And yet another company was cited for ethical behaviors. This time it’s Princess Cruise Lines for illegally dumping tens of thousands of gallons of untreated waste water into the ocean for almost a decade. Many will conclude and promote that this is another example of culture and/or leadership gone wrong. Volkswagen’s EPA violations and Wells Fargo’s illegal account creations are two others in recent times to get into hot water. And although I agree that organizational culture, driven by corrupt systems of recognition and reward, play a significant role but they do not play the only role or maybe even the main one.
It’s easy to pin the blame on an idea or a concept of leadership or culture, because really “culture” is nameless and faceless. The fact is though that individual employees knowingly entered false information to create bogus accounts, made modifications to override emissions data, and now installed pipes to bypass waste treatment. Each of these individuals had to have known what their work was in effect doing; jeopardizing people’s credit and polluting the air and the water. These workers chose to do it and chose not to blow the whistle. They got their directives by system or by authority, bullied or not, and consciously chose their path. Of course people were fired at many levels and organizations took on bad press and criminal charges but I suspect that even with all this, these behaviors will continue. There is another system at play that drives how our leaders lead, how business culture forms and how employees behave – surprise, it’s our economic system!
The Culture of Capitalism today is one where people can achieve unlimited wealth (and debt), and one that can obviously fuel unethical behavior. Few will risk being fired for speaking up and for speaking out. There is too much at stake, the job market is challenging for many and the road to financial hell is littered with do-gooders whose story can’t be told or won’t get heard at the next interview since they were terminated from their last position. Additionally Consumerism, “Keeping up with the Jones”, and acquiring the latest and greatest is far more the norm than the exception today as far too many live beyond their means because living within their means isn’t living.
So yes, I’ve argued that systems drive behaviors which creates the culture and I was speaking of activity inside organizations. But we are foolish if we ignore the influence of the outside getting in. Each and every day employees bring themselves and their lives to the workplace and Capitalism, with its offspring of Consumerism, really underpins it all.