The Unspoken Rules: A Hidden Barrier to Transforamtion

Capitalist societies privilege as a way of generating prosperity the principle of competition. Competition is an inherently individualistic approach. Those who grow up in such a society are taught this and recruited into this value system in family and school-it becomes an implicit part of their mentality and approach to life.

People, who grow up in traditionalist cultures that privilege co-operation and the well being of the collective as the most important values, might understand the concept of individualism and competition intellectually. They are however not naturally orientated and conditioned to operate that way. Reflecting the attitude so their culture of origin, they may even find the idea repugnant and counter intuitive. Not understanding from experience all the operations and  behavioural sophistication needed to get ahead in a competitive world, the y do not pick up on the interactions nuances and subtleties of a competitive world.

The corporate world is first and foremost a highly competitive environment. This is the fundamental organising principle of the culture and therefore to look at when dealing with an issue of conflict. It is this issue that underpins almost all the unspoken rules of most organisations. These rules are unspoken because they are taken for granted as being implicitly obvious to all.

When the rules are not obvious to someone, the uninitiated person tends to assume that they are being maliciously and deliberately explicitly excluded from that knowledge and from equal participation in the organisational culture.  That is after all a logical conclusion to come to in a competitive environment. When a person concludes that they are being excluded equal participation in the organisation they tend to view those who appear to be included as being treated as more equal than them. These are the people who participate more successfully in the sustemate more have mastered the rules as being like a club and assume that the thriving parties are all colluding to keep the excluded parties out of the loop.

In the absence of a better explanation, they look at those thriving and getting ahead because they have mastered the rules and assume that there are a hidden set of rules known only to the dominant group regarding the demographics and behaviours that qualify or disqualify a person for both inclusion and exclusion. If the dominant group has a predominance of one demographic that the excluded person is not part of, then the person comes to the conclusion that the issue is personal and about their difference.

When people who believe that they are being deliberately excluded protest, they get usually become faced with replies that point to either inadequacies in their manner of participating in the system or the accusation that they are using this complaint as a way of excusing or deflecting attention away from poor performance.

Not perceiving or understanding the implicit fundamental rules, the first retort makes no sense to them because not understanding the implicit unspoken message they cannot picture a practical solution. The second one confirms in their mind that the problem is personal and stemming from some kind of unfair discrimination. Both answers make them feel even more inadequate and persecuted.

Money is the primary commodity and what the business of banking is about. There is a competition for money in the market and in the firm itself, certainly where front office is concerned.  The resources are scarce because money is at a premium and bonus driven means that other people affect your share-if they are not helping to grow your share then they are taking some of it away. This makes the environment unforgiving and uncompromising.

Traditionalist values like loyalty, contribution and value speaking for itself, the value of someone’s presence and being regardless of tangible production do not count in a competitive environment.

In competitive environments where the primary driver is production, then adding value in terms contribution to the acquisition of resources or competitive advantage is fundamentally all that counts for anything.

The Rule Made Explicit

When a person cannot demonstrate in a tangle way what they add to production, they are perceived as being a cost and scavenger of the system rather than a contributor regardless of what they claim in terms of intrinsic contribution.

The key to survival and the most obvious and yet opaque hidden rule is that you have to define both your personal distinctiveness and your value add, make them explicit and make sure that they are brought to the attention of people who will be decide on your future progress.

This rule needs to be rigorously applied because if you do not, you will get drowned out by the bright lights and noise of your more assertive competitors and you might because of the strong associative link between profiling and production, become perceived in your modest silence as being a consumer rather than a contributor to the resource pool.

The system is not inherently dishonest but is obviously vulnerable in that those who have mastered the game to the point where they are able to pass form and appearance off as content and reality will do better than those who work hard and produce but do it under the radar of the people whose opinion of your work will make or break your tenure or career.

The reality of the previous point is that the system can be perceived to be dishonest and purely politically driven and make people how do not understand or like politics to feel more disenfranchised or disempowered.

1 Response to “The Unspoken Rules: A Hidden Barrier to Transforamtion”

  • Angela du Plessis says:

    Hi Leonard
    This really resonated with me. Once I was doing a dialogue on diversity and racism for a largish team. One black woman commented that as a black women she had to work “220%” harder than her white counterparts to get the same recognition. As expected all the white guys in the group shouted her down, saying this was the usual mantra and untrue. Then a very white male stopped the process and said in fact this is true. In his first three months he had been the back office person for two women – one white, one black and that his black colleague had indeed had to work at least double the amount of her white counterpart. People in the room were astonished. The voice of the dominant group could not be discounted!

    Regardss, Angela

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