Harvey Weinstein at The Weinstein Companies. Roy Price at Amazon Studios. Travis Kalanick at Uber. These executives have all lost their positions recently due to revelations of their abuse of power and sexual harassment of women. Besides the outrage about these men’s behaviors – and yes, they need to be held responsible for their abusive actions – the company cultures that tolerated them also need to be questioned. At Uber, a former attorney general’s law firm was hired to audit the culture of the organization and recommend changes. The lesson for all companies is to examine your culture to ensure it is one of accountability, where everyone is held to the same high standards.
Does your company culture tolerate Harvey Weinstein behavior – or brilliant jerks of either gender? How will you know if your people are afraid to report sexual harassment, abuses of power or leadership by intimidation? How will you act if you discover an abuse of power in your organization? Leaders of companies that aspire to be exemplars of compassionate, values-driven businesses would be wise to consider these questions.
Here are steps to make your culture Harvey Weinstein-proof:
1. Define and communicate your values
Most organizations have declared their core values or the principles that they wish to honor (if you have not developed core values, see here for step-by-step instructions.) With or without stated values, your company will develop a culture that reflects leader’s observed actions. In declaring your core values, you can codify the behaviors that are acceptable and unacceptable to the company. Many organizations skip the step of identifying the acceptable and unacceptable behaviors that correspond to the stated values. I encourage company leaders to have each department document both acceptable and unacceptable types of behaviors for the work they do.
For example, a sales department might define an acceptable behavior that supports the value of Integrity as, “Communicating honestly and openly about product pricing and payment terms to all customers.” Make sure that abuses of power, such as sexual harassment and intimidation tactics, are included in the behaviors that detract from the values.
2. Design rituals that embed your core values
The term ritual describes repeated actions or ceremonies that a company uses to mark certain milestones such as new hires, retirements, birthdays, work anniversaries, meetings of all types and celebrations. To be memorable, rituals should be repeated consistently and evoke an emotional response.
One high tech company developed a memorable ritual to welcome new hires on their first day. The entire company would gather at 10:00 am wearing computer cables wrapped around their heads. The president would introduce the new hire and then every team member would toast their new team mate by downing a small cup of warm sake, the potent Japanese wine. (Team members who didn’t drink were given another beverage, served in a sake cup.) Although the serving size was not enough to make anyone intoxicated, it provided a jolt that made the event memorable. What values were embedded in this ritual? Fun and teamwork, interestingly. Fun is obvious, but perhaps teamwork needs an explanation: Although alcohol can be misused, in moderation its consumption breaks down barriers between humans and builds solidarity among the team. This company ritual bonded people together via a memorable, off-beat experience that firmly welcomed new hires.
3. Ensure that all leaders are regularly reviewed by their team
Whether you perform annual or project-oriented reviews of all employees, a best practice is to allow team members to anonymously review their manager at least once a year. Include ratings of how the leader upholds each of the values, perhaps with wording such as, “Please rate your manager on behaviors that support each of our core values, using a 5-point scale.” Allow space for comments. Demonstrate that these evaluations are anonymous by coaching managers to refrain from recriminating any team members they think might have rated them poorly. Human Resources or your People Department should track and report these scores to upper management or, in the case of the C-Suite, to the board of directors.
4. Regularly conduct employee satisfaction/engagement surveys
Even small companies can inexpensively measure their team member’s satisfaction with their job, their manager, their team and company policies. If you use a low- or no-cost online survey program, all it takes is someone’s time to deploy the survey and gather results. Regularly surveying the team is important and requires some discipline. Larger companies typically survey their employees yearly because of the effort it takes to roll out survey and implement feedback. I’ve seen other companies perform monthly or quarterly “pulse” surveys. One company I know seeks feedback from employees weekly with a survey that includes only one question. This type of continuous feedback ensures that executives keep a finger on the pulse of the employees and especially the effectiveness of the managers and leaders.
5. Do something when you discover a problem
Harvey Weinstein got away with his antics for decades with the full knowledge of his brother (who was his business partner) and other key company leaders. First, develop and document a process for reporting an instance of sexual harassment. An example of such a policy is found on the Society for Human Resource Management webpage. Train your HR team members on how to respond to such a complaint. Remember that sexual harassment is illegal and treat it seriously.
For less egregious behaviors such as an employee is not behaving in agreement with the defined core values and behaviors, create and invoke a program of progressive discipline for this person. If non-compliant behavior is observed or reported, the first step is for the offender’s manager to speak to him or her, define the behavior that is unacceptable and ask the person to adopt acceptable behaviors. If the behavior doesn’t improve, escalate the urgency of your response up to and including termination. Several leaders have confided in me that their culture improved immediately when they terminated offending team members. Believe me, it’s hard to fire an employee in our current low unemployment market! And, your courage in terminating the bad apple will be rewarded by higher employee commitment and engagement.
I’m optimistic that this year’s rash of power abuse revelations will improve company cultures in the long term. Women and minorities are feeling more empowered to speak up about their experiences. The press is investigating and exposing companies and leaders who violate the law. Leaders of high integrity that hold themselves and their employees accountable to their core values will ensure that their companies are Harvey Weinstein-proof.
From the desk of