One doesn’t have to look far to see examples of unethical behaviour in our corporations. The sale of unwanted and inappropriate products and anti-competitive collusion. They all add up to give the false impression that all is bad in corporate UK.
Whilst many of these actions result in nothing less than defrauding millions out of their hard earned cash, the people committing these acts are not professional criminals. They aren’t even petty criminals. They are, in fact, just like you and me: ordinary people, carrying out ordinary jobs, serving ordinary customers.
What makes these ordinary people act in a way that is, at times, so unethical? I would suggest the answer is encapsulated in culture and courage. These people are in the wrong culture and they lack courage. I am not saying they lack integrity. Some may lack this quality, but I don’t believe the majority do. I believe they simply lack the courage to not do what their culture is expecting of them. The culture surrounding them sanctions unethical behaviour as “the way we do things around here…just turn a blind eye to the consequences and hit your targets.”
So, if the wrong culture and a lack of courage are what stand in the way of good people doing the right thing, what can our CEO’s do to bring about the changes in behaviour so desperately needed?
New regulation won’t solve the problem by itself. Neither will new CEO’s parachuted in on their own. What is needed is culture change brought about through pressures from both the outside, working inwards and from the inside, working outwards. In my last post I shared Schein’s definition of culture as “a pattern of shared basic assumptions invented, discovered, or developed by a given group as it learns to cope with its problems of external adaptation and internal integration.”
Loss of customers as they vote with their feet, new regulatory powers and competitors who are getting it right, are the pressures needing “external adaptation”. I’ve always said the first of these is the most powerful. We, as customers, must take our monies elsewhere when companies let us down. Saying it is too much hassle doesn’t wash. Businesses adapt or die when faced with customer revolt.
Within the business, a brave few, with the support of the (possibly new) CEO can create the changes that then demand the internal integration highlighted by Schein. A group of well chosen “volunteers” who are given the spotlight, power and a real voice, can make the majority feel more courageous to step up to the plate, challenging others who persist in the old ways. Those who do persist need to be moved on.
What won’t work is re-writing the vision and values statements and putting them up on the walls. These things will help, but it takes real people, doing things differently, to lead real and lasting change.
It will take a long time to bring about cultural change and for the majority to develop the courage to align themselves to the new way “we do things around here”. The stimulus for change has got to be us, the customer, encouraging the courageous few within these banks and businesses that we want to see survive and flourish over the long haul.