It could be said that those with the greatest influence on society are leading the nation astray. MPs cheat on their expenses, bankers alter the rules to suit themselves and journalists listen in on private voicemails to get a story.
Business skeletons seem to be falling out of closets with increasing regularity and Wikipedia’s growing list of corporate scandals features many previously respected companies.
This crisis of trust could well have dire consequences for many large employers as social media gives disgruntled employees a global voice, as in the case of Greg Smiths’ resignation letter from Goldman Sachs. Yet research continually supports the theory that line managers have the greatest influence on employee behaviours. It’s all very well having words like ‘integrity’ in corporate value statements, but if leaders tell lies a dishonest culture will spread throughout the organisation. Consequently marketing executives will make misleading claims (Kellogg), accountants will prepare deceptive financial information (Olympus) and engineers won’t check safety systems (BP).
Ethical businesses are not simply an ideal that couldn’t exist in reality. A recent Financial Times feature reported that after five years of improvement, Co-operative Group has more than doubled its profit margin and raised turnover 80 per cent. Peter Marks, Co-operative Group CEO says the model works: “We have gone through the worst financial crisis in living memory, where most big banks run by bankers came a cropper and we didn’t.”
Management training must progress beyond teaching leadership theories to challenging the morality and behaviours of those we want to lead our businesses. The vast majority of business leaders don’t want to behave unethically but they feel pressurised to do so, by their immediate manager, customers or shareholders. If we are to build sustainable organisations we must cut out the cancer of dishonesty that prevails in most workplaces.
To explore the issue of trust in the workplace request a free copy of our book Trust Unwrapped, A story of Ethics, Integrity and Chocolate by clicking here and entering your name, address and the keyword ‘Trust Unwrapped.