SHRM Says – How to Avoid Culture Failures and their Related Fallout

When an organization is under fire because of certain individuals’ behavior, it’s normal to point fingers and try to find who else is at fault besides the perpetrators. Employees look to HR for remedies, because our profession is centered on people and their performance within organizations. But the reality is more nuanced.

An organization’s culture either allows incidents of inappropriate behavior, or has mechanisms to deter behaviors such as those that have recently dominated the news.   Countless recorded incidents involving sexual harassment and other misconduct never make news headlines because ethical and skilled HR leaders are working behind the scenes to investigate and resolve them, and more importantly, working with business leaders across the organization to prevent them.

What we find most striking is what is missing from the current national discourse when a high-profile incident erupts. And that is how all leaders in an organization, from the Board of Directors and CEO to the General Counsel and Chief Financial Officer – and yes, the Chief Human Resource Officer – play a critical role in establishing, supporting, modeling and enforcing a healthy and trustworthy culture in the first place.   

At SHRM, we believe that culture is critical. 

The high-profile scandals of late have shown what happens when company culture is unchecked, or worse, underappreciated for its role in contributing to organizational success—and failure.  Institutions that wish to avoid these type headlines or “culture failures” need to ask several questions:

• Is there a strong link between HR practices and leadership behaviors?

• How often do we discuss culture and its impact on our business?

• Can we define our culture?

• And most importantly, are there any culture outliers tolerated because of their contributions to the bottom-line?  

Long after the headlines change and other issues dominate the news cycle, leaders must ask these questions every day to maintain the right culture for employees, limit risk and ensure the success of our organizations.  SHRM will continue to provide training, resources and the tools needed for HR professionals to guide the conversations to help shape “cultures of civility”, and garner the commitment from every leader to build and sustain organizational cultures where every employee is treated with decency and respect.



The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.


The National Safety Council (NSC) appreciates the questions that Hank raisedwith regard to avoiding culture failures. The phrase ‘healthy and trustworthy culture’ resonated with us, as we pondered what actions we could take (beyond training) to address the sexual harassment headlines. This week we held a brown bag lunch with the goal of initiating conversation and opening an exchange of ideas around this topic. We assured employees that we are committed to their well-being and we listened to their views. We’re pleased to report that we received positive feedback from multiple employees for our willingness to engage on this topic. And, we agree with Hank’s view that we have a responsibility as leaders to address difficult issues. CULTURE is indeed critical!
Debbie Hersman
President and CEO
National Safety Council
Itasca, IL

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