Organizational culture is a set of rules, mostly unwritten, that define a group. These rules are so basic to how the culture operates that even if people can’t say specifically what the rules are, they still follow them. Group members think, act, and behave in certain predictable ways. People who don’t are considered outsiders.
Ethically challenged people in upper management create organizational cultures in their own image. To be a part of things you have to think and act the way they do.
The unwritten rules that define an antisocial culture should already be familiar to you if you’ve ever seen a movie about the mafia. If your organization follows these rules, you may unknowingly be part of a crime family, or at least a group that acts like one.
- It’s Always Us and Them
In an antisocial organization, there are always good guys and bad guys, but the bad guys might well be considered good guys but the rest of the world. The enemy to the ethically challenged is anyone who tries to stop them from doing whatever they want. Another us and them is the organization and the customers and investors it freely exploits to make money. Yet another us and them divide is between upper management and the people in the rest of the organization whose role is to shut up and keep moving product out the door.
- The Money Is Good, Even If the Job Isn’t
Money is the lure of antisocial organizations. People work for them and stay with them against their better judgment because the pay is much better than what they might make anywhere else. The handcuffs are made of gold, but they’re still handcuffs.
- Everything Is Secret
Knowledge is closely guarded by people at the top. You’re told what to do, and you’re expected to know how to do it. Questions are not welcome.
- Nothing Is In Writing
Documents can be used as evidence. Most antisocial organizations are not engaged in criminal activity. At least there are no specific laws against what they do. As organizations they are deceptive and exploitative, but they do whatever it takes to keep that hidden. From the outside, they are just legitimate businessmen, like the ones on The Simpsons.
- You’ve got to Make Your Bones
To be part of an Antisocial organization, you have to do something illegal, immoral or exploitative to show you’re part of the group.
Whether the job is cooking the books, falsifying information to make a sale, or covering a mistake, in an antisocial organization, you are expected to make it happen. No one will tell you directly to lie, cheat or steal. You are expected to do it on your own initiative. If you should be so stupid as to blow the whistle, you’re the one who’ll take the fall.
Nobody talks, even after they leave the organization. If they do, the rest of their career sleeps with the fishes.
- If The Godfather Asks For a Favor, You Do It
If you are told to do something, you do it now and don’t ask questions. Capisce?
- You Break the Rules, You Get Whacked
These days, most organizations use lawyers as their hit men. They cost more, but on the whole, they’re more effective and less messy.
All kidding aside, if your organization follows these rules, you’re in over your head. As if you need me to tell you that. What you do need is to discuss your career with a knowledgeable person that you really trust.
My best advice is to get out quietly and on good terms, then go straight.
Please NOTE: Albert J. Bernstein PhD is a Clinical Psychologist, Speaker and Business Consultant, and author of Emotional Vampires At Work, which can be purchased here. He is guest blogging Dr. K’s blog while Dr. K takes a blogging sabbatical. Dr. K will return in mid-July.