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Where does self-interest end and care for others begin? It’s a question which is much on the mind as football and financial services yet again hit the spotlight for negative reasons. At the time of writing FIFA have yet to deliver their verdict on the Suarez biting allegations but in the meantime the Uruguayan authorities have closed ranks firmly around their star striker. And why shouldn’t they? The loss of such a key player will affect the team’s short term chances in the world cup and therefore for the sake of the team, for the sake of national pride, they will support their man. After all, Liverpool themselves rode out a previous ban for the sake of the team’s interests and were rewarded with a stunning league run.
Or what about our financial institutions? For decades high flyers were rewarded with huge bonuses based solely on the amount of money made for the organisation. It took the recession and some thorough investigation to uncover the truth; that profits were generated on the back of some questionable practices and customers were mis-sold products at every opportunity. But even with a new era of ‘doing what is right’ some businesses are still looking to pay huge bonuses and reward quick profits to satisfy the short term demand for a return to profitability.
When the star employee proves fallible is when the leadership reveals the true organisational culture. Yes, they have a duty of care and may even be partly to blame for putting the individual under unreasonable pressure or by setting targets which could never be reached through reasonable means. But the duty of care only goes so far and if the organisational culture is such that it condones unacceptable practices or places unreasonable demands on its employees then the time for a complete cultural overhaul is well past.
The recent recession has shaken up more than simply the finances of those affected. Public sentiment is moving away from ‘win at all costs’ and towards an expectation that fairness and ethics form part of the mix. Honesty and openness are now the watchwords and those organisations which cling to the old ways will soon find out that the public will no longer tolerate those who put short term gains ahead of probity.
Refreshingly, one example of the new order has just come to light. The NHS ombudsman gave a fairly damming verdict in respect of a trust whose inactions led to the death of a three year old boy. Interviewed on Radio 5 the trust’s spokesperson accepted the findings in full, admitted that they had got it wrong and commented on the way in which they were working to ensure that a similar situation never happened again. In an era in which the NHS is still being accused of cover-ups and of back covering, this interview stood out as a shining example of the way in which a culture of openness and honesty should be managed.
Yes, people are fallible and may from time to time need extra help and guidance. Yes, organisations do sometimes make mistakes, no matter how careful they are. In fact innovation culture is grounded in the expectation that not everything will be perfect all the time as the organisation continually strives for exceptional customer experiences. But when mistakes happen, a strong culture which cares about its customers and about others is able to step up to the plate, to admit accountability and to seek appropriate redress. Sometimes, no matter how much you want it, winning isn’t everything if you want to show respect for others.