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A better way?


Can we continue to do business the way we are now or is it simply unsustainable?

I don’t often comment on current affairs on this blog.  That’s mostly because I’m too conscious of my own ignorance to pontificate too loudly but also partly because I have the typical facilitator’s ability to see both sides of most arguments and the merits in them.  However, something’s been bothering me for a little while and I felt that now was the time to say something about it, so this will be a slightly unusual blog post and a little longer than normal. I hope you’ll bear with me because, when you’ve read it, I’d really like you to comment.

Like many of you, I guess, I’ve been watching the news over the last couple of weeks with an increasing sense of dismay and, occasionally, disgust. The full extent of the phone hacking saga has yet to be revealed, I suspect, and may never fully enter the public domain but we seem to know enough to say that it was more than the actions of a few “rogue” journalists: something was systemically rotten at the heart of that organisation.

I wish this was an isolated case but, sadly, it’s not: over the last couple of years we’ve seen systems which create very similar cultures in very different areas.  In business, we’ve seen Enron and Worldcom; in banking we’ve seen Lehman and many other examples; in British politics we’ve seen the expenses scandal.  In each case, a culture was created wherein people just appeared to lose any sense of a moral compass, any sense of right and wrong.  Something created an environment wherein “flipping” houses, lending money to people who could afford it, deleting the emails on a murdered girl’s phone were all seen as an acceptable part of business.

I don’t want to deal with the big issues on this blog – I’ll leave that the people better qualified than I – but I’ve been banging the drum on here for a little while about the need to reinvent business and now seems a good time to do it again.  For too long, too many organisations have seen the relationship between employer and employee as, essentially, master and slave and have behaved accordingly.  The organisation has the power and the employee either does what he or she is told or leaves – mentally or physically.  In a race for results at any price, employers demand ever-greater flexibility, ever-improving efficiency and ever-increasing dedication but offer nothing in return.

This is wrong, it’s unsustainable and it leads to the kind of trapped and helpless mentality that I see in the training room, week after week.  There should be a dignity in labour, a sense of a job well done; many people define themselves by the work they do, they spend that majority of their waking lives at work but it brings them little happiness or satisfaction; instead they leave every day worn down by the demands on their time, exhausted by the pressure they’re under.  In short, too many people now live to work, rather than working to live.

No one seems happy with the way things are – too many people are overworked, overstretched and overtired, drowning in a sea of emails and unreasonable demands on their time.  Jobs are axed but work remains, leaving those who stay with the company to pick up the “slack” when the reality is that they’ve been working on the edge of burnout for years already.

There has to be a better way.

In their book “Re-imagining Japan” McKinsey and Co invited eighty people from a variety of backgrounds to consider the challenges facing the country and how the country might meet those challenges.  That’s what we need in this country; a debate on the way things are and how they can – and should – be better.

I can’t claim to be as influential as McKinsey and Co; I can’t invite experts and politicians to contribute to a book.  But, on average, around 250 of you read this blog every week; if you each pass the message on to one other person, that’s 500 opinions.  There’s a real opportunity here to start a debate about the future of business in this country – to talk about how things could be improved for the benefit of workers, organisations and the wider culture.  Please – do contribute.

One Response

  1. the moon on a stick

     Gary Hamel organised a thing called ‘moonshots’ or something similarily grandiose after the Enron scandal bewailing the failure of the MBA merchants to teach morality.

    Good luck.

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