With few exceptions, most businesses are led by people destined to let their charges down at the most critical moment. Some will call it pragmatism and praise it. Others will explain it as exigency, doing what the situation demands to deliver shareholder value. There are a few more labels that follow these two: downsizing, streamlining, retrenching, scaling back.
Heroes play a psychologically archetypal role designed to create modes of behavior which guide those around them. Good heroes use the power of transformation not only to change themselves for the better, but also to transform the world they live in. In the classic hero journey, the newly transformed hero eventually transforms society in significant and positive ways. He is changed and so are those along his path and those they touch, in turn.
Every decision has a cost. When you decide to do something, simultaneously you have decided to not do something else. This means that we behave according to some guidelines and within specific parameters. They define who we are and, more importantly, who we become.
Business is there to make money. No one can argue with that. It’s like saying: “we need to breathe oxygen to stay alive”. But breathing oxygen is not the only thing we need to do in order to live and a business doesn’t need to just make money in order to survive.
We need good companies more than we need business. No one works alone. Nothing happens in a vacuum. The choices we make and the way we make them send a signal on what’s permitted and what isn’t. This creates parameters of acceptability which reverberate further than we think.
The businesses that do better than others are consistently smarter. They hire smart people and give them a free rein. They encourage a culture of openly sharing of ideas. They place greater value in being innovative than being right all the time. They are not afraid to try out new things and they are not afraid to fail.
Doing the right thing costs. If it didn’t we wouldn’t be calling it such. We’d just be saying “doing the thing”. We add the distinction because we are looking for a justification. We are presenting an action as problematic. We are identifying that it ought to be done but we are also preparing reasons why we may not do it.
I was on the Bloomberg website for all of three seconds when the pop-up appeared: “"We noticed you're using an ad blocker, which may adversely affect the performance and content on Bloomberg.com. For the best experience please whitelist the site.” It said.
Every time I come across a business that wants to be a market leader I know what they are thinking about: A big, fat check. The massive pay-off that comes with being at the head of the pack, the reputational value of being first and being perceived as somehow being better. Everyone in the boardroom starts seeing dollar signs the moment they hear the words “Market Leader”.
There is a fundamental disconnect between business and ethics. When Volkswagen and Microsoft blatantly lie and cheat and nobody within the organization, at any level, has the courage to say that it’s wrong it leads to a break between the values they profess to uphold publicly at the customer-facing interface and what they are really prepared to do when no one’s looking.