I was having lunch with friends the other day, and they started asking my advice on some chronically bad behavior at their company. They were complaining that dysfunctionality was running rampant in their organization, and were wondering what they could do about it.
I asked them one simple question: "How do your executives act?"
The response was as I expected. Terms such as "childish" and "distrustful" and "conniving" were thrown about. It was simple cause-and-effect. The employees misbehave BECAUSE the executives misbehave. A while back, I was asked to respond to a letter on Office-Politics.com where the top three executives were having affairs. I suggested to the letter writer that he may want to consider a career change because their behaviors would eventually filter throughout the company.
It's pretty easy if one person misbehaves. In school or at daycare or at home, you have a time-out chair to help correct the errant child. (Some children spend more time on the chair than anywhere else.) However, a couple of centuries ago, Britain decided they needed a whole island to deal with their less-than-stellar citizens, so Australia was colonized as a prison. (Now people vacation there; go figure.) So it is with some organizations. If you have one or two bad employees, it's fairly easy to deal with them the traditional ways: coaching, counseling, corrective action. If the whole lot are acting like a werewolf convention during a full-moon, then you have a problem with the overall culture.
The diagnosis of the systems output is simple. However, the cure can be more challenging (but not impossible). If enough people (namely executives), decide they want to change the culture (think Seattle's world famous fish market), then anything is possible. With the Fish! example, the decision to change had to come from the top man himself, and then he had to make good by modeling the behaviors he wanted to see.
Where do you see yourself fitting into this organization? Are you prepared to tackle an entire culture? Some battles you can win, but some wars are costly.
There are no easy answers, but it certainly gives you something to think about if you're in an organization where you dread getting up in the morning.