Has Your Corporate Culture Become the “Dark Ages?”

by Michael Haberman on July 21, 2011 · 1 comment


I am reading a book by Peter Watson, entitled Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, From Fire to Freud. It is a very interesting book. One chapter where Watson discussed what brought about the Dark Ages in Europe made me think about corporate culture implications. Many of us are taught that the Roman Empire fell and Europe entered into the Dark Ages as a result of barbarians invasions. Watson shows that while this was a contributing factor the major factor was the spread of organized religion. At this time two organized religions were spreading through the Roman Empire, Christianity and Islam. Obviously in Europe Christianity was the major influence.

Prior to this time a very large part of the citizens of Rome were literate. The city of Rome had over 20 librarys open to the public. As Christianity took over the view became that reading was unnecessary because people only needed to know the “word of God.” The result of this culture was then the destruction of much of the reading material in the Roman world. The works of Greek and Roman philosophers and writers was considered heretical and not worthy of reading. (Islam was having a similar effect on other parts of the world. Great libraries were destroyed as a result. However, there were some Arab scholars who preserved a great deal of material and today we owe our knowledge of all Greek writers and many Roman writers to them.) It was this destruction of literacy that actually was the primary cause of the Dark Ages.

If you have lasted this long you are probably asking “What the heck does this have to do with corporate culture and HR?” Here is your answer. Do you have a “word of God” type of culture where what someone has said before or written before is not open to question? Do you follow blindly the policies, procedure and methodologies that have always been there? Do you fail to read and keep up on the profession of HR because there is no need because you have “the WORD”? If that is your case then your culture is in the “DARK AGES”. It has become unacceptable to question authority, to question the doctrine of the organization and in doing so all creativity, all opportunity to learn and advanced has been crushed.

Europe did come out of the Dark Ages by the efforts of some courageous people who started to question the status quo. They started to make contact with other areas in the world and became familiar with new ideas and old masters. They rediscovered philosophies and ideas and gave them new twists. You can do the same. How you ask? Here are my suggestions:

  • Read… more than you do now. Read blogs, read books, read periodicals. Do it with both business and non-business stuff.
  • Go to meetings. Get to know other professionals in your field. Also get to know professionals outside of your field. If you go to a SHRM meeting and sit with the same people you sat with last time, then shame on you.
  • Correspond. You can do this many ways. Commenting on blog posts or using Twitter is a very current form of correspondence. And if  your company policy does not allow you to do so then your ARE IN THE DARK AGES.
  • Educate yourself either formally or informally. Classes, seminars or degree programs are excellent ways.
  • Lastly, write. Consider a blog.

These are just some of my ideas for getting yourself out of the dark ages and moving into the Renaissance. And if that doesn’t work, look for a company that is already there and change jobs.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Kathryn Teague July 22, 2011 at 11:28 am

I found this post to be most interesting, and I can attest to the validity of your points. I have seen cultures where the company is “family” and many negative events and emotions erupt because no one wants to hurt “someone’s” feelings. I have also seen enthusiasm, trust and creativity squelched by, perhaps unintentional, “Dark Ages” or “superiority” mentality.

By the same token, an unwillingness to challenge managers and supervisors is, in my opinion, a very dangerous thing. I was advised by a mentor long ago that you should always hire people who are smarter than you. I believe in that principle very strongly, and I have gone out of my way to encourage those who report to me to speak the truth and tell me when they disagree with me or have a different point of view. There have been one or two occasions when that was painful for me (sometimes the truth hurts, doesn’t it?) but I was able to suck it in and acknowledge the truth of the message. I hope that I am able to maintain the grace to be calm and cool during those times.

Recently I posted on our “welcome board” a quote from Bear Bryant that emphasizes the point that the “smart” people in your organization are the people who do the work – No coach wins a game by what he knows, but by what his players know. As leaders in the organization, I think we dis-serve ourselves when we fail to involve employees and others outside the organization in planning and decision making.

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