You may think the #MeToo tag doesn’t have anything to do with product development. Not so fast. When people behave badly (more often it’s men than women, but it can be either), the people suffer. When the people suffer, the product suffers. It suffers in development and it suffers in release.
The issue is this: Behavior like this (sexual harrassment and discrimination) is an abuse of power. It is a cultural problem in society and in our organizations.
Edgar Schein defines culture as what you can discuss, how people treat each other and what you reward. (See Organizational Culture and Leadership.)
When a culture allows discrimination, harassment, or abuse, the organization says, “We won’t talk about that.” When people treat each other according to their role in the hierarchy, they say, “It’s okay to treat other people badly.” When the managers in charge get promoted, the organization actually rewards that behavior.
Abuse of power is a cultural problem.
You have heard this quote:
“The culture of any organisation is shaped by the worst behaviour the leader is willing to tolerate.” –Gruenert and Whitaker
In the case of Weinstein and Company, the worst behavior was quite bad. I have worked in places where it was almost as bad.
Some people in the agile community say, “We don’t have this problem.” Not so fast. I have coached and mentored other women in the past two or three years about how to deal with behavior based on this power dynamic.
When managers (anyone, but I mostly see this in managers) abuse their title-based power, they destroy the necessary social contract and the working behaviors that create a reasonable workplace.
In any workplace, abusing power becomes a disaster. In a supposedly agile environment, the people stop collaborating. Often, they stop the transparency around the work. They stop the agile behaviors that create value, and delivery. A team that was producing no longer produces. And, no one “knows” why.
A team sees the effects immediately: people withdraw from collaboration and certain social situations. Teams may not know what happened, but they know something occurred. And, the people in the situation know exactly what happened.
How do you manage an abuse of power?
Expose it. Don’t reinforce it.
I see too much hiring that reinforces power abuse in an organization. Here are some of my hiring suggestions:
- Hire people who are not just like you: How to Hire for Cultural Fit Without Becoming Insular and Mediocre
- Hire for Cultural Fit: It’s Time to Add Women, Pt 1. (Part 2 is about hiring people who are no longer young.)
- Understand what cultural fit really is: How NOT to Look for Cultural Fit
- Hiring managers for integrity over all else: Hiring Managers: Asking About Integrity
Here’s the most important thing you can do: Expose the power dynamic and anyone’s behavior that’s not appropriate. Be a whistleblower on the abuse of power.
I actually mentioned some discrimination on the Shift-M Podcast Posted About Hiring. (We recorded it before the scandal broke.)
- Sexual harassment, discrimination, and abuse is about power. It’s not about hormones. It’s about power.
- The organization’s culture reinforces this abuse of power.
- Decide what you want to reinforce in your culture and expose the abuses.
- Creating a culture that enhances collaboration will also enhance your product development. Reinforcing a culture of abuse makes it more difficult to create and release great products.
Oh, and #MeToo. I don’t know a working woman who has not dealt with an abuse of power. My first experience was when I was 19. It has continued every decade of my working career. It’s time to stop.