The only way is ethics

A few days ago I started reading Gary Hamel’s excellent 2012 book, What Matters Now, about building future companies that can win while being fit for human beings. It’s a plea to reinvent management as we know it by rethinking the fundamental assumptions we all have about capitalism, institutions and life at work.

In the preface he talks about the five key issues of values, innovation, adaptability, passion and ideology. He talks about why large companies are now among society’s least trusted institutions.

That same day the Dominion Post in Wellington ran a story about the annual Readers Digest Most Trusted People and Most Trusted Profession poll results. Although they poll hundreds of people and provide them with a list of 100 newsworthy names to rank, the results are still worth noting.

The most trusted people are sports and TV personalities. The least trusted are politicians and businessmen. The bottom 21 of the list (starting with Prime Minister John Key) entirely consists of that group with one exception, Sonny Bill Williams. How must he feel being in the company of people like Kim Dotcom?

Within the list of the 50 most trusted professions, surprisingly HR doesn’t feature. In terms of business professions, accounting ranks number 28 with bankers at 31, but no HR! Clearly the list compilers didn’t think we were worth considering. More evidence of our lack of influence as a profession perhaps or failure to gain trusted advisor status?

Out of 50 trusted professions, CEOs were ranked a lowly 40th sandwiched between financial planners and call centre staff. As for politicians, it seems the good people of New Zealand would trust an estate agent before they trust an MP.

A couple of pages on from the above article was a letter written by a teacher about the teachers’ Novopay debacle. After problems with his pay he had written to both the Education Minister and the then head of the Education Department to try and get his problem sorted. Both had referred his problem onto the CIO of the Ministry of Education who personally rang him the next day and sorted out the teacher’s missing money.

The Teacher asked why it was that the CIO had been subsequently forced to resign over the fiasco while the Minister was still in her job, apparently unaccountable for the Novopay mess.

And that’s the issue. Leadership has to be about ethics, being accountable, having good personal values and walking the talk. From the above it would appear many of our so called leaders lack those qualities or, at best, are perceived to lack them.

I have written before about leadership development and how we need to develop more “conscious organisations.” Sadly, it appears HR is not the only area of businesses where mediocrity is the rule rather than the exception.

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