If you have read any of Lance Amstrong’s interview with the BBC, or even just picked up the headline (I would cheat all over again if we were back in 1995) you can’t help but be struck by the culture and values of cycling at the time that Armstrong was at his peak. Armstrong is a very interesting character and potentially an extreme of his type but you can read many autobiographies of cyclists of this era (David Millar’s probably being the best) and you will find they took drugs…clearly not all of them…but many, many of them. The rules said one thing, the culture and values said something else.
This Sunday in my son’s rugby match one of the kids backchatted the ref over a bad (and it was bad) decision. The result … a 5 yard penalty and his coach telling him to keep his mouth shut. The culture of rugby dictates you are respectful of the ref. If you want to see this in action in the professional game, then read about the French national coach dropping his star player for sarcastically clapping the ref after he was sent off. Any parent of a child who has played football will tell you it is different. The culture is different.
While cycling clearly needed rules, and clearly needed tight drug testing it has had a culture of drug taking for years. Indeed some of the older cyclists are almost revered for it. Interestingly, recently the Astana team of current Tour de France champion Nibali has had a series of failed drug tests but the authorities haven’t found it within themselves to ban the team from competition. Culture change takes many years.
In the work place we have seen this in banking, utilities, and politicians. Following each scandal there has been a clamour for better regulation (usually more regulation) and rules. But do we really think there were a lack of rules or did the people lack values?
In an increasingly complex workplace I would suggest that peer pressure, norms of working, and values are the only hope that leaders (or the public) have of the employees acting in the way they would hope for and expect. The thought that you can add to the rule book is both naive and impractical. My old company HSBC appears to now have legions of people in “Compliance” making sure the rules are seen to be followed. Indirectly we are all now paying for these additional costs but it is unlikely that it is form filling that will stop the next banking scandal.
Open discussion, open feedback, peer review against a set of values, behaviours, and cultural norms are only one piece of how you get this to work but they are at least as important as the rules. Armstrong knew the written rules, he knows them now, but he would have cheated in 1995 even knowing what he knows now. It was the culture of the time and his personal values didn’t stand up to the test.