We’ve all seen taglines and slogans created to entice and even manipulate our perception. Haagen-Dazs uses the line “Pleasure is the path to joy” to encourage us to seek happiness in a pint of double fudge chocolate. Hallmark tries to get us to show the love to others with the phrase, “When you care enough to send the very best.” Not all companies have well-known taglines or even an official slogan to create a reputation, so they use their actual reputation to develop a presence in a community. The issue is that sometimes what we hope to present to a customer is not always achieved. This is when the concept of social accountability comes into play.
A company’s culture is created by the atmosphere of the people. It is up to the people to maintain the expectations for the community to see. For example, if I were to ask participants in a training seminar to describe the culture of their organization, they might say “friendly,” “helpful,” “diverse,” and “team.” These are the expectations that the culture of the company has created. However, if that same company brings in some new staff, and the experience of those employees is that the people in the company are not helpful, are unfriendly, lack diversity and, as a result, certainly are not presenting as a team, this organization is going to struggle. It will not take long for people to understand that what they say is not what they are. In other words, people are not practicing what they preach.
Social accountability presents the idea that it is the responsibility of the people who are part of the culture to make sure that the expectations of the organization are being met.
So if an organization wants to be seen as a friendly, the responsibility for creating this does not lie solely on the leadership, but just as much on the frontline employee. The responsibility also does not rest solely on the individual who has the most seniority; it lies with everyone. Whether you have been with the organization for two days or two years, you play a role in the culture.
So the question then becomes: What I can do to shape the perception and culture of my organization?
Don’t be a bystander. It is common when we come across bullies to hide. This is a safety mechanism that we all have or have had to deal with. We make excuses to protect ourselves because we feel that there is someone with more influence or knowledge to address this issue. This hiding is known as the "bystander effect."
The bystander effect is common, because in our mind there is always going to be someone else who can handle it. For example, if I were to have a heart attack while walking down Broadway and there was only one other person around, that person is 80% more likely to help me. If my heart attack happened in front of a crowd of people, the likelihood that someone would help me drops to 20%. This drop is a response to the idea that we are not capable, empowered, or best-suited to help.
This idea of the bystander effect and social accountability go hand in hand. You might not think you are the “right” person to handle it, but if you have the right to challenge someone who is not living up to the expectations of the organization and not presenting the company as expected to the customer and the community, then you have to address it. Approach the individual directly, or speak to a supervisor and ask them to address it. If they don’t, go back to addressing it directly yourself.
In this day and age, it does not take much for an organization to achieve a reputation of being difficult to work for, with people who are difficult. If this reputation is achieved, your organization is not going to be able to recruit the best and will lose customers.
The Take Away: Organizations should allow their staff to feel empowered to address issues and be part of the discussions that will make the company environment the best possible.