Creating Problem Free Corporate Cultures

Every company has a culture, for better or worse. Some companies deliberately  develop cultures to pursue legitimate business objectives. For example, there is the pro-employee culture where, we are told, employees are loved, spoiled, and always having fun. Perks may include wearing t-shirts and jeans, playing ping-pong all day, drinking company supplied beer and pretty much working whenever and wherever you please. Clearly the objective is to attract employees with the promise of fun and freedom as the incentives.

Another example is the pro-customer culture where companies will do anything to make customers happy. Reportedly, if you just need someone to talk to, there are employees who will talk to you for as many as thirteen hours straight. The objective here is to go to great lengths to satisfy and woo customers.

Then, there is the culture which is not for any legitimate business objective, the problem culture. One of these was exposed recently at Fox News amid a slew of sexual harassment allegations. This kind of culture can also be intentionally created as the leaders tend to be dismissive and conflict-oriented. Uber comes to mind.

Problem cultures almost always involve a violation, or alleged violation, of law. Employment laws, such as anti-discrimination, anti-retaliation, workers’ compensation, and wage and hour, laws are often implicated, but criminal and other laws are too. Problem cultures can be very costly. Fox News shelled out $13 million to claimant employees, plus $25 million and $40 million, respectively, to buy out the contracts of Bill O’Reilly and
Roger Ailes.

It’s somewhat understandable when companies are found lacking in their preventive measures. Advising employees on the law so they don’t stray is not nearly as appealing as promoting a pro-employee, or pro-customer, culture. Companies often have the best of intentions and take some steps in the right direction, such as making equal opportunity employer statements, having the proper content in a handbook, and having in-house presentations now and then. But, infrequent, limited, and disjointed efforts such as these are not enough to resonate with, and be remembered by, the average employee. Ten and 15 year employees at Fox News have said that they were not aware that there was an anonymous sexual harassment hotline.

Unless employees are truly familiar with the law which applies to them, they cannot necessarily be expected to abide by it. And employees will not become familiar unless the company delivers the information in a way which makes it memorable.

The way a company can make legal information memorable to employees is to devise a comprehensive year round plan for clear and consistent delivery of the information. Clear and simple information is easier to understand and more likely to be retained. Information which is seen on a consistent basis is also more likely to be retained. Providing the same information in a variety of formats such as video, live presentation, newsletter, bulletin board, payroll information, and email message, makes it more likely to be seen. Providing small unique pieces of information one at a time makes them easier to digest. Communicating fairness and humor can be a very effective way to make a point; and there are a multitude of instructional videos on employment law for purchase which incorporate this.

Laws are restrictions, but they also communicate company ethics. Employees need to understand there are limits to what they can do. But, simply telling employees what they can’t do is not the best way to have them comply. It’s much better to also tell them how the company supports the purpose of a law. For example, rather than just stopping at “the Company does not discriminate based on…” organizations should also add why they have this policy such as “and the Company embraces diversity and inclusion as core to our values.” Similarly, employees need to see through the actions of the leaders in the company that the company is genuinely committed to compliance with the law, and is committed to achieving a fair and equitable culture.

Creating a problem-free corporate culture isn’t easy, but successful leaders are always able to figure out how to make it happen. Naturally, they realize the benefit that accrues to those types of cultures, sustained success over time.