High profile individuals falling like dominoes has become a daily occurrence – with growing numbers increasingly caught “red handed” for crossing the line. As reprehensible as sexually exploitative antics can be, the larger (and unexamined) meta variable that permits untoward acts is culture – the collection of policies, practices, people, systems, and standard operating procedures that run like invisible scaffolding throughout companies, filigrees of top executive belief (and folklore) embedded within subordinates’ minds. In toxic firms, unstated norms may cause employees to accept violation without sanction (and look away without question). Few wish to take on the machina of upper management – primarily because they realize it can aim its turrets in their direction.
And no one of course wants to end up the casualty of the smear campaign du jour. The 2017 word of the year, “complicit,” refers not just to a singular coverup, but to an ecosystem that maintains a tight lid on within company insurgence. “Complicit” then in toxic firms specifies a collection of lame duck policies, unenforced procedures (that amount to little more than show), a group of collaborators that puts a kibosh on opposing opinions (not to mention head in the sand supervisors concerned with little more than keeping their jobs). The practice of sweeping things under the rug gains credence until the heaping, steaming mound of misbehavior becomes too massive to overlook. “Kicking the can down the road” allows the unspoken known to metastasize, and to infiltrate all aspects of the firm.
Abusers might think twice if they saw a stop sign. Conversely, bosses who have blinders permit abusers who exercise carte blanche. When profits/prestige/reputation become more important than the people within (or external constituencies), the scaffolding of silence crumbles. Not just the singular offender, but the entire organization is then in takedown – caught in a headlock of social media, public outcry, legal scrutiny, and victim statements. The tip of the iceberg than explodes into a scandal of Titanic proportions.