In values and leadership workshops I have recently taken to asking for a show of hands by those “who would like to work for an organisaton they are not proud of?” As you might expect no one has yet put their hand up. The follow up questions “has anyone tried it and what was it like?” Receive strongly emotive responses like “terrible”.
It seems there are few of us who would choose to end up in the position of doing things we are not proud of. And yet, there seems to have been a period of collective corporate madness which may have started in the mid eighties and appears to be ending now.
The madness was defined by the dictum of “shareholder value”. Under its rules almost anything (including death, war and deceit) could be justified as long as shareholder value could be invoked. This madness was not without precedent, in the “glory” days of imperial expansion British and Dutch corporations in particular indulged in war, murder and genocide in joint names of empire and profit.
The film and book “The Corporation” described a “psychopathic” entity that pathologically externalised cost and risk and was legally bound to pursue short term profits whatever the costs to others.
There is clear evidence today that the madness is ending. Crushed by the credit crunch, exposed by the inevitable transparency of the internet and disempowered by a lack of lackeys willing to sell their souls for a buck and the promise of promotion.
There was, once again, a curious symmetry to what might be the beginning of the longest climb of Lance Armstrong’s life and Barclays announcement of new values and behaviour. The climb to redemption for both will be a lot longer than the grind up the Galibier.
The days of addiction fuelled invincibility are over for Lance, for Barclays, for all of us. A new era of common human values, of integrity and honesty is spreading. It is becoming harder for those in positions of authority to abuse their power.
Exactly ten years ago I gave up my last proper job and started a newsletter called Authentic Business. It was based on the idea that authenticity is the one thing that can solve most of the problems we have created. At the time it was edgy, out there and a bit weird. My wildest fantasy was that some day I would be consulting to globally influential corporations and helping them to create a values based culture with authenticity and ethics at it’s heart.
That day has come and I am profoundly honoured and proud to be part of the group of people who have the privilege to be delivering it. In years to come people will look back at the changes going on now and say it started here. We are all creating a future we can be proud of.