The tragic event(s) leading to the riots in many US cities has brought something to light. Something that could be observed in many organizations prior to this event. Something that is so systemic that it needs to be addressed. Now more than ever: There is no such thing as a bad apple.
In all my writings, workshops, conversations I refer to nature. I strongly believe that nature serves as a role model for our lives and the success we can find in it.
It is also there to remind us when we have strayed off the path of nature and have become… “unnatural” in our ways. The killing of George Floyd is an example of our unnatural ways.
The Police force, as an organization, is not unlike an apple tree, or the human body: It thrives when it is healthy, it caves when it is sick. Disease occurs in a compromised body- when the gates are open for mutation, intrusion or degeneration. This leads to loss, to pain and to intense reactions.
A healthy apple tree doesn’t bear bad apples. Bad apples don’t just happen. They are not isolated incidents. What causes apples to go bad is not the apple itself. It is the twig, the branch, the crown, the trunk, the root… It is the system that allows for it. But all we see is the apple. And so we point our finger at the apple. Or at a bad cop who denies a human being his right to be treated as one. Or a bad employee who insults a client. Or a bad manager who takes a bribe. They must be held accountable for their actions. Absolutely. But so should the organization they are a part of.
When these occurrences happen, what most organizations do is get rid of the bad apple. They publicly point at the apple and say “bad apple, this is your fault, never again!” and for a while, things are quiet and there is superficial peace. But the rot is still there. The twig and branch and trunk that allowed for it are still there. The sickness lingers within the tree. It is systemic.
Big companies run PR campaigns, ad campaigns and add a page on their website that say things like “social responsibility,” “our place in the community,” “our engagement for social justice.” This is nice. But let’s call it out for what it is: campaigning. It is comparable to attaching a new branch to an otherwise compromised tree. It has no foundation and it does not bring sustainable change.
The thing that organizations of all shapes and sizes need to do is look at their culture. Culture is the toolset that dictates how things are done. This toolset sits deep inside, far from the apple itself. If your culture does not embody standards of decent social behavior, then whatever your marketing is sharing with the outside world is a huge public lie. If your culture does not promote inclusivity in the workplace as well as in the communities, then having a website with pretty pictures talking about it is hypocrisy. Unfortunately, hypocrisy is a very common tool in the toolbox of marketing departments, and when it is exposed, it leads to a total loss of trust and control.
When we realize that our organizations are cultivating bad apples, punishing them is not enough. We must go back to our “wheel of values” to revisit our actions and how we are seen. What kinds of behavior does our culture promote? When everyone is clear on a common culture, everyone keeps everyone else in check. A healthy organism pushes foreign objects out before they compromise the entire system. There is strong self-patrolling in strong organisms. A business should not be any different.
Look at your culture and identify your primary values. Are they connected to your behavior? Can you truly stand by them? Do you have proper ways to express them? Do you communicate them internally? Do you revisit them regularly? Take your time and rework them as you go along. Your business values should be connected to your personal values, so you can defend them, and they should also serve your cause.