culture to create a harassment free workplace!
This is the second in a two-part series. Click on this link to read part one.
In the first part, we explored the reasons why it’s time for business leaders and HR professionals to take a new approach to prevent workplace harassment. Research shows that traditional anti-harassment training programs have not been effective at preventing workplace harassment and do not affect lasting behavior changes on the part of actual and would-be harassers.
A more effective approach is to change the culture, which includes the behavioral norms and expectations for all employees, in order to create a more constructive organizational culture. The importance of having a more constructive culture cannot be overstated. To begin with, a culture that tolerates bad behavior of any kind is more likely to experience problems with harassment. On the positive side, research shows that an organization with a predominately constructive culture has better business performance and consistently
better business results.
A constructive organizational culture has been proven to improve sustained business performance and profitability.
© 2017 Human Synergistics International.
The construct of organizational culture is a prominent topic these days. There is much written about culture in the business, human resources, and talent management literature. However, what is often ignored, overlooked or glossed over is how to measure culture. Using an accepted and valid culture assessment is important to objectively quantify the current culture and have a base-line measurement to identify both the strengths and the challenges of your culture. A good culture assessment serves as your starting point as well as a comparative yard-stick measurement against “best of breed” organizations. Lastly, and most importantly, the Current State culture assessment has to be held up against the “Preferred” culture that employees and leaders have identified as the ideal culture that would allow them to perform at their best. It is the gaps between the Current State and Preferred cultures that make up the foundation for a culture change initiative.
The culture assessment tool most often used by the Path Forward team is the Organizational Culture Inventory (OCI) from Human Synergistics, International (HS). The suite of assessment tools from HS provides a visual model, called the Circumplex, for developing Constructive styles in individuals, managers, leaders, teams, and organizations. The Circumplex breaks down the behavioral norms proven to drive performance effectiveness according to 12 behaviors or styles. These styles are further grouped according to three general clusters:
The styles are measured by their strength or intensity by how far out they extend from the center of the Circumplex. For the Current State measurements, the extensions represent the degree to which organization members are required to demonstrate those behaviors in order to succeed or be in alignment with the cultural expectations of that organization. For the Preferred Culture, the extensions represent the view of members in terms of the “ideal” culture that would empower them to perform to the best of their ability. The differences between the Current State and Preferred Cultures represents the opportunity for improvement for the organization, both from an organizational “fit” at the employee level and for the overall performance of the organization.
Using these examples; in the Current State Culture (the circumplex on the left), the predominance of the Aggressive/Defensive (red) and Passive/Defensive (green) behaviors indicate the dominate leadership style relies heavily on the Aggressive behaviors (i.e.; a high need for control and power) while employees react by becoming more Passive and complacent (i.e.; a high need for security). When leaders have an expectation to “get things done” with a sense of urgency, it often leads to Aggressive behaviors by people in positions of authority. These Aggressive behaviors, in turn, create an environment where control and power are the dominant force of motivation. Employees then typically respond by being more Passive and complacent, which creates the conditions where harassment is most likely to occur, and least likely to be reported or acted upon when reported.
This type of Aggressive and Passive dynamic can easily create an environment where people in power feel they have the right and privilege to dominate those not in power. When that happens, the result is a culture where victims of harassment are afraid to speak out, and when they do are often punished or experience other types of retribution. This helps to explain part of the reason why studies consistently show that 70-75% of workplace harassment goes unreported. That is why we call this type of profile a “Toxic Culture,” one that is defined by excessive use of fear and power. With this type of culture, sexual harassment training will have little or no impact and most likely will be considered a joke by the participants. The reason is the cultural dissonance that exists when corporate policy and training programs say one thing, but the accepted behaviors are something very different.
Looking at the Preferred Culture (the Circumplex on the right), the Constructive (blue) behaviors are all above the 75th percentile, with the Achievement and Humanistic-Encouraging behaviors close to the 90th percentile. The Aggressive/Defensive (red) behaviors are all reduced to around the middle (the 50th percentile) and the Passive/Defensive (green) behaviors are even lower (around the 25th percentile). The strong Constructive behaviors in the Preferred Culture are all achievement-oriented behaviors and indicate a high-performing organization. We call this type of profile a “Constructive Culture,” one that is defined by high levels of trust and collaboration and sustained business performance.
Transforming an organization’s culture can be a daunting challenge and is often easier said than done. It’s commonly reported that three out of four business transformation initiatives fail, either outright or fail to live up to all the expected outcomes. The literature on this topic is replete with stories and examples of why culture transformation initiatives fail. Rather than focus on the reasons for failure, let’s look at what it takes for a successful culture transformation.
Through experience leading, facilitating, and coaching many transformation initiatives, the Path Forward to Business Transformation team has developed this graphic to visualize the critical components for a transformation initiative to be successful.
Some of the important principles to follow to ensure the success of a change initiative;
1) Articulate the “compelling reason” for the change.
The case for transforming from a “Toxic Culture” to a “Constructive Culture” is very compelling on many levels. Our focus here is on how a shift in culture can help an organization prevent workplace harassment. Other benefits of being a more Constructive Culture include being a more innovative and adaptive organization, improved employee engagement, improved ability to attract and retain top talent, outstanding and respected leaders, and maximized business performance. Lastly, once you start on a culture transformation journey, be sure to apply change management best practices to improve your odds of sustainable success.
If you’re interested in learning more about this topic, please check out the information at the Path Forward to Business Transformation website or contact me directly at email@example.com.
This is the first in a two-part series. Click on this link to read part two
Before you can answer that, we need to understand the objectives, or expected outcomes, of the training. Is the goal of the training to reduce or prevent the occurrence of sexual harassment in the workplace? If that is the case, then research indicates it’s not a very good investment.
According to a 2016 report from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), “much of the training done over the last 30 years has not worked as a prevention tool – it’s been too focused on simply avoiding legal liability.” Annual sexual harassment training programs can reduce legal liability by making employees aware of the issue and the company’s anti-harassment policies. But, overall, research indicates these programs have not been effective at changing attitudes or behaviors.
It’s not just sexual harassment. Any type of harassment that creates a “hostile work environment” can cost a business in fines, settlement costs, legal fees, and lost productivity. While these tangible costs are easy to calculate, there are many hidden costs that are just as real, such as damage to a company’s brand and reputation, lost customers, lower employee engagement, employee turnover, cost of hiring replacements, etc. According to the EEOC report, in 2015 they recovered $164.5 million for workers alleging workplace harassment – and these direct costs are “just the tip of the iceberg.” Proactively dealing with the challenge of harassment in a holistic way can save a company money and save the company’s brand and reputation.
As an HR Leader, I have updated company policies on harassment, conducted sexual harassment training, reviewed sexual harassment concerns, and investigated complaints. I have recommended dismissals, as well as other disciplinary actions, for violations of the sexual harassment policy. In each of these cases, the offender had been through the required training and was aware of the company policy. So how did they not know that violating company policy on harassment would get them in trouble? It comes down to their expectation of what would happen if their behavior was found out. In other words, it was related to the organizational culture and the behavioral norms that were accepted or tolerated, regardless of any policy in place.
It’s time to look beyond annual harassment training to provide a safe workplace for all employees. Recent high-profile harassment scandals and the “Me too” movement highlight the fact that harassment in the workplace is a significant problem. For business leaders and HR professionals, it’s time to take a holistic approach to understand and reshape your organization’s culture.
Business leaders and HR professionals must look deeper to understand their organizations’ culture and inspect which behaviors are encouraged, allowed, or just plain tolerated. Often, the behaviors that are prevalent reflect leadership expectations to “get things done” with a sense of urgency, which leads to aggressive behaviors by people in positions of authority. These aggressive behaviors, in turn, create an environment where control and power are the dominant force of motivation. This creates the conditions where harassment is most likely to occur and least likely to be reported.
When you look at the elements of culture as measured by the Organizational Culture Inventory (OCI) from Human Synergistics International, you find that aggressive behaviors from people in positions of power lead to passive behaviors from people not in power. This creates a situation where people in power feel they have the right and privilege to dominate those not in power. The result is a culture where victims of harassment are afraid to speak out and when they do are often punished or experience other types of retribution. In this type of culture, sexual harassment training will have no impact and most likely will be considered a joke by the participants. The reason is that of the cultural dissidence that exists when corporate policy and training programs say one thing, but the accepted behaviors are something very different.
What's needed is a new approach! A more effective approach is to assess the overall culture with both quantitative and qualitative data to understand what the cultural norms are, map the gaps between the current state culture and the preferred culture, as described both by leaders and employees, and then embark upon a culture change initiative to close those gaps.
Here you’re probably thinking, ok, everyone is jumping on the “change the culture” bandwagon. And you would be correct. In fact, an article in Bloomberg BNA late last year led with the headline, “When Anti-Harassment Policy Isn’t Enough, Fix Corporate Culture.” What I find lacking in this and many similar articles is a clear grasp of what it really takes to change organizational culture. For example, most of the articles I have read that suggest changing culture simple talk about doing more training. That is too simplistic, does not lead to sustainable behavior change and really does not help the people in the trenches charged with creating a harassment free culture.
In my next blog, I will share insights that I have learned from successful culture change initiatives and provide practical tips to consider when starting an organizational culture change initiative; such as the critical success factors necessary to gain buy-in from everyone in the organization, and what it takes to create and sustain a positive organizational culture.
If you’re interested in learning more about this topic now, please check out the information in Path Forward to Business Transformation website or contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.