Building a Positive Workplace Culture Resistant to Harassment and DiscriminationPart 4
4 Questions to Evaluate Your Workplace Culture
In this blog series, we have answered the following questions:
In this final post, I’ll discuss the question:
By solving our current challenge of building a positive workplace culture, are we inadvertently planting the seeds for the next problem?
To take a phrase from researchers and scientists who study complex systems, “For every challenging problem, there lies a solution which is simple, elegant and wrong!”
Today’s leaders are faced with extremely difficult challenges as well as more information than they can possibly digest in any given day, week, or month. In addition, they are charged with leading workforces that have never been more diverse, with each segment of the demographic seemingly having their own unique set of needs and expectations. To succeed amidst a culture surplus with data and desires, effective leaders need to step away from the details and pose questions that focus on “why” building a positive workplace culture is necessary before implementing “what” is needed. Only by doing so can they help to foster cross-organizational commitment around the creation of harassment and discrimination-free environment.
Harassment and Discrimination Don’t Have Quick Fixes
Case Study: “Cobra Problems” & Unintended Consequences
The Foundation for Economic Education provides an example dating back to colonial India when Delhi suffered a proliferation of cobras. To reduce the number of cobras, the local government placed a bounty on them. This seemed like a perfectly reasonable solution. Unfortunately, it had some very unintended consequences. The bounty was so generous that many people took up cobra hunting, which initially led to the desired outcome: a decrease in the cobra population.
That’s where things got interesting.
As the cobra population fell and it became harder to find cobras in the wild, people became rather entrepreneurial. They started raising cobras in their homes, which they would then kill to collect the bounty as before. This led to a new problem. Local authorities realized that there were very few cobras evident in the city, but they nonetheless were still paying the bounty to the same degree as before. In the end, Delhi had a bigger cobra problem after the bounty ended than it had before it began. City officials canceled the bounty and in response, the people raising cobras in their homes released all of their now-valueless cobras back into the streets.
Ultimately, Delhi had a bigger cobra problem after the bounty ended than before it began. The unintended consequence of the cobra eradication plan was an increase in the number of cobras in the streets. This case has become the exemplar of when an attempt to solve a problem ends up exacerbating the very problem that rule-makers intended to fix.
Two Critical Questions for Leadership to Prevent Further Workplace Harassment & Discrimination
For every solution, action, or intervention proposed, leadership must ask two critical questions in order to avoid planting the seeds of future workplace harassment and discrimination:
1. “Does this effort address the root causes of our harassment and discrimination challenges or is it really aimed at treating the symptoms?”
If preventing harassment and discrimination in the workplace is focused on symptoms, there’s a good chance that efforts aimed at improving one specific metric or helping one particular demographic segment, will almost certainly result in some form of organizational backlash and an equally or more serious issue popping up downstream.
2. “Before we launch this effort, what will we do to help people come along willingly and of their own volition?”
Leaders need to help the teams they support to understand the strategy, tactics, logistics, and execution of building a positive workplace culture. Given straightforward information about why workplace harassment and discrimination prevention training is being done is almost always more effective than simply telling people what will be done. Taking the time to share both the plan to address workplace discrimination and harassment as well as the rationale behind the plan is rarely easy, but it’s a great example of how sometimes you need to be more intentional in the short-term to be more effective in the long-term.