Derek Bishop


When the child becomes the parent

Date added: 06th Aug 2015
Category: Organisational Culture Change

As business sectors mature, as they move away from selfishness and towards a culture of doing things right; the relationship which they have with customers, regulators and others will change.

From dependent child through rebellious teenager-hood and on into responsible adulthood our relationship with our parents changes. True, some parents will never let go, seeing the child always as a child and seeking to retain control; but for others the relationship becomes one of equals, sharing friendships and respect in equal measure.

However, for some there will come a time when the relationship changes again; when due to age, or frailty, or illness the child becomes the parent. Whilst for some this reversal of roles can prove burdensome, others see it as a time of opportunity, a life affirming time in which the child takes responsibility and has the chance to positively contribute to the life of the family.

Whilst our lives follow this pattern from needing control to taking responsibility, it is also possible to trace a similar pattern across many business sectors. Take the banking and finance sector for example. Hopefully it has moved away from childhood, away from a time in which the self-centredness of youth led to it seeing customers simply as sources of income and in which morals were more a means to an end than a driving force. But in common with many other sectors, responsible adulthood still seems to be some way off with the guiding hand of regulation still being wielded to curb lingering childish impulses.

One day regulatory control may not be required

The FCA is not alone in its hope that one day regulatory control may not be required, that business culture will have strengthened to such an extent that ethics and ‘doing things right’ will be embedded in every action and every decision. But just as the progression from childhood to adulthood is influenced by numerous factors, we should also expect to see a multi-level approach when looking to instil maturity in the business marketplace. Admittedly, businesses themselves should bear a large part of the responsibility for self-development but regulators, governments, investors and even customers have their part to play.

Develop a strong culture

The job of regulators and governments is not simply to control or to legislate, it is also to help business to develop a strong culture which puts the needs of customers, investors and the wider public before short-term profits. Investors too have their part to play in encouraging organisations to look towards long-term stability and growth allied to strong corporate governance. And in an era in which increasingly the differentiator is in how the product is delivered allied to exceptional levels of customer service, customers too can play their part in preferring organisations which promote customer focus.

As business sectors mature, as they move away from selfishness and towards a culture of doing things right; the relationship which they have with customers, regulators and others will change. Eventually, it will become one of equals, with everyone working together for mutual benefit. Maybe one day we may even see the child becoming the parent, the business sector leading the way with strong governance and a strong culture.

Would this be a good thing? Perhaps yes, perhaps no! A business sector which sets high standards but still seeks to work in tandem with others would be a powerful force. However, should customers and regulators become complacent, leaving a strong business sector to set the agenda, then there is a danger that the relationship would turn full circle and businesses would once again become insular and selfish.

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