Keep Telling Yourself That (The Lies We Tell Ourselves That Are Killing Our Culture)

Part 2: Coming Down on Policy Violators Is Bad For Culture

I recently listened to a CEO brooding over why his culture-survey results were so negative, and (in the same breath) saying that he doesn’t require his managers to “come down on policy violators because it’s bad for culture.” Uh oh! As all of the red flags, warning lights, and sirens fired in my brain, I wanted to ask, “Exactly what kind of culture are you going for here, perhaps the one where the animals run the zoo?” Instead, I politely uttered, “Au contraire…”


To the contrary indeed, I often ask employers to imagine their best employee as a safe driver. Picture that employee cruising down the interstate, steering wheel gripped at 10 & 2, cruise control set at the precise speed limit, radio at a reasonable volume, paying excellent attention to the road ahead. Now, picture your policy violator as a greasy dude in a tank top, windows down, radio blaring, flinging lit cigarettes out of both windows while simultaneously snugly tailgating your best employee’s rear bumper, then slamming on the gas and screaming past going 30 miles per hour over the limit. You, the employer, are the police officer parked in the median as this circus flies by. It’s pretty simple to conceptualize how your failure to pull over the speed queen has a direct impact on your best employee’s perception of the fairness of the whole system. Your best employee might say things like, “Why am I over here following the rules when there are no consequences for guys like that?!” and “That police officer is not doing his job!” Guess what, that’s what your best employees are saying about you if you believe holding policy violators accountable is bad for culture.


Coming down on policy violators might be a drag…for policy violators. However, it looks a whole lot like justice to your wonderful little rule followers. So I ask you, are you confusing a positive culture with a free-range culture? Depending on the industry, those are rarely one in the same. The type of structure generated by clear expectations (i.e. job descriptions, policies and procedures, and performance goals) along with consistent enforcement of those expectations is imperative for good employees to feel acknowledged, appreciated, and validated in their compliance. They can relax in knowing that they are on the right track.


So what’s really going on here? I believe that employers are confusing trying to make everyone happy with positive culture. Happiness is certainly a part of a positive culture, but it’s the fun part that comes after all of the hard work. As Steve Jobs famously said, “If you want to make everyone happy, don’t be a leader, sell ice cream.” Honestly, it’s lonely at the top. When you are the leader, not only do you not have anyone to whom you can complain about your job, but now I am telling you that you have to actively make people upset with you in order to drive a positive culture?! Ugh! But you always wanted to be the “cool boss.” May I interest you in selling ice cream? In the meantime, Human Resources Experience relies upon our equation and you should too: Culture Driven Human Resources + Proactive Legal = Exceptional Workplace. Want to learn more about how this equation can work for you? Contact us for a consultation.


Click here to read part one.