Corporate Culture & Sith Lords

We all have heard it before: the tone from the top matters, though a lot of the times that tone is not obvious in our daily activity. If your workplace is warm and friendly, cold and distant, stressful or full of intrigue, step back and think about your boss, senior management or company owners. You may see a connection between their attitude and approach in the office and the workplace environment.

A good example of corporate culture can be seen in political parties. If you are a follower of politics, you may have been alternately fascinated and then disgusted with the performance of our federal politicians in recent years.

A few years ago we saw a financial spending scandal with the federal Liberals (adscam), and more recently, a stunning series of missteps by the federal Tories…it started a couple of years ago, with the surprisingly poor judgment of the federal prorogation decision (really the problem began with the election funding comments by the Finance Minister); and continues now with the allegations of political party involvement in those voter suppressing “robo-calls”.

What could have happened to cause political parties to behave in this way? Greed and influence seeking is a powerful but incomplete explanation (people engaged in this activity tend to think that they never will be caught). To complete the picture, I believe that we need to look at how the parties are run…in other words we need to look at their corporate culture.

Sith Lords

The federal parties over the past decade have adopted a power-based approach to running their parties akin to stereotyped portrayals of political power seen in the West Wing. This autocratic approach is not very complementary to a democratic system, and most importantly, in politics as with many other types of organizations this approach does not bring the right people to the table.

The culture of power and influence that arises from the authoritarian, “top-down” management tends to attract people are less interested in accomplishing the organization’s mission and who behave more like the Star Wars’ evil Sith Lords. With The Sith there are always two: one to wield power, one to covet it.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of good that comes from having people in charge (and who are clearly in charge) and know what they are doing. But organizations run by The Sith Lords create vision with short time horizons, as the players are always focused inwards (on themselves), not outwards (on voters/customers/the mission).

What does that lead to?

  • Those coveting power will often go ‘cowboy’, making unilateral decisions or taking unsanctioned action with the hope of garnering and growing their influence. Personal success becomes the only goal, and any means to get there is OK. Sometimes these people break the law (robo-calls, anyone)?
  • Sith Lords turn off good people, leave them out or worse (for the organization), turn them out.
  • Those in power want to hold onto it, and personal agendas take priority to long-term strategy. They tend to make decisions that preserve their position at the expense of others and the organization.

The Fix

The de-Sithing of an organization is not a long or hard task – but it takes someone in charge to decide to do it, which may be unlikely given that is is often The Sith who are leading such organizations. Often-times the organization is forced to change because a scandal comes to light, a significant failure, a financial crises or a sudden exodus of talent that forces change at the top or otherwise cues owners that there is a problem.

Anywhere where there is influence to be had, money to be made and power to wield you will find people jockeying for position. It is amazing how much effort people put into the effort, even when the organization (and the power to be had) is small and seemingly insignificant. Such things would not become an issue where people with Sith tendencies had a better sense of perspective in their lives, as well as a better sense and understanding of what “service” really means.

We all contribute to the corporate culture, and we all have a role in making our workplace a good place to be. Necessarily, those at the top have a bigger impact, whether it is how they hire or promote, or their personal style when at work.

We all need our jobs, so sometimes you have to just ‘lump it’ and get on with your day. If you are lucky, you can try to “be the culture” that you want in the workplace…you may have more influence than you think. If you can’t change a poisonous culture, don’t complain and be negative, because that impacts the corporate culture too. Be positive because it really does help, and look for work in off hours!

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