The Aftermath of Scandal on Corporate Culture

Why employees, when witnessing something that is clearly wrong, may be afraid or reluctant to speak up

The sudden fall of a growing number of the media industry's top figures like Matt Lauer, Harvey Weinstein, Bill O'Reilly and Charlie Rose following allegations of their less than dignified behavior has led many organizations to revisit their corporate cultures and policies.

The sudden fall of so many big names and the thousands across the U.S. in business and government who have fallen in their wake – for the same or similar allegations – have led to an intense spotlight on the internal cultures of companies and organizations t that ignored, facilitated and covered up harassment in the workplace.  

It seems while many have known what was going on, in some cases for years, there have been many who were too afraid to speak up against these behaviors. In truth, there probably have been many who, upon witnessing or hearing about an incident, remained quiet believing nothing could be done, or, even worse, said nothing for fear of retribution.  In fact Time magazine recently released its 2017 Person of the Year, naming the women who spoke up.

The question is: Why employees, when witnessing something that is clearly wrong, may be afraid or reluctant to speak up. Breakdowns in trust and fear in the workplace are not uncommon and can show up in ways other than harassment such as lower pay for women, lack of transparency in decision-making, failure to follow through on commitments and undermining and overriding personal contributions. These can all lead to levels of mistrust, which, if allowed to, can embed and result in, a weakening of corporate culture. 

Most organizations have worked hard on their value and mission statements. Core values support the vision and shape the culture of a company and are the principles, beliefs or philosophy that is at its essence. Corporate values need to be the benchmark and backbone of an organization and be used as a filter to make tough decisions. 

When organizations contradict their own values, it sends a negative message and results in a breakdown in trust. It not only leads to employees who are uneasy and unable to speak their minds or call out questionable behavior, it can lead to contempt, anger, stress and disengagement, none of which bode well for any business, as organizations are only as good as it's people.


Organizational leadership should ask:

  • What is really going on in culture?
  • Is there a free flow of information?
  • Do we trust one another?
  • Are there checks and balances on behavior?
  • Do we live our values?
  • Does staff adhere to the values and mission? Or is it just those lower down the tree of authority?
  • Do rules apply to everyone? Are they enforced and reinforced?
  • Does everyone know what the company values are – Just as they know the mission and vision? 
  • Are there reasonable open and transparent processes for addressing issues?
  • Is trust strong, or so fragile it does not exist?

The answers to these questions and many more like them, may provide clues to the health of your culture.

With transparent practices, strong relationships built on trust between leadership and direct reports, open communication and an adherence to values, can result in a strong and sustainable culture even in the wake of change and challenges. 

The current spotlight on culture in the media and in government can be used as a catalyst to take a deep look at the strength of your culture and the quality of your relationships.  Are your leaders trained in how to have open and honest conversations, are they ready to listen?

As Judith Glaser states, in her book Conversational Intelligence: "For an organization to flourish depends on the quality of the culture, which depends on the quality of relationships, which depends on the quality of conversations. Everything happens through conversations that are built on a foundation of trust."

Now is the time for leaders to learn how to build and maintain a culture based on trust, and they have to start now by asking the right questions and listening to the answers.

Categories: Management & Leadership