You Get the Culture You Pay For July 7 2011

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been ignoring articles in the Financial Times about a cell phone hacking scandal in England. This morning, the New York Times picked up the story in a big way and I started paying attention.

News-world Here’s the very quick recap. It’s been determined that, for a number of years, reporters and contractors for the News of the World tabloid have been hacking the cell phone voice mail accounts of celebrities and athletes. The practice didn’t stop there however. They also hacked the phones of a 13-year-old girl who was abducted and murdered, the families of victims of the July 2005 London bombings and the loved ones of British soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The News of the World is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp which also owns the Fox Networks, The New York Post and many other media properties around the world. As is usually the case in stories like this, Murdoch and his senior managers say that they’re shocked and appalled by these breeches of ethics (and violations of the law) and that they’re not representative of how the company works.

Here’s the thing. You get the culture you pay for. Your people will do whatever you encourage and reward them to do. If, as has been the case at News of the World, people are rewarded to get the most sensational, profitable stories no matter what, then that’s what you’ll get. If you send the message that there are no boundaries in getting the story, then the boundaries that most people would honor will be violated.

Needless to say, that cultural dynamic is not just limited to media companies. Whether they intend to or not, leaders establish the culture in any organization by what they reward, encourage, talk about, pay attention to and ignore.

What have you done this week to establish the culture you want in your organization? What kind of culture are you paying for?

2 Responses to “You Get the Culture You Pay For”

  1. Tom DeCaro says:

    Great post, Scott!! Culture is not the words of a mission statement or ethics policy. Culture begins and ends with the behaviors of Senior Management. What examples do we portray every day in the meetings and interactions we have? What behaviors do we reinforce? Are we careful to protect the culture by calling out those that do not demonstrate traits that reflect the culture you want to develop/maintain? This needs to be an everyday, all the time focus for key leaders of the company.
    And almost as important, the actions/behaviors of employees are based on the way we measure them. We need to make sure that our formal objectives are based on most important results we want to achieve and we need to make sure the measurements are aligned across the organization. Informal rewards and recognition are also key to how our organizations behave. What do we recognize in public? What do we reinforce during meetings?
    I strongly believe that a KEY responsibility of Senior Management and key company leaders is to maintain the culture you want….ALWAYS!

  2. davidburkus says:

    Good points. I've been thinking about this post since Murdoch went in front of parliament yesterday. He seemed baffled that his staff had done such a thing. He shouldn't be baffled, he just needs to reexamine the culture he built.

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