In the wake of the twenty third anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, Chinese state web censors banned terms like “never forget,” and code words for “planned protest.” The Chinese version of Twitter (Sina Weibo), penalizes users for messages about “formation of organizations, protests, demonstrations, mass gatherings and assemblies,” or phrases that might “undermine ethnic unity.”
In a similar vein, bureaucratic organizations craft policies to compartmentalize their workforce. I’ve never understood the purpose of closed pay systems. Are these intended to promote organizational functioning, or rather to mask (1) behind the scenes politicking, or (2) the boss’s predilections to pick favorites?
Non-assembly of workers is encouraged through a culture that espouses non-support – in which compatriots are viewed as spies, and where direct communication with one another is discouraged. Dividing people into the haves and have nots, the in-group and the out-group, and those who are favored vs. those who are shunted aside creates a stratified workforce.
Keeping people in tightly delineated quarters prevents them from discussing their plight. Behavioral dysfunction was painfully evident in the movie “Glengarry Glen Ross,” in which grown men cowed at the sight of their overly aggressive supervisor. Being in charge does not give you the right to treat people as children – to officiously monitor their behavior, to assume they don’t know what they’re doing, or to encourage backstabbing behind closed doors.
Censorship is present in many forms. It is most readily apparent when people are too timid to speak their mind. When was the last time your boss invited you to have an honest conversation with him or her? If this meeting occurred, would you even feel comfortable in opening your mouth? Unity is amalgamated through a departure from bad managerial practice. Once new ground rules have been established, then the entity as a whole can proceed forth on common ground.
A “declaration of independence” and corresponding departure from controlling behavior may be necessary at your place of employment. It begins with top management setting the tone, encouraging change, and proceeding forth in solidarity with those who are lower in the hierarchy. I loved the way Petty radically changed the culture at Denny’s by laying down the behavioral gauntlet: “’Anyone who doesn’t like the direction this train is moving had better jump off now.’ Within a few months of the change in management, all but four of the company’s top 12 officers left.”
Cultural change may require new process, or simply a reassembly of existing parts. Whatever the method, the resulting product will be a unified firm (rather than a mosaic of people who remain separate). It will be a stronger organization forged through upheaval of the system in place.