Sunday, December 31, 2017

A Year in Review: 2017

I hope 2017 has been good to you – in general, at a global level, I’d suggest that 2017 has been an interesting year, for sake of more stronger words and I wonder how history will look back on it. The rich have definitely got richer and the poor, poorer. Corruption has continued to increase in both business and politics; customer service seems to be an afterthought; and the US turned its back on dealing with Global Warming. Let’s hope 2018 is a better year for all.   
The year started with the inauguration of Donald Trump in January as the 45th President of the United States. The Trump Administration caused controversy in the days after the inauguration when it claimed to have ‘perhaps record-breaking crowd attendance’, despite photographic evidence suggesting otherwise. The President’s then Press Secretary Sean Spicer boasted the crowd ‘was the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe’, later accusing the media of reporting inaccurate crowd estimates.
Setting the tone for a year when elections brought big changes in governance, in January Adama Barrow ended Yahya Jammeh’s 22-year rule in the Gambia. Jammeh, whose exit terms meant he avoided prosecution and was able to keep many assets, departed only after mediation by West African neighbours and the threat of armed intervention.
Kim Jong-un grabbed the headlines on February 12 when he ordered the launch of a ballistic missile over the Sea of Japan. It was the nation’s first missile test of Mr Trump’s presidency and sparked a bitter feud between Kim and the US leader, which is ongoing still.
Also in February while Chad’s foreign minister, Moussa Faki Mahamat, was elected as the new head of the African Union, outgoing chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma condemned the proposed US travel ban on refugees from Somalia, Libya and Sudan. Morocco rejoined the AU after a row over the status of Western Sahara more than 30 years ago. Three UN agencies warned that Somalia was facing a ‘very real’ risk of famine, with more than 6 million people, half the population, facing acute food insecurity. Humanitarian groups said there was a ‘small window’ to stop a repeat of the 2011 famine, when an estimated 260,000 people starved to death in the country after a slow response from donors.
March saw Theresa May, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, finally trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, officially starting the process of the UK’s departure from the European Union. The Prime Minister told the Commons at the time: ‘This is a historic moment from which there can be no turning back. Britain is leaving the European Union.’ Britain is currently due to leave the EU on March 29, 2019.
Also in March International Women’s Day on 8 March included a call for a global strike. In New York, the Commission on the Status of Women ended with commitments by states to advance women’s economic empowerment by implementing equal pay policies, gender audits and job evaluations. El Salvador made history as the first nation to impose a blanket ban on metal mining. Campaigners celebrated a victory for ‘water over gold’. Also a powerful video report showed how anti-slavery activists are often the only chance of escape for the thousands of vulnerable Russians lured from cities to the remote republic of Dagestan, where they are enslaved in rural brick factories and farms.
On the morning of April 7, US President Trump ordered 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles to be fired at the Shayrat airbase in Syria. The strike was in response to a chemical attack three days earlier, which saw the Syrian Government allegedly airdrop toxic gas on the town of Khan Shaykhun, killing 74 people and injuring more than 557 others, according to the Idlib health authority.
Also in April it emerged that international aid agencies in Nepal were paying the government hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees to get their projects approved. Citing year-long delays, they accused the authorities of hampering their work as the country struggles to recover from the 2015 earthquake. The World Health Organization (WHO) lauded record-breaking progress in tackling sleeping sickness, elephantiasis and other tropical diseases that affect one in six people globally.
On May 22, after an Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena in the UK, a suicide bomber detonated an explosive device, killing 22 people and injuring hundreds of others - many of them children. About two weeks later, the singer returned to the UK to host a benefit concert at Old Trafford Cricket Ground dubbed One Love Manchester. The concert raised some £10million for the victims of the attack.
Also in May G20 health ministers in Berlin called for a faster response to global health risks, such as infectious disease outbreaks and antimicrobial resistance; and research by a coalition of UK and African campaigners showed that more wealth leaves Africa every year than enters it, by more than $40bn.
In June the US President, Donald Trump, announced that America would be pulling out of the landmark Paris climate agreement. Trump claimed the Paris agreement ‘front-loads costs on American people’, ‘disadvantages the US to benefit other countries’ and causes ‘vastly diminished economic production’. The move was widely condemned by other world leaders.
Also in June supermarkets in the UK pulled corned beef off shelves after the Guardian UK and Brazilian journalists found the products could contain meat linked to slave labour on cattle farms.
On July 4, North Korean officials launched its first test of an intercontinental missile, which the reclusive nation claimed could strike ‘anywhere in the world’. In response to the launch Mr Trump tweeted: ‘North Korea has just launched another missile. Does this guy have anything better to do with his life?’
A stunning total solar eclipse, dubbed The Great American Eclipse, blocked out the Sun across the US on August 21. The path of totality crossed 14 states and was the first total solar eclipse to be visible from all of the US since 1918.
Also in August the number of South Sudanese fleeing across the border to Uganda passed a million. A further million had fled into Ethiopia, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in what has become the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis.
In September hurricanes devastate the Americas. Where the Caribbean and swathes of the US were battered by a string of hurricanes including the powerful Irma and Maria. The two storms killed more than 200 people and caused billions of dollars-worth of damage.
Also in September Brazil investigated the alleged slaughter of Amazonian tribespeople by gold miners, while the scale of the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Rohingya in Myanmar became more apparent to the world.
On October 1, 58 people were killed when Stephen Paddock opened fire on a crown of concert-goers from his hotel room in Las Vegas Nevada. The attack is the deadliest US mass shooting to date and reignited calls for tougher gun control laws nationwide, throughout the US.
October also saw Catalonia vote for independence from Spain in a referendum that was later declared unlawful by the international community.
On November 5, German newspaper S├╝ddeutsche Zeitung released millions of documents, dubbed the Panama Papers, highlighting the dubious financial activities of some politicians, celebrities and businesses.
Also in November, after 37 years in power, Robert Mugabe was forced to resign as President of Zimbabwe, following a military coup in the southern African nation. The six-day takeover resulted in Mugabe’s former ally Emmerson Mnangagwa being sworn in as President.
On December 6, Donald Trump made the controversial decision to formally recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The move was widely condemned and Mr Trump was even accused of issuing a ‘declaration of war’. Most world leaders branded the President’s speech as ‘unhelpful’, arguing that it could/would destabilise peace in the region.
Finally in December there was a sense of deja vu about a report on women in sub-Saharan Africa being forced to have sex to pay off their medical bills, an issue that remains perennially under-addressed; and sadly like so many other issues in the world today simply does not get enough attention from the main stream media, as passing mention is simply not good enough.
As the world struggles to re-find the true value of democracy, power in politics and business, seem to be the theme in the 21st Century and I can only hope and pray that we, the world, find some truly great leaders to set a new course of prosperity for all – not just the privileged few.
And let’s remember just a few people who departed during 2017;
Gordon Kaye, the 'Allo 'Allo! Star, passed away aged 75 on 23 January in a care home. The actor - who is best known for his role as Rene Artois in the British TV comedy - left behind an impressive legacy and career. He appeared in all 84 episodes of the show for a decade until 1992, and reprised the role 1,2000 times in the stage adaptation.
Mary Tyler Moore, the American actress, died on 25 January at the age of 80. Moore shot to stardom as a suburban housewife in 1960s comedy The Dick Van Dyke Show. She went on to play the role as Mary Richards on 'The Mary Tyler Moore' show from 1970 to 1977. The TV icon had a long battle with diabetes.
Sir John Hurt, the actor, died on 25 January, aged 77, after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He played roles in a number of blockbuster films, including Elephant Man, Alien and Harry Potter. He also appears in the biopic Jackie, about the widow of John F Kennedy.
Tara Palmer-Tomkinson died on 8 February, aged 45. The former It girl, who more recently appeared on I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, had recently revealed a secret year-long battle with a brain tumour. Doctors discovered the tumour in January last year.
Neil Fingleton - Britain and the EU's tallest man died on 25 February, reportedly of heart failure. The County Durham native was best-known for his portrayal of Mag the Mighty in HBO's Game of Thrones and as Doctor Who villain the Fischer King. Moving to the US to pursue a career in basketball, Fingleton eventually found his calling in the acting industry.
John Surtees, the only man to win the Formula One and motorcycle Grand Prix titles, died on March 10 at the age of 83. Surtees, who won the F1 title in 1964 to add to his 500cc motorcycle world titles from 1956, 1958, 1959 and 1960, "passed away peacefully".
Chuck Berry – The musical icon died on March 18 at the age of 90. The rock n' roll legend - known as the father of that movement - had been producing music since the 1950s and wrote pioneering tracks such as Johnny B Goode. His first No.1 came in 1972 with My Ding-a-Ling. He was the great-grandchild of African-American slaves, and his parents, Martha and Henry Berry, migrated from the South during World War I to St Louis in search of work.
Ugo Ehiogu – The Tottenham Hotspur Under-23 coach passed away on April 21. The former England and Aston Villa defender was rushed to hospital after collapsing at Tottenham's training centre. The 44-year-old received medical treatment on site before being transferred to hospital by ambulance. But doctors were unable to save him.
Erin Moran, best known for playing Joanie Cunningham on Happy days, died on April 22, aged 56. According to TMZ, the actress was found unresponsive on Saturday afternoon by authorities in Indiana. Henry Winkler, who starred opposite Moran as The Fonz in the iconic series, tweeted: "OH you will finally have the peace you wanted so badly here on earth."
Michael Mantenuto – The former Disney star, best known for his role as Jack O'Callahan in the 2004 film Miracle, died on April 24, aged 35. The actor committed suicide at Saltwater State park, where his body was found in his car. The former actor - who had quit Hollywood for the army - was a University of Maine hockey star before getting his acting break in Miracle, which chronicled the victory of the U.S. hockey team over the much favored Soviet Union team in the 1980 Olympic Games.
Sir Roger Moore died on May 23, aged 89, in Switzerland after a short battle with cancer. The London-born star is best known for playing famous secret agent James Bond, 007.
John Noakes of Blue Peter fame died on May 28 aged 83. John was Blue Peter’s longest-serving presenter. He joined the hit children's show on 30th December 1956 and left the programme after twelve and a half years on 26th June 1978. He is considered by many to have been the most successful and memorable Blue Peter presenter in its entire history. He was known for his daredevil stunts and looked after Blue Peter dog Shep.
Michael Bond – The revered creator of Paddington Bear passed away at the age of 91 on June 28. Ann-Janine Murtagh, executive publisher of HarperCollins Children's Books, said: "I feel privileged to have been Michael Bond's publisher - he was a true gentleman, a bon viveur, the most entertaining company and the most enchanting of writers. He will be forever remembered for his creation of the iconic Paddington, with his duffle coat and wellington boots, which touched my own heart as a child and will live on in the hearts of future generations.”
Martin Landau passed away aged 89 on July 15. The Oscar-winner died of "unexpected complications" during a brief spell in a Los Angeles hospital, his publicist Dick Guttman said. Landau's career began in the 1950s when he landed a supporting role in Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest. He then went on to become a series regular in Mission Impossible.
Deborah Watling – the Doctor Who actress passed away on July 21, six weeks after being diagnosed with lung cancer. Watling began her acting career aged just 9 years old, but her big TV break came when she landed the role of companion in Doctor Who, alongside the 2nd Doctor Patrick Troughton.
Glen Campbell – The country music legend died on August 8 at the age of 81. The singer passed away after a "long and courageous battle with Alzheimer's disease" in Nashville, with the news of his death revealed in a statement on his official website. Campbell, best known for his hits Rhinestone Cowboy, Wichita Lineman and Gentle On My Mind, was being cared for in a specialist unit.
Jerry Lewis - On August 20, the legendary American comedian and actor passed away aged 91. Jerry, along with his comedy partner Dean Martin, dominated American show business in the 1950s and beyond with his own brand of slapstick humour. As well as his comedy, Jerry was also an actor, singer and director - as well as a humanitarian activist.
Bruce Forsyth – The legendary entertainer and face of dance show Strictly Come Dancing died at the age of 89. Bruce is recognised by the Guinness World Records as having the longest television career for a male entertainer. He shot to fame in the mid-1950s on ITV series Sunday Night at the London Palladium, before hosting shows like The Generation Game, Play Your Cards Right, The Price Is Right and You Bet! - and was well known for his catchphrase, "Nice to see you, to see you nice" – which went on to be voted the most popular UK catchphrase in 2007 by the British public.
Hugh Hefner - The founder of Playboy died on September 27 at the age of 91. A spokesman said he died "peacefully" from "natural causes" at his home The Playboy Mansion in Hollywood "surrounded by loved ones." Hefner launched Playboy magazine in 1953 and the X-rated brand spawned TV and film companies and the famous mansion where he lived alongside dozens of his 'Bunnies'.
Fats Domino – The legendary rock and roll singer died on October 25 at the age of 89. His biggest hits included Blueberry Hill and Ain’t That A Shame. The star amassed 35 US Billboard Top 40 successes, selling over 100 million records and influencing a number of other musicians including Elvis Presley and The Beatles.
Heather North - The actress, best known for voicing the character of Daphne in Scooby Doo, died on November 30 aged 71. The star voiced the character for 33 years and reportedly died at her home in Los Angeles after battling an illness for a long time. She also starred in Days of Our Lives and The Fugitive, and played Kurt Russell's love interest in Disney's 1971 movie, The Barefoot Executive.
David Cassidy – The former teen heartthrob died aged 67 after suffering acute liver and kidney failure. The Partridge Family star had been in a medically induced coma after being taken to hospital in Florida when his faltering health declined. The 67-year-old pop idol, who suffered years of alcohol abuse, had been battling dementia in the final months of his life following his dramatic fall from grace of the adoration he once knew.
Christine Keeler - The model, whose affair with Tory Cabinet Minister John Profumo rocked British politics to its core, died aged 75 after suffering from a lung condition for several months. She was propelled into the global spotlight at only age 19 after an affair with the Secretary of State for War and a Russian diplomat during the Cold War.
And may all who left us in 2017 rest eternally in peace:
Lamble, L. (2017). The year’s top development stories: 2017 in Review. The Guardian UK. Published 11:00 Dec 25, 2017.
Tambini, J. (2017). Year in review 2017. The Shocking events that changed the world in 2017. The Express UK. Published 13:57 Dec 23, 2017.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Do You Work in a Trusting Environment?

Trust is one of those words rarely discussed in the work place, yet it has a huge impact on performance, talent retention and sustainable growth, to name just a few elements. All the leaders I’ve respected in my career have been men and women I genuinely trusted, amongst other great attributes; and the high performing teams I’ve been involved with also had trust as a key element in their successful make up.
Paul Zak in a 2017 Harvard Business Review article found that “building a culture of trust is what makes a meaningful difference. Employees in high-trust organizations are more productive, have more energy at work, collaborate better with their colleagues, and stay with their employers longer than people working in low-trust companies. They also suffer less chronic stress and are happier with their lives, and these factors fuel stronger performance,” (p.86).
Worse still trust is a word customers hardly use anymore where in fact distrust seems to be the rule rather than the exception. I’m still amazed that organizations and leaders feel that trust isn’t an attribute worth focusing on; and don’t care if they and their organizations are distrusted. Yet Zak highlights how “leaders understand the stakes – at least in principle. In its 2016 global CEP survey, PwC reported that 55% of CEO’s think that a lack of trust is a threat to their organization’s growth. But most have done little to increase trust, mainly because they aren’t sure where to start,” (p.86).
Trust is actually very healthy in all aspects of the business equation – it’s not just important for the business-customer relationship, but has a huge impact inside the organization too. Zak highlights how “neuroscience shows that recognition has the greatest effect on trust when it occurs immediately after a goal has been met, when it comes from peers, and when it is tangible, unexpected personal, and public. Public recognition not only uses the power of the crowd to celebrate successes, but also inspires others to aim for excellence. And it gives top performers a forum for sharing best practices, so others can learn from them, (p.88).
The problem with trust is, as we know, that it takes time and a constant effort to develop a trusting environment, probably even more so in the 21st century, and yet that same trust can be eradicated in a split second. It seems that too many leaders either simply don’t want to put in the effort to build trust in their workplace or feel that ‘trust’ limits their leadership style – where the latter is a very scary but real fact in today’s business world.
The thought that some leaders would feel that ‘trust’ limits their ability to lead should be something more academics and subject matter experts are discussing openly. The signs are everywhere, an over-promoted to fearful of showing their weaknesses and too scared to ask for help and development, limp through their leadership role using mostly power, with a pinch of ‘fear’ and find a distrusting environment makes it easier for them to lead; and I’d even suggest in some cases they purposefully create the mistrust.
I mentioned in the first paragraph how the high performing teams I’ve worked with in my career have all had ‘trust’ as a key attribute; and looking back it wasn’t even something the team consciously worked at. It was simply a team of skilled and principled people, who wanted the best for the organization and that was our primary focus. We felt great once the objective was achieved and had leaders who recognized our successes. Zak mentions how “when a manager assigns a team a difficult but achievable job, the moderate stress of the task releases neurochemicals, including oxytocin and adrenocorticotropin, that intensify people’s focus and strengthen social connections. When team members need to work together to reach a goal, brain activity coordinates their behavior efficiently. But this works only if challenges are attainable and have a concrete end point; vague or impossible goals cause people to give up before they even start. Leaders should check in frequently to assess progress and adjust goals that are too easy or out of reach,” (p.88).
Further Zak highlights how “only 40% of employees report that they are well informed about their company’s goal, strategies, and tactics. This uncertainty about the company’s direction leads to chronic stress, which inhibits the release of oxytocin and undermines teamwork. Openness is the antidote. Organizations that share the ‘flight plans’ with employees reduce the uncertainty about where they are headed and why. A 2015 study of 2.5 million manager-led teams in 195 countries found that workforce engagement improved when supervisors had some form of daily communication with direct reports,” (p.89).
It genuinely saddens me that one has to write articles about an attribute like trust – where even without the science, we know ‘trusting’ environments are better than ‘distrusting’ ones. As Zak mentions “the brain network that oxytocin activates is evolutionarily old. This means that trust and sociality that oxytocin enables are deeply embedded in our nature. Yet at work we often get the message that we should focus on completing tasks and not making friends,” (p.89). Why, even when we know something is right, are we prepared to settle for less. We know how long it takes to build a trusting environment – and we know how much harder it is to rebuild trust, if the trust has previously been broken. We also know there comes a point where it’s virtually impossible to rebuild trust without fundamental changes in the makeup of the group.
So let’s draw a line in the sand. Shareholders, corporate boards and executive directors make it your mission for 2018 to build a trusting working environment – the benefits both in the short and long term will be well worth it for all of you.
Zak highlights how “high-trust workplaces help people develop personally as well as professionally. Numerous studies show that acquiring new work skills isn’t enough; if you’re not growing as a human being, your performance will suffer. High-trust companies adopt a growth mindset when developing talent. Some even find that when managers set clear goals, give employees the autonomy to reach them, and provide consistent feedback, the backward looking annual performance review is no longer necessary. Instead, mangers and direct reports can meet more frequently to focus on professional and personal growth. Assessing personal growth includes discussions about work-life integration, family and time for recreation and reflection. Investing in the whole person has a powerful effect on engagement and retention,” (p.90).
Zak, P.J. (2017). The Neuroscience of Trust. Harvard Business Review. Jan-Feb. p.84-90.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Do You Dislike Your Boss?

Times have changed over the last five decades. There was a time where organizations had to develop and secure the best leaders to retain their best talent. Although poor leaders existed, they were often quickly identified by a high turnover of staff in their area – as employees voted with their feet.
Yet more recently and especially after the global financial crisis jobs have been scarce in many industry sectors, globally, with supply outstripping demand and hence poor leaders have been able to entrench themselves in many organizations, both large and small, as employees are less able to ‘vote’ with their feet anymore.
This is bad for everyone – organizations, employees and stakeholders and the only winners are the bad leaders - where way too many are able to ‘survive’ in today’s global economy, as many employees are ‘forced’ to put up with their poor dysfunctional behaviour.
According to the most recent Gallop ‘State of the Global Workplace’ study, half of all employees in the United States have quit jobs at some point in their career in order to get away from their bosses. The figures are similar or even higher for workers in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.
The same survey, consistent with previous ones, also shows a clear correlation between an employee’s engagement (that is, motivation and effort to achieve organizational goals) and their relationship with the boss. Where 77% of employees who said they were engaged at work described interactions with managers in positive terms (for example, my supervisor focuses on my strengths).
What’s really worrying is that research has shown that an engaged workforce is a key driver of organizational success, and yet according to Gallop, only 13% of employees worldwide fall into that category.
Manfred Kets de Vries asks in a Harvard Business Review article: “What are these ‘bad’ leaders doing? Frequently cited grievances include micromanaging, bullying, avoiding conflict, ducking decisions, stealing credit, shifting blame, hoarding information, failing to listen, setting a poor example, slacking; and not developing staff. Such dysfunctional behaviour would make anyone unhappy and unproductive. However, whatever sins your boss commits, managing your relationship with them is a critical part of your job. Doing it well is a key indicator of how effective you are.”
Across the globe there are too many demotivated employees and their organizations seem unable or unwilling to try to shift the balance. The problem often starts right at the top with corporate boards and shareholders only focused on the short-term , where a ‘culling’ of the poor leadership would not be good for the share price in the short-term – although it would, if done correctly ensure much greater returns in the long-term, than they will get keeping the status quo.
The short-term focus mind set is destroying the very fabric of developing world class, efficient leaders who can develop their organizations to completely new levels of performance and innovation; two key factors required for competing in the global 21st century market place.
Kets de Vries offers some basic tips and tricks for employees who work for ‘bad’ bosses;
“Research has shown time and time again that practicing empathy can be a game changer in difficult boss-subordinate relationships, and not just as a top-down phenomenon. Experts such as Steven Covey and Daniel Goleman emphasize the importance of using this key aspect of emotional intelligence to manage ‘up’. Where neuroscience also suggests that it’s an effective strategy, since mirror neurons in the human brain naturally prompt people to reciprocate behaviours.
Second - Look at yourself. People who struggle to work well with their bosses are nearly always part of the problem themselves: their behaviour is in some way preventing them from being recognized and valued.”
However there is a naivety with these suggestions. With the first ‘tip’ many poor leaders just ‘lap up’ the empathy and actually don’t reciprocate it – rather taking the empathy as ‘tacit recognition’ statements that they are in fact ‘great’ leaders. These people refuse to accept their weaknesses and hide them behind all the poor traits that were listed above.
Sadly if these simple steps don’t work and you don’t have a solid case to take to your HR department – and remember it will have to be solid, with factual evidence and not conjecture and opinion. Then most employees start to just go through the motions at work and try to minimize contact with their boss – hoping that by playing the waiting game their boss will move onwards and upwards or move preferably out completely. The problem with this strategy is that during this ‘playing for time’ phase your relationship is unchanged at best, or deteriorating at worst, as from the poor leader’s perspective you’re not ‘putting in the effort or being a team player.’ Which they use against you to make life even more miserable.
Often it’s not the best strategy to play for the time when the boss leaves – but play for time when you can leave and use the time actively seeking alternative employment – specifically at a time while you are still feeling positive about yourself, your self-worth, and your future ambitions. Since being stuck in a ‘playing for time’ scenario for too long can have a negative psychological effect on you and ultimately your health.
There is definitely strength in numbers – but often in business it seems to be everyone for themselves. If a group of people can go to leaders they trust and ‘flag’ the poor leadership traits they are experiencing and have some constructive solutions, then maybe, just maybe, your voices will be heard. But it’s often a very risky strategy and you find those people who have promised to be ‘right behind you’ – are, when the time comes, so far behind you, you can’t see them for dust.
There’s a great quote that states “don’t push a loyal person to the point where they no longer care” – too many poor leaders are doing that on a daily basis around the world and sadly it’s a lose-lose scenario for everyone involved.
I just hope that key stakeholders will take a stance soon to bring effective leadership back into the workplace.
Kets de Vries, M.F.R. (2016). Managing Yourself. Do You Hate Your Boss? Harvard Business Review, December, 2016. P.97-101.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Do Ethics Matter?

It seems that not a week goes by without the reporting of unethical behaviour in business and politics. Yet most organisations usually have a list of corporate values on their hallowed walls somewhere – but does the constant stream of scandals mean that the only place you can find corporate values in the 21st Century is on walls, rather than in the hearts of leaders and employees, where they belong? It definitely seems that organisations are failing to move their values from ‘wall plaques’ to actual living entities within their employees, at all levels, in business (and politics for that matter).
As citizens of the world we have to decide the kind of world we want the next generations to inherit and then teach our children accordingly. If greed and unethical behaviour is going to be the rule rather than the exception, as it seems to be – then we might as well take the leap and start develop our children to be excellent liars and cheats; giving them a head start into the business world they will eventually join.
But if we genuinely want a world where ethical values are the rule – then we really need to start standing up to the constant stream of unethical events around the globe and start holding people and organizations to account. We, that’s the global ‘we’ of consumers, have the power to make significant change if we really want to. Politicians and the media know the power we have – which is why they are constantly trying to keep us divided – as they know if we come together and use our consumer power, we can make more change in a day than any government or multibillionaire makes in a year (or more) – just simply through our combined buying power.
We’ve been brainwashed into believing ‘this is the world we live in’; ‘we can’t change anything’; etc, but we have to stop believing this rhetoric and start ‘fighting’ for the world we want for our children and their children.
As an example of the stream of scandals and unethical behaviour I just researched two days, Friday 8th September and Monday 11th September and looked at some of the unethical practices being reported in the media; some of which I’ve shared below.
We’ve seen the report of a young British mother who is suspected of running a massive tourist sickness scam that allegedly defrauded the industry of at least 9.2 million British pounds. She is alleged to have controlled touts who enticed hundreds of British holidaymakers in Majorca to make false sickness claims against hotels on the island over the past three years (Graham K Madrid, The Times, Fri 8th Sept, p.5). On the same day the Times reported how two retired footballers are alleged to have invented ‘ghost learners’ to steal 5 million British pounds meant for training apprentices.
The environment editor of the Times, Ben Webster, reported how Tesco has been accused of holding on to millions of pounds that should have gone to charity from the proceeds of the compulsory 5 pence charge on disposable plastic bags. The retailer retained 3.4 million British pounds last year to cover the ‘cost of administering donations’ unlike other major supermarket chains, which did not deduct any of the proceeds for that purpose, (p.8, 8th Sept).
Mark Bridge, the technology correspondent of the Times, highlighted how ‘virtual assistants’ are at risk from hackers. Where researchers in China have found that cheap off-the-shelf technology could compromise virtual assistants from companies such as Apple and Amazon, potentially enabling criminals to instruct them to carry out tasks for their own illegal ends. Imagine situations where ‘psst, Alexa, unlock the back door. And Siri, transfer $1,000 to bank account number …..’ Where criminals could use ultrasonic sounds to ‘whisper’ commands and take over voice-activated electronic devices such as smartphones, (p.17, 8th Sept).
We had David Bond and Emma Dunkley on the 8th September reporting how staff at Bell Pottinger have been told that the scandal-hit PR firm is likely to go into administration as early as next Monday, after attempts to find a buyer failed. Co-founded by Margaret Thatcher’s favourite advertising executive Tim Bell in the late 1980’s, Bell Pottinger has been battling for its future after the PR industry’s UK trade body expelled the agency for at least five years over the Gupta controversy. In a damning report, the Public Relations and communications Association concluded that its messaging for the Guptas targeted wealthy white individuals and corporations in South Africa and was likely to inflame racial tensions, (p.12, FT, 8th Sept).
Sarah Harris, Jack Doyle, Daniel Martin and Tom Payne, reported in the Daily Mail on 11th September how demands were growing for the Government to slash the ‘outrageous’ interest rates of up to 6.1 per cent levied on student loans. Chancellor Phillip Hammond is being urged to use his next Budget to help students by at least replacing the outdated inflation measure used to set repayments – the Retail Prices Index (RPI) – with the historically lower Consumer Price Index (CPI). Its adoption could save students as much as 18,000 British pounds over their lifetimes, according to recent estimates. Last month Theresa May’s former joint chief of staff, Nick Timothy, described higher education as an ‘unsustainable and ultimately pointless Ponzi scheme’ that burdens graduates with debts and needs radical reform, (p.10, Daily Mail, 11th Sept).
Ilan Ben Zion, from Tel Aviv, reported how the controlling shareholder of one of Israel’s largest supermarket chains was arrested on suspicion of corruption. Rami Levi, chief executive of Rami Levi Chain Stores Hashikma Marketing, as well as a local politician, another businessman and a reporter were detained for questioning for alleged fraud and breach of trust involving the owners of a shopping mall and the local municipality; according to a police statement, (p.14, FT, 11th Sept).
Ben McLannahan, from New York, reported in the Financial Times how emerging markets are hit by financial crime curbs. The global regulators’ assault on terrorists, tax dodgers and money launderers is sapping vitality from a host of emerging market economies, according to the private-sector arm of the World Bank, as big banks cut ties that could expose them to sanctions. Over the past few year’s banks such as HSBC, BNP Paribas and JPMorgan Chase have paid billions of dollars in fines for failing to keep tabs on criminal activity, while spending heavily to increase their routine flagging of suspicious transactions, (p14, FT, 8th Sept).
At the political level you had Laura Pitel from the Financial Times in Ankara reporting how New York prosecutors have charged a former Turkish economy minister with taking millions of dollars in bribes in order to conceal a scheme that bypassed US sanctions. Where Mehmet Zafer Caglayan is accused of receiving cash and jewellery as part of an international operation to trade billions of dollars of gold with Iran, (p.3, FT, 8th Sept).
Joe Leahy and Andres Schipani, from Sao Paulo, report how the Brazilian supreme court ordered the temporary arrest of billionaire Joesley Batista, who in May revealed he had secretly taped a conversation with Brazilian President Michel Temer allegedly discussing bribes, has been ordered to face at least five days in jail alongside close associate, Ricardo Saud. “There are multiple indications …. Showing that they were part of an organisation dedicated to the systematic practice of crimes against the public administration and money laundering” supreme court judge Edson Fachin said in the order, (p.2, FT, 11th Sept).
And of course not surprisingly on the same day, 11th Sept, Joseph Cotterill, Southern Africa correspondent for the FT highlighted how Robert Mugabe’s spy agency secretly controls a diamond mine in Zimbabwe’s Marange region that has enriched the president’s allies and funded state repression, according to anti-corruption campaign group. The evidence, gleaned from company records and secret documents linked to CIO, will reignite fears that a hole of up to $31 billion in reported revenue from Marange has enriched the country’s political elite and the ruling Zanu-PF, (p.4, FT, 11th Sept).
As I start to wind down my own career and think of retirement, I’m genuinely concerned for the future of business and politics; and the generations to come after me. In my lifetime I’ve seen a dramatic change in business behaviour, mostly for the worse. I do wonder how long it will take us to work together as consumers to make positive change and make a real difference throughout the business world, for the generations to come.
I don’t believe (or don’t want to believe) the reported argument that that the current generation don’t care – I actually believe they do. The problem is we are ‘divided’ and until we come together for the greater good, these greedy, unethical people and businesses will be laughing at how gutless we all are, all the way to their offshore banks.
At the moment I think history will look back very poorly on the current world we live in and how much ‘crap’ citizens are prepared to take – let’s stop being divided and come together to make a difference; and lets starting living our corporate values today.