Dear Military: Create a Culture Where What You Say Is What You Do

assualtLast Thursday a military judge reprimanded a General in response to the sexual misconduct case making headlines over the last few weeks.  No jail time was handed down.  Some commented on how it was a slap on the wrist,  perpetuating the views held by some, that the military is a male dominated culture of non transparency.

I’m no attorney – and I didn’t look at all the evidence in detail – so I won’t comment on the legality of this case.  However – this incident has raised some serious leadership and culture issues as well as eyebrows. This is mainly because this ruling comes weeks after the US Senate blocked a bill that would have stripped senior military commanders of their authority to prosecute rapes and other serious offenses, thus allowing what many view as perpetuating a predominantly male culture of protecting their own – exempting military personnel from prosecution from sexual assault cases.

The fact that this bill was even introduced speaks to the larger culture problem at hand.

Yes – our service members deserve the utmost respect for serving our country – regardless of gender.  But where is the line with regards to respect and obeying the law?

This isn’t the first military sexual assault case.  And unfortunately it probably won’t be the last.  I mean really, it wasn’t that long ago the US military lifted the ban on women in combat!

I believe our military doesn’t outwardly support a culture of sexual misconduct, but actions speak louder than words.  And it feels like the military needs to pause and reflect on whether their culture is inhibiting or promoting such behavior.

Again – I’m looking at the situation from the lens of an organizational development and leadership practitioner, not an attorney. But…could this sexual misconduct case prevent someone from wanting to join the military in fear for their safety? Will this affect our military’s ability to protect our country efficiently? Will the culture negatively impact the military’s ability to deliver on their mission? And has this behavior decreased trust between the military and the general public?

Time will tell. But leadership and culture problems like this are not skin deep.  They are entrenched in every facet of how work gets done.  And true culture change involves everyone from the top all the way down.

Whether you work in government as a civilian,  in the military as an enlisted, or in at a non-profit or the corporate world – your organizations’ culture has a huge impact on your efficiency, productivity, effectiveness and image – and that goes a long way toward your ability to deliver on your mission. When a transformational change occurs – particularly in change resistant organizations – developing new processes and training to help aide in the organizational and cultural changes is a necessity to ensure a successful transition.

So what are some things to pay attention to when trying to transform into a high performing culture?  

Leadership – Leadership is a driving force behind creating and maintaining a high performing culture. Leaders serve as role models through their actions and behaviors.  High performing organizations have committed leaders who can rally people around a deeper sense of purpose. In most cases these leaders are also expert communicators.  Through their management, leaders of organizations with a high performing culture have the ability to translate ideals into action. These leaders not only know their organization; they know the type of people in their organization and how those people’s contributions help to achieve the strategic goals. Leaders who help achieve a high performing culture are ethical, approachable, relatable, and involved – this is not necessarily the image military leadership is presenting in this case.

Communication – To achieve a high performing culture, frequent, transparent, and authentic communication amongst leadership, employees, stakeholders and customers is a necessity. To keep audiences engaged in your products and services and committed to the organizations strategy, mission, and vision, they need to know what is going on and why (within in reason). If problems or issues arise they need to hear how they happened, when the plan of action to remedy the situation is, and how the issues will be prevented in the future.

Diversity – For those organizations that wish to remain successful and competitive in today’s global marketplace ignoring diversity is a thing of the past. One demographic can’t feel they are any less valued, heard, or safe than another. Most organizations have a diverse workforce; to keep them engaged it is important that they see the organization values and supports diversity. Take a look at your organization chart. For example, if you see that most managerial or leadership roles are filled by one demographic, then most likely this was already noticed as a negative by employees. If employees see that only one ‘type’ of person tends to move up the ladder and they don’t fit that description, then it becomes easy for them to take on a ‘so why bother’ mentality, and this has a negative impact on engagement, retention, and ability to deliver on mission.

Organizational culture isn’t just the result of one swift decision, but an ongoing process and way of being.  That process and way of being is not hidden – it’s there for everyone to see whether you like it or not – so create one that will help your organization succeed. And sure, our citizens won’t stop supporting our service members – nor should they – but some may begin to question whether they want their friends, family, and loved ones to become part of a culture such as this.

About Scott Span, MSOD: is CEO & Lead Consultant of Tolero Solutions – an Organizational Improvement & Strategy firm.  He helps clients in facilitating sustainable growth by connecting and maximizing  people –> performance –> profit™, creating organizations that are more responsive, productive and profitable.

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