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A Whisper On Governance & Ethics That Is Getting Louder

Posted on April 16, 2013 at 8:30 AM

It was too hard to blog about an initiative with the #CommonGood last night. I came home from attending it and stared in disbelief at the images being beamed around the world from the horror of the bombings at the Boston marathon in the United States.

Is it worse when the place is familiar ? Probably, because we have memories and we make a personal connection - Wellesley College, where I started on the university path, is not far away. I spent at least as much time in Cambridge and Boston as I did there in three years.

Making a connection between employees and the businesses for which they work is at the heart of an initiative launched by CIMA along with the CIPD and St Paul's Institute to explore the link between corporate ethics and culture. Sensing a "worrying disconnect between stated ethical values and the pressures found within the business world" the Institute is trying to do something about it.

The setting was pretty amazing. With the BBC radio already lining up outside St Paul's Cathedral for the funeral of Margaret Thatcher tomorrow, the setting alone was enough to make one concentrate on a #CommonGood. (oops - no I have no idea how to make this image smaller but let's go with it as a backdrop)

(A PR this morning asked me about Margaret Thatcher - my response was that it was now time for the country to bury the poor woman and move on. He laughed and said he might quote me so I think I'll do it first)

In moving on, we need to build connections. It is fitting that these debates are at the same venue as the Occupy movement. This seminar was part of a series of debates under the dome of St Paul's that "will look at the financial heart of the UK in 2013 and ask 'The City and the Common Good: What kind of City do we want ?'

Last night CIMA explained its 'ethical checklist' and we were given a chance to participate in some decision making following a 'role play' scenario. Dear reader I could do this all day long if someone wants to pay me to do it....

More seriously, we heard briefly from a number of eloquent speakers, including Peter Cheese, CEO of CIPD and Keith Luck, vice president of CIMA. Mr Cheese brought up the notion of 'purpose' and told the possibly apocryphal story of a US President visiting NASA who asked a cleaner 'what do you do'? and the answer ? 'I help put a man on the moon.'

It's all about creating a sense of purpose - and a sense of belonging between the worker, and the business. And the glue that binds, at least ideally, is ethical values.

As Mr Cheese pointed out "the idea that you can engage this younger generation with just 'shareholder value' is for the birds." Agreed. They are less willing to compromise than their parents were - third gross generalisation in two posts, but I will stand by it.

"When you do exercises involving role play even if 70% take the decision that reflects integrity it is the decision of the 30% who don't that you need to consider carefully - and act on it" said Mr Luck.

And he quoted someone who is doing a pretty good job on a number of fronts - Unilever's CEO Paul Polman as saying "Businesses have to recognise that citizens and individuals now matter, not just investors and shareholders."

There is little for me to add here - except that all corporations need to embrace such thinking - and as Fiona Stewart-Darling, the Bishop's Chaplain in Docklands said - "It's about Corporate Responsibility not CSR (as it has developed)." 

All the people mentioned above are keen to engage - so go to it, people. And I suggest you read Andrew Hill's interview with Charles Handy, 'Britain's best-known business guru' in yesterday's FT. If you don't have access to FT.com, note this simplification - Mr Handy is urging we sit down with each other, and our employers and ask 'What are we all about?'

I also see from FT.com this morning that Greg Page, Chairman/CEO of Cargill, the trading house, has warned the commodities industry that trading houses must embrace ethical and transparent business practices or risk being vilified by the public and regulators as banks have been.



“As commodity merchants we have a choice. We can either earn and embrace the governance and regulation we want and need, or ignore our ethical, behavioural and societal obligations, and then accept the governance that others may impose upon us,” he said. The commodities sector, please note - issuing such a warning.

It isn't a movement - not yet. But there is a very strong whisper in the air and it is international - with the right wind to carry it, governance - around ethics not process - may just start to emerge. 

Categories: Corporate, Engagement, Ethics