Morality in Business…

Character never went away ever from the Corporate Environe…it is just that the leaders who populate the Corporate Environs may or may not be imbued with the strength of character we have grown to expect.

Our view of character is often defined by our own experience of this quality – we look up to role models throughout our lives and in each we strive to find certain admirable qualities that stand them apart…and this is how great role models are born.

Character is one such quality that has defined our pursuit of role models – so what is it that we look for in people of character?

Integrity – behaving in a manner that is consistent with the truth and transparency at all times

Being truthful and honest – even while communicating unpleasant information

Focused on the ‘True North’ in all personal, business and social dealings

Strong and impartial allies who can be trusted when the going gets tough (difficult enemies to those who would seek to harm their friends)

Care and compassion for those whom they lead or who look up to them

The fact is that all of the above qualities and more, have never really gone anyplace to the extent that they are should be said to be making a return? Character is and will continue to be ever-present in our scheme of things…the degree to which we see and feel it manifested will differ from individual to individual.
That’s how it has always been…and that’s how it will continue to be!

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I believe that Character, like many other human qualities, is constantly challenged and tested throughout our personal, social and professional lives.
We seek character in others, while sub-consciously comparing what we see with our own personal benchmark for true character, often defined by our own experience…in the role models we have looked up to, our parents, teachers, athletic coaches, …and our leaders.
As we grow and mature, our own character also begins to take on a different shape. We often begin our professional lives fresh out of graduate school or business school, flushed with all that knowledge and expertise. We may start with the belief that we need to develop that ‘in your face’ personality, or hone those sharp negotiation/selling skills, or develop great Technical mastery, or be willing to do anything we can to stand out in any form of group dialogue, debate or business discussion.
And then we grow and mature some…

Yes maturity is a great leveler. We begin to realize that the great role models and leaders we have always admired have consistently been true to themselves. They have never tried to develop any ‘sparkle or sheen.’ In fact, they have stayed downright simple, committed and transparent in all their words and actions. They have eschewed all form of public showcasing or grandstanding, and have in fact operated in a rather modest and silent manner…when compared to some of their more ‘flashy’ peers.

Yet we have come to know, love and admire them? How is this possible?

Because character, like respect, is not a behaviour that can be purchased or studied at some University level. The quality of character is achieved over the relentless, ever challenging, melting pot of a lifetime. At the end of it all, when we have developed our own ‘character,’ it is there for life. It will break but not bend…it will flex, but fundamentally remain constant and unchanged and most importantly it will define us in a manner that no Business Card, Flashy Car, Corner Office, or National Newspaper Headline ever could!

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We are a capitalist society and the only thing we understand is profit (regardless at what cost!).
From my many years in Organization Transformation and Change activities, I have developed an appreciation for the statement: “What gets measured – gets done.”
Ergo, if all the organization does is to maniacally measure profit, what do you think is going to happen? Of course the profit targets will be achieved (but at a cost).
Typically, the first assets to go are the Human resources – because their costs are easily and rapidly adjusted against the bottom line – which nicely aligns with the aforesaid profit objectives.
The next likely area to suffer would be Employee Morale.
Followed by Quality…rapidly followed by Customer Satisfaction
Organizations and Leadership need to start looking at their overall Corporate responsibility as maintaining a giant balloon in it’s pre-determined , oval/egg-shape.
When they begin to squeeze one end (to reduce costs and improve profit margins), they need to recognize that the balloon is expanding at the other end and that there are consequences and counter costs that they will need to address thereof…sooner or later.

Funny thing about the question of Morality. We all have an understanding of morality that bears connotations with:
good versus bad
wrong versus right
ethical versus un-ethical

However as some have rightly pointed out – our Corporations are more perceived as being in a Moral vacuum, where almost anything and everything can be perpetuated, without any consequences at all. Consider the recent Auto Industry issues with faulty switches and sundry other recalls and failures (sometimes fatal). The Wall street crash, poor governance over the Mortgage industry and similar issues with the Pharmaceutical industry – all of which point to less of a Moral presence and more of a Moral vacuum instead.

My favourite beef is with the Tobacco industry and the Government’s ‘Moralistic’ stance in demanding that the Tobacco industry show advertising and medial imagery that starkly demonstrates the ills of smoking, that every Advertisement carries a warning from the Surgeon General on the evils of smoking, that smokers should be fined if they choose to smoke in non-smoking areas and the list goes on and on.
But where are the Morals in allowing the Tobacco industry to continue to thrive and grow, just because it constitutes a huge cash cow in terms of tax revenues to the Government.

We all know that smoking truly kills, but we would rather permit the killing to continue…in the name of tax driven profits the industry generates for us!
How’s that for a return of Morality?

We are measuring morality every time we address an issue with a decision that it is either good or bad, right or wrong, ethical or unethical.

It is in our simplistic (I hate to say it but ‘Conscience driven’) motivation to look inwards  to our internal compass that points us to the ‘true north.’

Oh yes indeed if we were not measuring morality we would not have a justice system at all – for what is justice if not the operationalization of a societal moral measurements of what is deemed to be right or wrong.

Is there a holistic measurement or instrument we can reference in our measurement of morality – of course not, but that does not mean we are totally incapable of measurement of this quality at all.

On the subject of putting a moral framework that any significant number of people would embrace – we need only look to the many examples of organized religion out there – each one of them champions a moral framework of sorts…be it the Ten Commandments, or the Sermon on the Mount, or the teachings of Buddha, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc.
I am not pointing out any particular faith as better or worse than the other, simply making the point that religion and Morality has always been in co-existence, and embracing the one necessitates the embracing of the other.
Last time I checked there were some Organized religion groups that boasted over a billion and counting in their congregations…

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While the HBR topic suggests a correlation between leaders who demonstrated or scored highly on the character scale and also achieved better financials than their counterparts who scored lower on the character scale, I would argue that this is not necessarily always the case. Here are the CEOs from 5 major Corporations who did rather poorly (as assessed in 2013), but who did not really have any questions posed on their character…or lack thereof:

1, Steve Ballmer – CEO Microsoft (poor performance of Microsoft in 2013)

2. Eddie Lampert – CEO Sears (poor performance of Microsoft in 2013)

3. Thorsten Heins – CEO Blackberry (poor performance of Microsoft in 2013)

4. Ron Johnson – CEO J C Penny (poor performance of Microsoft in 2013)

5. Eike Batista – CEO OGX (poor performance of Microsoft in 2013)

I am more than a little circumspect about research studies in general especially if the universe is confined to a single geography alone? We no longer operate in silos or in isolated islands within the confines of our own geographies alone? This is a huge, gigantic global village we play in, and research needs to be more inclusive to ensure that the results are truly statistically significant – not just from the percentage of the universe that is surveyed but indeed in the scope of the global context that the research subject has been mapped against.

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