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One by one, businesses succumb to the weaknesses of a singular member; actors or actresses who create a firestorm, one that garners the attention of potential investors, stockholders, and social media. Perpetrators are summarily chastised, disciplined, vilified, and sometimes ejected from the firm. The company may instigate a one on one training to address problem issues, but once things blow over, Has anything really changed? Or, is it still business as usual?

Bad behavior indicates an underlying cultural issue, one that will remain status quo by the dismissal of a few employees, or a onetime training that does little to fix problems. Policies, practices, unspoken organizational politics, folklore, and “the way we do things here” provides either appropriate marching orders for employees, or a green light to engage in the behavior of their choice. The sacrificial lamb of employee firing does little to address the underlying cause of poor antics, and the real enabler of dysfunctional organizational practice. Some cultures are transparent to employees, because they are transmitted through onboarding procedures that communicate people centered management. Others provide an insular breeding ground for people who are self-focused, unreceptive to critique, whose sole mission is to advance through satisfying the mandates of their immediate superiors (who may or may not be paragons of virtue).

The CEO sets the tone, one that trickles through the company through office etiquette, and more formally through performance appraisal and stated policy. Is civil conduct, or team interaction, included within criteria that hold people accountable? Are employees promoted on Machiavellian “winner take all” results, or are they instead rewarded for developing their peers, recognizing their colleagues, giving people a well-deserved compliment, mentoring newcomers, volunteering, performing their jobs with a larger purpose in mind, engaging in continuous improvement, or kaizen? Have they demonstrated organizational citizenship, and are they setting the behavioral example? A primary determinant of whether a company will experience the glare of TV/social media is their approach. Does it have an ongoing, systematic, diversity management plan, or does it instead have a hit or miss effort that rarely receives attention?

In “Valuing Diversity: A Tale of Two Organizations,” the authors describe what organizations must do to become multicultural and inclusive – and conversely, what may happen if firms do the bare minimum. Plural companies, or ones that make small efforts for the sake of compliance (or that make an annual show to impress outside investors) are the ones for whom no fallback position is available. If crises occur, they are unable to say “We have ongoing programs;” “Here are the initiatives, they were formulated with employee input;” “We the industry leader known for taking care of our employees, and what occurred was an anomaly.” Plural companies are more likely to have caused their own problems, due to a lack of concerted effort to positively shape the invisible organizational fabric.

Firms that do nothing are just as culpable as the people within them who are caught red-handed.


Jacqueline A. Gilbert and John M. Ivancevich, “Valuing Diversity: A Tale of Two Organizations,” Academy of Management Executive, 2000, Vol. 14, No. 1, pp. 93-103.

Taylor H. Cox and Stacy Blake. “Managing Cultural Diversity: Implications for Organizational Competitiveness.”  Academy of Management Executive, 1991, Vol. 5, No. 3, pp. 45-56.

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All viewpoints expressed by Jackie Gilbert are her own, and not of her employer.

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