Progressive organizations are continuously looking for ways to improve their operational efficiencies under clearly defined, easily understood and widely embraced strategic imperatives. A common thread that can facilitate such efforts is the presence of a cohesive culture. However, it remains a formidable challenge for organizations, especially in high growth sectors to sustain a set of principles, behaviors and norms that can enable effective coalescing of an increasingly diverse workforce towards a common purpose.
Generally, the corporate human resources function takes the lead in promulgating the organizational culture. This also manifests as a means of management control, liberally exercised in the context of achieving organizational harmony. However, such measures that are frequently taken with the noblest of intentions become tainted with disturbing eventualities in the form of “corporate handcuffs” that significantly curtail the effective running of organizations.
This article will take the reader on a journey to experience the challenges of building an integrative culture by focusing on the practice of Miranda Warnings cloaked within the dictates of professionalism that are expected from every “good” employee.
Miranda warnings are given by the police in the US to criminal suspects at the time of their arrest or during custodial interrogation. Key elements of the respective administration are summarized in the chart.
Such elements also thrive within organizations prone to ingraining the desired organizational culture within the workforce. Let’s see how these warning permeate the organizational fabric to create an invisible barrier to a truly binding corporate culture.
1. “You have the right to remain silent”
The expectation of being good team players starts from the job postings that generally provide a list of the desired key behaviors. This is further reinforced by enthusiastic proponents of the organizational culture during formal onboarding and informal office conversations. Such norms are also actively promoted by supervisors and executives. However, this type of corporate bonding is often tested in extenuating circumstances, for example, the prospect of whistle-blowing in case of an ethical conflict. Key influencers — career counselors, mentors, colleagues, peers, family — oppose any action that may jeopardize a conscientious professional’s foreseeable career progression. Consequently, ethical misgivings are routinely sacrificed at the altar of pragmatism to livelihood and safety concerns.
This strengthens the “right” of remaining silent and is generally seen as one of the key traits for rising up the career ladder. The downsides of such an approach are often managed as acceptable risks in the greater interest of all concerned.
Such challenges are becoming disturbingly common in a digitally connected world that barely offers any solace to those unwilling to bend the rules to their advantage while corporate watchdogs are faced with the dilemma of finding an optimum balance between the institutionalization of restrictive laws and “facilitative” laws in a precarious economic environment.
2. “Anything you say will and can be used against you in the court of law”
Every employee in an organization with a formal human resources function is introduced to a set of policies, procedures and processes that are to be followed. Some of these pertain to disciplinary matters including breaches of confidentiality, copyright violations, behavioral transgressions, corporate espionage, etc. However, the extent of control exercised over unsuspecting employees may go beyond the permitted areas within the applicable legal framework, especially in cases of privacy and discriminatory practices. Generally, relief is available to employees through courts; however, such initiatives are often not pursued by employees in order to safeguard their future career prospects.
Additionally, the lawyers retained by well-resourced corporate entities ensure that any chance of a damaging lawsuit is handled discretely and effectively before it goes public and tarnishes the employer brand. This may take the form of tacit intimidation of the hapless employees who are offered a “respectable” exit with a severance package tied to a legally watertight and punitive confidentiality agreement. For most, this is preferable to the prospect of getting drenched in a legal downpour and suffering irreparable damage to their professional reputation. Quite often, a firm handshake with a wry smile and labored signing of necessary documents seals such ‘backdoor’ understandings.
3. “You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided to you”
Progressive organizations frequently portray themselves as bastions of workplace harmony by pointing out employee-friendly practices. Their claim is often backed up by glowing employee surveys that serve as talent magnets. They are offered as evidence of an organization that truly cares about the wellbeing of their team members and is firmly focused on achieving organizational excellence.
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However, the actual truth of such claims is securely hidden behind corporate handcuffs that are worn by every employee signing the relevant employment contract that is heavily laden with legal jargon or is subservient to a set of rules in written or online form that can only be discovered by very few astute and determined researchers/analysts.
Sadly, even the best of efforts are sometimes not enough to uncover the disturbing details of what goes on behind the corporate walls before disaster strike. Enron was named as America’s Most Innovative Company for six consecutive years by Fortune magazine prior to its sordid fall. Lured by a whistle-blower hotline, employees in such organizations are often given the right to explore internal/external services to resolve their grievances. However, such offers are generally seen as “poison pills” by astute, career-minded professionals who prefer to exit gracefully rather than stay ethically conflicted in dubious circumstances or become embroiled in litigation with low probability of speedy resolution and a successful outcome.
4. “Do you understand the rights I have just read to you? With these rights in mind, do you wish to speak to me?”
Onboarding processes are generally designed for efficiency and effectiveness in imparting the necessary knowledge to new employees about the foundational elements of working in an organization. They reinforce the core values, guiding principles, work philosophies and facilitate acclimatization with the key functional drivers within the organization. At all stages of indoctrination, formal and informal feedback is solicited to ensure the desired level of understanding is being achieved with respect to what it takes to be a team member and the expectation to have a fruitful career. Such “programming” is deemed necessary to ensure there is minimal chance of any unanticipated “disturbance” in the workplace and that the desired cultural fit snugly covers all aspects of routine professional interactions.
Employee conformance to organization norms forms one of the key considerations in positioning High-Potentials (HIPOs) as prospects for prime leadership positions. Shrewd employees therefore tend to remain silent on thorny issues that might put them in the crosshairs of a fidgety senior management. Consequently, all “invitations” to address concerns about organizational culture are neatly channeled into less contentious and solvable areas of employee mandates under the comforting pretext of effective employee engagement. Unfortunately, this increases the blind spots of senior management and fuels false belief in smoothly running what is a crumbling organization.
These challenges have been highlighted to indicate how Mirandization haunts even the best of intentions for effective running of progressive organizations. Such an affliction harkens the imperative for brutally honest and refreshingly enlightened introspection to reform management practices.
The key hurdle for organizations to overcome remains the unchaining of employees from the invisible shackles of limiting belief systems to create a palatable balance between strategic imperatives and humanistic concerns. Hopefully, the light at the end of the tunnel can illuminate the tunnel itself in future.