How organizations can react to #MeToo — at every level

Organizations, teams and individuals each have a role in moving the #MeToo movement from talk to realistic action. Here are some ideas for doing so.

First, let’s apply the tried-and-true SPIN selling model (situation, problem, implications, needs payoff) to influence the holdouts. People who still don’t recognize #MeToo and/or are still not compelled to do something differently for themselves, on their teams and in their organizations perpetuate a colossal problem.

  • Situation: Sexual harassment and gender discrimination are still pervasive. Women finally feel empowered to share their own stories, and appalling examples are being exposed across all industries. The social media and celebrity support for the cause of #MeToo is not going away.
  • Problem: It’s not OK to harass people in the workplace, or anywhere else for that matter. More broadly speaking, #MeToo extends well beyond harassment and includes biases and unacceptable workplace actions based on race, religion, sexual preference, nationality, and any additional categories of what I’ll call “otherness” that human egos have made up.
  • Implications: As Simon & Garfunkel sang, “Fools, said I, you do not know, silence like a cancer grows…” Costly lawsuits and irreparably harmed brands. Great ideas go unshared and innovation is stymied. There is an exodus of valuable talent. Your client experience is tainted when they engage with your disconnected, disenfranchised people. These are just a few implications. Your organization will lose money in ways you haven’t yet contemplated and about which you’d be apoplectic if accurately quantified.
  • Needs Payoff (solutions to meet client’s needs): I don’t claim to have all the answers or even the right answers, but I’m bold enough to offer up some ideas. So here goes.

Individuals

These are things you can do right now to start making #MeToo a thing of the past.

When in doubt, ask yourself, “Would what I’m about to say or do pass the ‘If it were my kid test’?” It’s like the "Wall Street Journal test" that compliance and legal folks teach people to invoke common sense: If you wouldn’t want it printed in the Wall Street Journal, then don’t type it in an email. Similarly, would you make that sexist remark to your daughter or son? Would you want someone treating your child in that belittling or dehumanizing way? If not, then shut the front door, as they say in polite circles.

Read University of Houston research professor and author Brene Brown’s latest, "BRAVING the Wilderness." This book is a candid reminder about the importance of building trust and that a key prerequisite to maintaining it is willingness to engage in uncomfortable conversations. The wilderness is a metaphor for those tough times when we feel alone, exposed or vulnerable.

Braving is a thought-provoking checklist to help us summon the courage to speak up anyway – or “Speak truth to bullshit. Be civil,” as Brown expressively phrases it. Braving isn’t some cutesy acronym; it’s a summary of the seven elements of trust that emerged from her research, and I love it as a gut check to help us choose courage over comfort when we see a #MeToo or similarly blatant “otherness” violation.

Teams

Even if your organization is slow with an official response to #MeToo, there is nothing stopping you from shifting mindsets and enforcing the right behaviors on your team, whether as a formal leader or team member.

Organize a team book club and read "BRAVING the Wilderness." See above and then use open-ended questions to lead a discussion. If you don’t believe me or Brown, Google confirmed the importance of trust and open communication with Project Aristotle. Google found that the number one most important factor influencing team effectiveness was psychological safety. This means that “team members feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other.”

Craft a Designed Alliance, which is an operations manual of sorts in which your team aligns on how to work best together. It’s an intentional, transparent, flexible and mutually agreed upon pact that supports and empowers everyone on the team by getting expectations and assumptions out on the table in no uncertain terms. Teams that most successfully use this tool have an “umbrella,” or a standing designed alliance coupled with situational ones for projects, meetings and other specific situations. Be as clear as possible when designing; ambiguity is the enemy.

Here are a few questions I typically use to jumpstart any team to design their alliance, including but not limited to #MeToo contexts:

  • What are we committed to as a team?
  • What will we collectively not tolerate, and what should people do in the event they hear or see something concerning?
  • What do we need from each other to empower us to take thoughtful business risks?
  • How do we want to give and receive feedback, both positive and constructive?
  • What assumptions do we have about each other, the team and the organization that we need to bust through and clean up?

Organizations

Like any worthy change-management initiative, a thoughtful, coordinated and sustainable culture transformation to overcome #MeToo and similar harms will take time and extensive planning. As organizational development legend Peter Block said, “If we want a change in culture, the work is to change the conversation.”

The suggestions above for individuals and teams are certainly ways to change the conversation on a small scale. How about more broadly?

Elevate culture to a C-suite strategic priority and empower all the right people. Why? Because culture starts at the top, and the best definition of culture is what leaders tolerate of themselves and others. Don’t spend the money on a pulse survey to see if #MeToo violations are happening in your organization. They are, I guarantee it.

Is diversity and inclusion something your organization pays lip service to but doesn’t really honor? Is your HR team a bunch of order takers who merely execute on benefits and mind-numbing performance reviews? If the answer to both of those questions is anything but a confident and resounding no, then now is the time to expand and uplift the function to something like Chief People and Culture Office.

Hire a leadership or organization development company to help orchestrate a culture change. There are plenty of great consultants out there; find ones who won’t placate and simply tell you what you want to hear because they are more concerned about burning the bridge to the next engagement than transforming your culture.

The first step in solving any enormous problem is to take an action. Don’t just stand there looking at the problem in a state of overwhelm, denial, or analysis paralysis. Do something. Then observe what worked and do more of it. Understand what didn’t work and adjust. If you’ve made it this far in the article, consider your first step taken. Now, what will you commit to do next?

 

Shani Magosky is the author of "The Better Boss Blueprint." She is an executive consultant and founder of The Better Boss Project®, which she developed from years of experience working with bosses at all levels and a desire to put a special focus on changing companies by helping people become better leaders – of others and themselves. Previously, she worked in three divisions of Goldman Sachs, managed a TV station, was chief operating officer of an all-virtual international marketing company and launched the leadership development consulting and executive coaching practice Vitesse Consulting, where she counsels a range of Fortune 1000 companies, tech startups, entrepreneurs, universities and nonprofits across multiple industries. Email her.

If you enjoyed this article, sign up for SmartBrief’s daily email newsletter on HR and workforce issues. We also have more than 200 industry-focused newsletters, all free to sign up.