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Yes, but what has the News of the World got to do with running my business?


I expect that everyone has been ‘enjoying’ to a greater or lesser extent the goings on around the News of the World. I know I have. It allows us all to indulge in a typically British bout of self-righteousness, and what’s not to like about that? But in all of this, has anyone other than those directly involved stopped to ask – what’s this really got to do with me?

Because if you haven’t asked yourself this question, and you do run a business, you should.

Here’s why. Last Thursday (14th July) the New Yorker’s Ken Auletta wrote about ‘a warped News Corp. culture.’ A culture that, in effect, wanted results at all costs, no questions asked (read the full New Yorker article). On Monday 18th, Roy Greenslade discussed in the Guardian ‘the link between degraded editorial content and disgraceful methodology [being] itself the consequence of the climate created by Murdoch himself’ (read the full Guardian article).

It’s that blasted ‘C’ word again. You can’t – or shouldn’t – get away from it, because if you ignore it, it has a tendency to come back and bite you. Look what happened at News International. As Ken Auletta writes: “No doubt, Murdoch did not instruct them to hack into cell-phone or e-mail conversations. But he framed their charge, and it was: Don’t burden me with the details of how you get it, mate, just get it. Be first. Get those embarrassing, delicious, sexually prurient stories whose front-page headlines will freeze people in their tracks; get them to buy the newspaper.” The leader’s expectations, in this case Murdoch’s, rewarded behaviours in others – Brooks, Hinton – that set the tone for a culture in which pushing the limits of legality was a natural – even logical – consequence.

I’m not suggesting that anyone reading this is responsible for an organizational culture that drives behaviours bordering on the illegal. But the point to bear very firmly in mind is the power that organizational culture can have, and that unless it is understood, it can lead inevitably to unintended consequences. These consequences will rarely be criminal, but they can be equally catastrophic for a organisation’s future if they lead to business failure.

How might this happen? Nilofer Merchant, strategist and blogger for Harvard Business Review, has written persuasively that the ‘invisible glue’ of culture ‘trumps strategy every time’. She goes on to explain that “[t]he best strategic idea means nothing in isolation. If the strategy conflicts with how a group of people already believe, behave or make decisions, it will fail.”

Culture is a complex system, with a multitude of interrelated processes and mechanisms that keep it humming along. Most of the time, it goes un-noticed.  But it matters. A lot. As Rupert et al have just discovered to their cost.

Chris Glennie

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