I have just been reading the PWC report on Trust: the behavioural challenge; this emerges from PWC’s ongoing collaboration with Professor Roger Steare, a contributor to these blog pages. It’s certainly wide-ranging, challenging, and relevant to the market we find ourselves in today. What is it saying then?
First, I would like to go back a step. The trouble with things that are relevant today is that they haven’t got time to go back and really establish where we have come from yesterday. Yes, it’s true: we need trust as the paper argues, especially in our Corporate enterprises. That trust has been shattered by recent events - the banks, BP and oil, Enron, and we could go on and on.
But what we have to imagine is what the world would be like without trust. At least, what the commercial world would be like. For that we go back to the Eighteenth Century where it was the Quakers, much mocked at the time, who introduced a simple innovation that enabled them to become - Rowntree, Fry and Cadbury to name but three - the industrial giants of the Nineteenth Century. What was that innovation? In retail they decided to sell products at a fixed price. That’s right - you could go to a Quaker shop and know that the price for the same commodity would be the same.
The opposite of this ‘same’ price is of course what we find in markets and bazaars all over the world: haggling - or getting what ever you could for what you had. This ‘fixed’ price, however, had a strange consequence: namely, people perceived Quakers as honest and their businesses thrived as a result.
Of course, we take ‘fixed’ - or better still ‘fair’ - prices for granted now, but then it was revolutionary. It created trust between the purchaser and the vendor, and this led to better and bigger businesses. In fact, it could be said it led to the possibility that businesses could grow - manufacturing and retailing could expand in a way inconceivable with a haggling system.
So Roger Steare’s work on ‘Ethicability’ is vitally important - the root of all growth is not in money but in value, and all value derives from the primacy of trust. Persuading the Corporate-Haves that they start addressing this issue, and the others identified by Steare, is another matter however. The language Steare uses may be very relevant to Corporates, given his background and pragmatic work in their area - and, incidentally, the research is compelling - but it may be more difficult for SMEs to see his wood for their trees. Big business employs less than 10% of the employees on the planet. Where are the benefits for them? That is the real challenge.
Furthermore, what with the passionate advocacy of ‘diversity’ and such like concepts, some Boards and Entrepreneurs and free spirits may well smell some forms of socialism and social engineering going on here. It may well be that women score higher on Love than men (and men score higher on purpose), but I for one have never observed more Love emanating from women as directors and managers than I have from men, and would feel loath to go down that particular line for making appointments.
In some ways, though, this point is answered by the document - if we keep its central propositions rather than its incidental findings in the forefront of our minds. The central findings are - we need a complete culture shift, we need principles of operation rather than codes of conduct, we need the heart and not just the head involved in what we do. These are very big things, especially the latter. Can we really imagine businesses where the leaders are ‘authentic’ because they operate not only from their heads but with the convictions of their heart also?
If we can’t, then so much the worse for us. For in a way, whilst the Report points to certain commercial advantages to behaving ethically in business, it does not describe the key thing of all. This key is not what most directors would accept as key, but it is: it is quality of life, or more accurately life itself. When we are authentic, when we speak and act from the heart, we radiate an inner light and energy which is wholesome and healthy, and which by its own intrinsic nature begins to address one of the big intractable problems of the last ten years: Work-Life Balance.
How many burnt-out executives have I met? Too many to count. They often become freelance consultants as the futility of their no-heart work in Corporations begins finally to stab at their hearts and they know they must change or die in harness.
So I urge you to read Roger Steare’s important and thought-provoking ideas, and ask yourself this question: how can we incorporate ‘Ethicability’ in our organisation, so that we can achieve, not just money, but all that the heart desires - for that truly is our life. To find out more about this, go to:
www.pwc.co.uk/eng/issues/trust or www.ethicability.org