Defining "desired culture" can become a "corporate handcuff" that curtails the effective running of the organization
Miranda Warnings permeate into the organizational fabric and create an invisible barrier to establishing a truly binding corporate culture
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 dynamic initiatives is the presence of a healthy cohesive culture. However, it remains a formidable challenge for organizations, especially, in high growth sectors, e.g., IT, to sustain a set of cherished principles, values, behaviors, 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 ‘rulebook’ of acceptable customs or beliefs through ardent proponents and established stalwarts of ‘desired’ organizational culture. This also manifests as a binding 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 effective running of organizations. This article will take the reader on the journey to experience the challenges of building an integrative culture within progressive organizations by focusing on the practice of ‘Miranda Warnings/Miranda Rights’ cloaked within the dictates of professionalism that are expected from every ‘good’ employee.
Miranda Warnings/Miranda Rights are given to suspected criminals by the police in the US at the time of their formal arrest or during custodial interrogation. Key elements of the respective administration are as follows:
Miranda Warnings is a right to silence warning given by police in the US to criminal suspects before they are interrogated to preserve the admissibility of their statements against them in criminal proceedings.
- You have the right to remain silent
- Anything you say may be used against you in a court of law
- You have the right to an attorney
- If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you
- Do you understand the rights I have just read to you? With these rights in mind, do you wish to speak to me?
However, such aspects also thrive within corporate entities prone to regimented control for ingraining the desired organizational culture within the workforce. Let’s explore the aforementioned elements to see how they permeate into the organizational fabric and create an invisible barrier to establishing a truly binding corporate culture.
You have the right to remain silent
The expectation of being good ‘team players’ starts from the vacancy ads that generally provide the list of key behaviors from prospective candidates aspiring to become the next generation of inducted talent. This is further reinforced by enthusiastic proponents of prevalent organizational culture during formal on-boarding and informal office conversations. Such ‘norms’ are also actively promoted by supervisors and executives to ensure a healthy cohesive spirit in achieving organizational harmony. However, this type of ‘corporate bonding’ is often tested in extenuating circumstances, e.g., the prospect of 'whistle-blowing’ in case of an ethical conflict. Predominantly, key influencers, e.g., career counselors, mentors, colleagues, peers, family, etc., vehemently oppose against any measure that can jeopardize a conscientious professional’s foreseeable career progression. Consequently, ethical misgivings are routinely sacrificed to livelihood and safety concerns at the altar of pragmatism by ‘sound’ professionals.
This emboldens the principle of upholding the right of remaining silent under the banner of professionalism 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. Consequently, the germination of a systematic corporate maleficence starts under the watch of a ‘gambling’ senior management and the foundation of a debilitating corporate scandal is unceremoniously laid. 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.
Anything you say will and can be used against you in the court of law
Every employee in an organization with a formal Talent Management function is introduced to a set of policies, procedures and processes that are to be followed in prescribed conditions. Some of these references pertain to disciplinary issues on account of any unauthorized actions, 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(s), especially, in cases of privacy and discriminatory practices. Generally, relief is available to employees through courts; however, such initiatives are often not pursued by the vast majority of employees to safeguard their future career prospects since background checking has become the norm in the recruitment industry and any indication of a ‘problem’ with a previous employer can signal the closure of promising advancement opportunities.
Additionally, the ‘army’ of lawyers retained by well-resourced corporate entities ensures that any chance of a damaging lawsuit is dealt discretely and effectively before going into the public domain and tarnishing the employer brand. This may take the form of tacit intimidation of the hapless employees who are offered a ‘respectable’ exit with a ‘reasonable’ severance package tied to a ‘legally watertight’ and ‘heavily punitive’ confidentiality agreement, rather than, face the prospect of getting drenched in a legal downpour and suffering irreparable damage to professional reputation while forfeiting the prospects of a dignified career resurrection elsewhere. Quite often, a firm handshake with a wry smile and labored signing of necessary documents seals such ‘backdoor’ understandings.
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 that have resulted in strengthening the working environment. Their claim is often backed up by ‘glowing’ employee surveys that serve as magnets for future talent and become the preferred fodder for management consultants/eminent academics/benchmarking companies/envious competitors as shining examples of an organization that truly cares about the wellbeing of their team members and is firmly focused on achieving organizational excellence. However, the actual truth of such claims is securely hidden behind ‘corporate handcuffs’ that are worn by every employee upon signing the relevant employment contract that is heavily laden with legal jargon or is subservient to a set of rules in written or digital form that can only be discovered by very few astute and determined 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 strikes the unsuspecting legions of admirers and oblivious stakeholders, e.g., Enron was named as America’s Most Innovative Company for six consecutive years by Fortune magazine prior to its sordid fall from the pantheon of richly admired corporate leaders. Employees in such ‘enterprising’ organizations are often given the ‘freewill’ to explore internal/external ‘counselor’ services to resolve their grievances with the lure of a ‘whistle-blower’ hotline. However, such ‘magnanimous’ 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 ‘draining’ litigation with low probability of speedy resolution and a successful outcome.
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 respective corporate entity. At all stages of indoctrination, formal and informal feedback is solicited to ensure that the desired level of understanding is being achieved with respect to what it takes to be a team member and the expectations to have a fruitful career through the designated talent pipeline. Such programming is deemed necessary by progressive organizations to ensure that there is minimal chance of any unanticipated disturbance in the workplace and the desired cultural fit snugly covers all aspects of routine professional interactions.
This is also a mandatory part of the periodic performance reviews and employee conformance to such ‘entrenched norms’ form one of the key considerations in positioning ‘High-Potentials (HIPOs)’ as succession prospects for prime leadership positions. Consequently, sagacious employees tend to maintain a ‘dignified silence’ on thorny issues that might put them in the crosshairs of a fidgety senior management by adhering to the idiom of ‘fake it till you make it’, which is robust enough to withstand open door policies, candid employee surveys, ‘informal chats with peers and incentivized forums for pointing out profound challenges. Consequently, all ‘invitations’ to address ‘simmering’ 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 the placated senior management and fuels false hope of smoothly running a crumbling organization.
The aforementioned challenges have been highlighted to indicate how ‘Mirandization’ haunts even the best of intentions for effective running of progressive organizations. Such an ‘affliction’ also harkens the imperative call for brutally honest and refreshingly enlightened introspection to reform management practices for preserving the sanctity of ‘psychological contracts’ with dedicated employees and reinforcing a healthy cohesive corporate culture that can withstand the corrosive aspects of insular thinking and imprudent experimentation that is generally buoyed by ephemeral executive fads or legacy proclivities.
Inducted, existing and exiting employees are not ‘prospective criminals’ and while McGregor’s ‘Theory Y’ does provide them relief of ‘being innocent until proven guilty’; the practical manifestation of an accommodative approach is far from being the majority practice under the guise of a unifying corporate culture. Key hurdle for organizations to overcome remains the ‘unchaining’ of employees from the invisible shackles of limiting belief systems that prosper under the religion of professionalism 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.