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You Get the Culture You Pay For

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For the past couple of weeks, I've been ignoring articles in the Financial Times about a cell phone hacking scandal in England. Last week, the New York Times picked up the story in a big way and I started paying attention.

Here's the very quick recap. It's been determined that, for a number of years, reporters and contractors for the News of the World tabloid have been hacking the cell phone voice mail accounts of celebrities and athletes. The practice didn't stop there however. They also hacked the phones of a 13-year old girl who was abducted and murdered, the families of victims of the July 2005 London bombings and the loved ones of British soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The News of the World is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp which also owns the Fox Networks, the New York Post and many other media properties around the world. As is usually the case in stories like this, Murdoch and his senior managers say that they're shocked and appalled by these breaches of ethics (and violations of the law) and that they're not representative of how the company works.

Here's the thing. You get the culture you pay for. Your people will do whatever you encourage and reward them to do. If, as has been the case at News of the World, people are rewarded to get the most sensational, profitable stories no matter what, then that's what you'll get. If you send the message that there are no boundaries in getting the story, then the boundaries that most people would honor will be violated.

Needless to say, that cultural dynamic is not just limited to media companies. Whether they intend to or not, leaders establish the culture in any organization by what they reward, encourage, talk about, pay attention to and ignore.

What have you done this week to establish the culture you want in your organization? What kind of culture are you paying for?

Tom Shoop is vice president and editor in chief at Government Executive Media Group, where he oversees both print and online editorial operations. He started as associate editor of Government Executive magazine in 1989; launched the company’s flagship website, GovExec.com, in 1996; and was named editor in chief in 2007.

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