How to Undermine an Ethical Culture
Culture is built on agreements. These agreements can be tacit (underneath our consciousness) or conscious. Rarely are cultures designed or created consciously. You can’t prevent a culture from forming, but if you are not aware of how leadership actions create culture, then you can create a culture that is so bad and so intractable that you’ll want to sell your company.
Do you get angry and tell people off? It feels good, I know, it is a sure recipe for making sure no one gets in your way. Even better is allowing others to do that. Is there a manager that has a reputation for sounding off, an employee that everyone avoids? You want to hire more people with volatile tempers. If people are afraid they will get yelled at then they are much more likely to stay silent. If you get good at this you don’t have to yell, just your disapproval will be enough.
Another good way to undermine a culture is to avoid difficult discussions and anything with emotions. By making sure that people are afraid to say anything and are trained to ignore their emotions, it is much easier to stretch limits with tacit agreement. Make all arguments rational and dismiss and belittle anything that even smacks of emotion or caring – this is a business, after all.
We are group animals. We need each other and we need to belong. Group Think can not only undermine decisions, it can do much more. Have people vote on difficult or contentious situations, with the leadership in the room. Make sure that the vote is public and not secret, so dissenters risk being recognized. Make sure that everyone who dissents feels like an outsider and make it hard for them to be heard unless they get angry, then you can have them removed.
Have people talk to you one on one and make sure they know that no matter how they feel, you are not going to change your mind. You can even be nice about it. What is important is that they know there is no recourse. Always be polite in public, so they look bad if they get upset.
Have ‘stretch’ goals and turn a blind eye to how they are achieved. Belittle anyone who dares to question how things are done. This is best done in public. Results are MORE important then how those results are achieved. Create a small group around you and make sure they know they are special. Encourage them to tell stories about other employees so you know the scoop.
Don’t allow anyone to suggest that you might be wrong, fallible, or uncaring. Refuse to accept any kind of suggestion or criticism. Take offense that anyone could even think of you in this way. You can even misunderstand comments and act offended to set the stage for this. Remember, you are only doing what’s best for the organization!
These are good ways to begin to stretch the ethical fabric of the culture. When people see that ethical considerations are being stretch and ignored, then they recognize that fudging is OK. The more you are consistent with this the farther the ‘ethical’ boundaries can be pushed until no one is really sure were they are. You want to convince people that they are powerless, that their opinions don’t matter and that no one cares what they think. This takes much less time than you might imagine!
Other Posts by Kathryn Alexander
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