For a kinder, gentler capitalism

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AT THE BREAKFAST TABLE — Where’s all the new regulation that we were promised? Where is the whole system turned on its head?

Rather boringly we have moved back into silly stories and away from people being galvanised for change. I know we can’t all be on our toes all the time, but do we have to return to regular programming so quickly?

I’d like to suggest a few ideas that might make a big difference. And if we take advantage of our recent anxiety we can develop the spirit required to change things for the better.

1. People principles

I first was involved in writing these for a major corporate outsourcing almost 10 years ago. And I have been talking about them every since.

One of my old HR consultancies used to talk about them in terms of ‘the deal’. But I don’t like that. A deal is something that is broken, where as principles are interpreted and agreed regularly and in different contexts. People principles are things that the business already promises employees. The rules that govern redundancies, for example. The processes for advancement, the promise of a harassment-free workplace. These are the kind of things that are very good for people to see on paper.

We often concentrate a lot in our communications on what people can do for the company. And therefore not enough on what the company does for people. And this is a shame when organisations have all sorts of obligations to employees that aren’t values, just because they aren’t communicated.

2. Chief Explanation Officer

There’s a good article in the most recent Harvard Business Review about the role of the CEO. It says essentially that the CEO’s job is to explain the world and the company’s role in it to employees and other stakeholders. It would be great if CEO’s did more of this. What is Lloyds Group’s role in the world? How are they helping their customers? What do they need to do to really succeed? I don’t think CEOs do anywhere near enough of this.

3. Business education

How can you have so many people in businesses that do not know what the business does? Employees generally do not know where and how their companies make our money. And that can’t be right. But it often happens because businesses feel that they can be less than clear about that. And that’s not right either.

Basic business education is something that businesses do very poorly. After a while everyone is too embarrassed to ask.

My yardstick for this is one consultancy I worked in where we were all fired — 92% of the workforce — in one go. Because we hadn’t been making any money for 18 months. And it caught a lot of us by surprise. If we had known and someone had suggested what we might do… We would have done it!

4. The nanny company

There are two sides to this. The biggest is the company’s responsibility, but the other is the employee’s. The biggest single realisation about this current recession is that a bunch of financial services professionals made some very bad decisions because they were rewarded to do so.

And they made those decisions, and were rewarded to make them, because the company saw no rules (or responsibility) for not allowing them to happen. So the company needs to do two things:
1. provide all the parameters for employees to make the best possible decisions for the business (not just for shareholders)
2. allow, encourage and reward people for making the right decisions.

There are many many business books about how companies that make the right decisions are the successful ones. And we all seem to agree that at the banks, people were allowed to make the wrong ones. So it’s down to companies to learn how to set frameworks for better decisions. (Not surprisingly, we think we know how to do that.)

The balance of the agreement for employees then is to demand everything you need to make better decisions. And not to agree to do things that you don’t understand and/or don’t meet the needs or the organisation.

5. Keep your promises

Companies spend a lot of time and energy these days creating communications that is not real. And sometimes that says things they never really plan to do. I don’t want to point the finger simply at the investor relations business. But it is clearly an area where there’s a lot of cat and mouse games that go one.

Can we not find ways of making this process clearer? We’ve gotten better at calling organisations to task that don’t fulfill some of their promises. Surely there are many, many more that we could add.

Businesses that are more transparent and more straight-forward will be easier to understand, easier to work for, and easier to manage.

I am sure there are more. These are just the ones that I have come across in the past few weeks of consulting.

What do you think?


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