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The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing

If we define culture as “the behaviour that is acceptable within the team”, we can begin to understand the decline in the SAS culture as outlined in the recently released Brereton report.

Normally culture doesn’t decline quickly. It is quite incremental. We start by accepting behaviour that we all know is “not quite right”. It may be an inappropriate comment, a sub-standard report or a meeting starting 10 minutes late. Many people are aware that we should say something and take action, but we take the view that it is “too hard”, it “won’t happen again” or “I might lose my job’.

However, unless someone speaks up and intervenes, the new standard becomes the acceptable norm.

And once this cycle has started, the process is repeated. And repeated. And repeated again.

And finally, we wake up one morning and ask ourselves ‘how the hell did we end up here?’.

The answer is so simple. The good people who witnessed the beginning of the decline in the culture of the group, team or organisation did not feel safe to speak up.

The banking royal commission, the Australian cricket team sandpaper-gate, the Brereton report etc etc etc. How many more examples do we need before we realise that the answer to the erosion of standards is not Royal Commissions and expensive government reports.

It is time our politicians and leaders started encouraging honest and safe conversations within our organisations. Listening to those who are brave enough to come forward and speak up, putting at risk their jobs and reputations. We must stop persecuting the whistle-blowers.

Leaders must create psychological safety and systems that allow employees to safely respond when they witness unacceptable behaviour. If they don’t, we will continue to witness the erosion of standards and decline of our respected institutions.