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5 Important Beliefs to Prevent Harm & Strengthen Your Culture

Common Assumptions Can Keep Your People and Organization at Risk

The issues of sexual misconduct and abusive behaviors are complex and confusing. The default response for many leaders is to turn to their legal counsel for guidance, focus on the language of their policies, and make sure they have some kind of “training” in place to address the issues.

These tendencies may be intuitive, but they can leave major gaps in place.

There are five ways of thinking that can help you avoid common errors and be better positioned to strengthen your culture, prevent harm, and develop your people at the same time.


Your policy is important, but it is not powerful.

If policies prevented sexual assault and harassment there would be dramatically fewer people saying #MeToo. Traditional training on policies, reiteration of rules and consequences, and raising awareness of the problem has been in place for decades, only to result in our current situation of realizing unethical, unacceptable and inappropriate behavior is still not rare. Yes, ensure that your policy is up-to-date and well-written. But be careful to not put much confidence in it to proactively elevate behavior.


"Not illegal" is not a good standard.

The harmful effects of less-extreme behaviors are still quite serious for individuals and for your organization. One of the major misconceptions people have is that it takes violence to cause serious harm. It doesn't take violence for a person to be violated. And when a person's basic privacy or bodily autonomy is violated they experience real harm. It doesn't take extreme actions for a person to cross the line and act in an unacceptable way. When leaders think in terms of "avoiding a lawsuit" or "preventing illegal behavior," they miss a huge portion of inappropriate and ineffective behaviors that also fall short of what people in their organization or campus community deserve.


Your real risk can be higher than many people think.

What is reported is not the point. Most harmful and costly actions are not reported, but this contributes to a false comfort. Human beings are wired to operate in non-rational ways at times, going with their gut and rationalizing behavior that falls short of what is ethical and appropriate. When you take typical assumptions of risk and then add onto them the science of human decision-making, the picture is much more concerning. An organization could avoid ever recruiting a psychopath and still bring in many people who mistreat others in ways that call for proactive and strategic prevention.


Being able to say they were trained does not provide much protection.

Leaders who think their job is to ensure that their legal counsel can say they "provide training" in the event of a lawsuit are operating on a mentality that will keep risk high, not reduce it. Having a system of strategic proactive training and culture development that effectively builds buy-in and influences behavior is what protects people and your organization. Checking the box without a serious concern for how effective the training is at influencing individual and group behavior can create a false sense of accomplishment. It can also waste a lot of money and time on training that does not reduce risk but does result in people mocking real issues. That makes an organization even more at risk.


The Whole Goal is a Human + ROI way of thinking that benefits both individuals and the organization.

Shifting certain paradigms and building the right culture both protects people from unethical actions and develops your people for greater interpersonal effectiveness. That leads to ROI, rather than just writing a check to say you've had your people hear about your policies against bad behavior and where they can report it. You know you're on the right track when your people say training was relevant and helpful. The Whole Goal of every good leader is to both prevent negative behavior and increase positive and effective behavior. They go together. Training related to people and culture should accomplish both at the same time.

People need effective training and internal messaging that resonates–it must connect and feel relevant if it’s going to influence behavior.

But that’s not all. People also need effective training to realistically equip them for the complicated social situations they may face.

The reiteration of rules does not equip people for real-world scenarios. The human mind is vulnerable to justifying problematic actions and words. We often make decisions unconsciously, on an auto-pilot mode, so training must reach deep enough to shift certain paradigms so people automatically navigate ethically and positively.

But the good news is almost everyone will buy into the notion that positive social experiences and strong social skills is what they want, and they will respond well to effective training that helps them achieve that positive goal.

At Culture Strength we have seen this to be true throughout the country with our Social Strengths Workshops and Bystander Intervention training programs, including with even the most challenging audiences. You can provide people with what they want and need while also guarding against the harmful actions that fall short of effective and ethical behavior.

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