“DON’T MAKE WAVES”
“DON’T MAKE WAVES” or “don’t rock the boat” are common aphorisms. Established norms can also enforce the pressure to conform.
William Whyte, in his book The Organization Man, writes about GE’s basic training school in the 1930s: “Students spend four months eagerly studying a battery of communication techniques and psychological principles which General Electric tells them will help them to be good managers. (Sample principle: ‘Never say anything controversial.’)” [Italics added.]1 Although this reference to establishing norms that reinforce conformity is quite dated, remnants of this principle are still seen in today’s corporations—especially in boardrooms.
Jay Lorsch and Elizabeth MacIver, professor and former research associate at Harvard Business School, published a study of American boards of directors in 1989. They wrote, “The norms of polite boardroom behavior discourage directors from openly questioning or challenging the CEO’s performance or proposals… ”2
The chairman of the board is often the CEO and the directors are frequently the CEO’s “friends and associates.”3 in many corporate boards, dissent is viewed as detrimental or unneeded.
The corporate culture in the boardrooms of Enron and Tyco “discouraged debate and disagreement instead of cultivating it.” Directors repeatedly yielded to company executives without disputing them.