Courage, Truth and The Pitfall of a flawed Culture – the “Tyranny of Tolerance”

The factors that set successful enduring businesses apart when they face adversity are real courage and truth. Conversely the “culture of tolerance” in both corporate and public sectors raises some interesting questions – affecting many of us.

Whilst I don’t regard David Starkey as a management role model, I notice with interest his identification of an emerging paradox – the “tyranny of tolerance”. Tolerance leads to a disregard for the diversity that the tolerant policy was intended to protect.

The outcome of “tolerance” is telling people how to behave or how to do things which fundamentally challenges their integrity, and undermines trust. This is further exacerbated as freethinking becomes strangled by the supporting training, structures and in some cases laws. Highest achieving employees, deprived of the opportunity to adopt a challenging mindset will simply become alienated or, at best, ignore all instruction.

Although examples are rife within the public sector, large corporates exhibit the same characteristics under the banner of “normalising culture and cascading values”. This is a common approach but an odd solution to Gen X or Y or the employee engagement challenges. Undermining trust can be subtle and go undetected but is a sure way to fast-track a distressed organisation to fail, or create a “skills gap” as businesses fail to attract the best.

BUT surely it is thinking without boundaries and INtolerance which is the main business value driver? Furthermore these initiatives should be rooted in truth, or from the start the precedents set and FOLLOW becomes a falsehood! These are the symptoms of a Tyranny?

The culture of Tolerance therefore leads to a disregard of diversity of view or even fails to recognise it at all. Consensual decisions that accompany it leave the beholder unaccountable, and unable to address difficult issues. Truth is driven underground and employees justify their actions through simply following a third party instruction. From the outside this creates a “zombie like” customer experience where orchestrators carry on regardless.  They are seen to distance and justify their actions by using motherhood statements such as “creating fairness or equality” – generalisations often without truth. This is the political mechanism that is often adopted to mob a strong leader, for example the late Mrs Thatcher.

Converesely, the most effective global organisations respect their diversity as a means to create “productive friction”. This productive friction is often generated by a request to do something (better), based on truth or facts, in a way that challenges the norm. It occurs on the fringes and effectively releases incremental value within those businesses where it is practiced. The orchestrator in these environments earns their position to do so solely by the value they realise for all.

So without such friction, how does the lurking tyranny manifest itself? Here are some striking examples;

  • The UK Government latest budget, fails to address the truth proposing more public sector backed borrowing, when excessive borrowing is at the root cause of the UK’s woes
  • Corporate Value statements; Barclays threatening employees when the very same executives created the “Barclays Norm” that their teams have followed
  • NHS N Staffs deaths; a consultative culture unable to address tough matters. How was no-one fired or held responsible for this?
  • A shift in the norm; the response to public sector debt – centralising European banking
  • The Euro is a “failed solution” – yet the emerging new order of Tyranny is becoming clear in Cyprus, Greece
  • Further attempts at Press regulation; yet the expenses scandal exposed the truth & led to the issue being resolved
  • Yahoo and Best Buy challenging home working seems to be motivated by a lack of trust, with a backlash in response

A complacent business culture is often characterised by polite tolerance which creates selective management reporting and the risk of creating a false environment that leaves the difficult matters untouched. Why does this matter? The gap with emerging economies will widen as this culture undermines our ability to address tough issues. This is not an environment where the right people are able to excel.

High performing businesses start with getting the right people on the bus. The courageous challenge of managing the scenario then begins…

As Napoleon put it “The art of choosing men is not nearly as difficult as the art of enabling those chosen to attain their full worth.”

What is consistent is everyone in a business behaves like the boss. Change always starts with us and by showing humility at the top of companies.

Icebreaker’s passion and ability is to create high performing, highly motivated teams and great places to work. This sets the businesses we work with apart from the rest. Such is the trust between us and our current clients that they are willing to share the long term upside as a means of alignment with a mutually successful long-term outcome. How else can you fairly compensate a series of short projects over a few years that commonly deliver a 100x cash return?

The starting point of any initiative should be to ascertain the truth. This is the platform on which to build and benchmark all actions against. From that point onwards you have got to know how to manage diversity, and continue to attract the best in order to create a high performing business. The only certainty is that the challenge gets more difficult and you need a significant depth of award-winning skills to continually raise the bar.

It’s also important to get the approach right … as Mr Starkey says “Armies that free countries are always seen as conquerors, rather than saviours.”

ultimately this type of behaviour is the worst outcome: