Scandal and Culture Change

As allegations arise and high-profile people are facing their day of reckoning, we are reflecting on the changes that could occur within the culture because of the harassment and abuse cases.

  • REALITY: While these scandalous cases could lead to longer-term change, the consequences for bad behavior are insufficient to result in real change.
  • REAL CHANGE: Change involves not just stopping something, but also adopting consistent new beliefs and behaviors. What will be different after the bad behavior has been exposed?

Culture Connection

Culture comes from deeply held beliefs and assumptions that result in behaviors. The more that behaviors are tolerated, the more entrenched beliefs become. Too often the results (high ratings, great sales numbers, etc.) are valued more than the right behavior. Are high performers given a pass for bad behavior? Organizations that allow high performers to get away with values violations are setting the course for potential scandals like you are reading about in the news.

This isn’t limited to news personalities and actors. Consider Wells Fargo, where the drive to open new accounts was valued above their stated cultural norms – resulting in fake accounts being opened by salespeople. Or Volkswagen, where their engineers created — and employees installed – emissions-cheating software on diesel cars, though according to their Code of Conduct they valued “respectable, honest, and [sic] actions in everyday business that are in accordance with rules.”


This is a perfect time for your leadership team to ask: What behaviors are being tolerated that violate our values? What are the beliefs in our organization that are driving those behaviors? What could the longer-term consequences be for our organization or team?

Awareness is the first step in the process of aligning “how you do things” with the results you want to achieve. Whether you use a survey or start having honest conversations, it’s time to make sure that the behaviors you are encouraging or tacitly accepting support the culture you want to create.

As Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, said in his book Hit Refresh, “the C in CEO stands for culture.” Culture exists, it’s up to the leadership to take it from accidental or hypocritical to intentional and results-driven.

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