Power without Oversight
The Harvey Weinstein debacle and many similar high-level revelations and accusations resulting in the #metoo movement are just the most recent examples of the danger of having power consolidated in the hands of one or a few individuals. Power without checks and balances will pull for bad behavior. Although most of the bad behavior that has come to light recently is the result of personality and character flaws, some of it can also be partially blamed on power structures with little or no oversight. In many of these cases, everyone knew about the jerks and what they were doing but few people had the courage to say or do something. And many people, probably otherwise good people, even protected and covered for the bad actors. Some of this may have been misplaced loyalty but much of it is related to the fear or retaliation, humiliation and job loss.
The bad actors are not just limited to the hypocritical virtue-signaling and preening elite entertainment and media types. They can be found at the highest levels of governments and NGOs, and in any other organization that operates with centralized and only limited oversight on power.
In spite of the fact that big business and the military have traditionally been targets of negative media coverage, people are probably safer from abuse and harassment in those organizations than in other settings. Although you can find bad people in any group, competent boards of directors of public companies, or strong advisory boards for privately held corporations, can be an effective force of oversight and encouragement for good governance. And the military codes of conduct clearly prohibit abuse of power and bad behavior, and are widely disseminated amongst the troops.
Clarity of Policy and Consequences for Transgressions
To lessen the chances for unethical and coercive behavior, sexual harassment being one obvious example, an organization needs clear guiding principles and descriptions of good behavior, and a structure that allows for oversight and monitoring of behavior. The message needs to come from the very top. There should be rewards for behaving well and unambiguous consequences for behaving poorly. An effective guideline for consistent discipline is Douglas McGregor’s hot stove analogy: a hot stove glows red (everybody knows it’s hot and will burn if you touch it); if you do touch it, the consequences are immediate (you get burned as soon as you touch it); and it is universal (it applies to everybody who touches it in the same way). Clear messages, walk-the-talk behavior from the senior leadership team, behavioral oversight and consistency of discipline are crucial in building an organization that pulls for good behavior rather than one that leaves openings for bad behavior.
Once you have a policy in place, you need to fully and carefully investigate all claims. And whistleblowers need protection. Be sure you have proper legal and HR counsel and oversight here to avoid unanticipated problems and unintended consequences.
The Right People
In addition to creating the organizational structure that will minimize the chances for bad behavior, leaders need to make sure that they are paying close attention to the people who are promoted and who are brought in from the outside. There are certain traits and characteristics that predict success and good behavior, and there are some that are associated with pathology and bad behavior.
Although everyone can improve, some things take too long to change enough to make a difference in the business context and timeframe. Therefore, we must select people for specific fundamental and stable traits and aptitudes. These are foundation competencies: Intellectual, Interpersonal, Integrity and Intensity. These “I-Competencies” can be thought of as head, heart, guts, and will.
The best predictor of success in any job is general intelligence. The brighter the person, the more likely he or she is to learn and to perform effectively. And the more likely that person is to understand some of the subtleties of ethical issues and why certain behaviors are valued over others. Conscientiousness is second only to intelligence in the prediction of success, not only with the substance of the job, but for ethical organizational behavior. Other key predictors of success are the ability to get along with people and the drive and energy to put forth the necessary effort to get the job done. These are qualities that are hardwired traits (behavioral patterns that are consistent over time and reflected in a wide range of situations). This is not the stuff that can be taught with any degree of success for consistent organizational impact. However, if a person possesses these qualities in sufficient measure, he or she can understand and learn new values, skills and behaviors. More information: http://bit.ly/2o7fwME.
Avoiding and Getting Rid of the Wrong People
Just a few bad apples will spoil any team. Left unchecked, they can wreck a good corporate culture. It’s best to get rid of toxic, incompetent or lazy people immediately (assuming you have the proper documentation). Better yet, don’t hire them in the first place. Just as there are consistent characteristics of good people, there are also consistent characteristics of people who can harm an organization. Many behavioral problems can be traced to gaps in the four I-Competencies mentioned above. However, there are also some particularly troublesome characteristics of concern when it comes to harassment and ethical problems. These include the “dark triad” of pathology – Machiavellianism, psychopathy and narcissism. These factors are related to a general inclination towards aggression, and a mindset that sees the world as an aggressive and hostile place. More information: http://bit.ly/2EID1Wv.
Narrowing the Margin for Error
A good selection system is necessary to help get the right people into the company, and to avoid hiring the wrong people. The best selection systems include a reliable recruiting pipeline for good candidates; a complete psychological assessment for high-level positions; job-relevant and validated skill, aptitude and personality testing for key jobs; a structured behavioral interview process for all jobs; and effective background and reference checks.
Of course you can do all the right things and still have a few bad actors rise to the top, especially in times of fast growth (which are usually accompanied by lax protocols and less selection rigor). However, if you put the right structure of clear messages, consistent reinforcement for good behavior (and immediate punishment for bad behavior), and if you get the right structure for your systems of selection, development and promotion, you will be better able to avoid the Weinsteins, Spaceys and Lauers. More information: http://bit.ly/2o2pvU6.