“Sorry seems to be the hardest word” said Sir Elton John, yet it seems to be the EASIEST in business these days! Try and Google the biggest challenge in leadership – and I am talking about businesses here – in the world today… and then compare years… randomly choose an article from today and one from ten years ago. You won’t be able to tell the difference! Most of them talk about ‘inspiring others’ and ‘adapting to change’ and ‘developing your people’ and blah, blah, blah…
My personal take is that we have a HUGE problem of accountability, or nobody giving a damn, just executing a job from a to b and that’s it. I encounter this across all levels, across all industries and across all cultures. I am not sure why this is happening and I can’t just blame it on the matrix organisation because I also see it in organisations that are not matrix. At the highest levels this is illustrated through corruption that just manages to get away. Examples? Loads of them! Many ‘apparently good’ companies have gone down that route:
The London interbank offered rate (Libor) scandal, which involved the manipulation of a key financial benchmark by bank staff; the Volkswagen diesel affair, in which the carmaker manipulated emissions tests; and the Wells Fargo fraud, in which employees set up fake customer accounts. Last year, Rolls-Royce agreed to pay £671m to the authorities in the UK, the US and Brazil. In return, the company will not face criminal prosecution for corruption, false accounting and failure to prevent bribery. The agreement followed a four-year investigation by the UK’s Serious Fraud Office into the engine-maker’s conduct over three decades (Source: Financial Times). The list goes on: Carillion, Grenfell Tower, the Windrush Generation scandal… Then they just ‘apologise’ and that’s it. Sorted.
What are the reasons for all these cases? Pressure to achieve the targets at any cost and fear of employees speaking up and speaking out has for sure contributed to this state of affairs. It is also certain that is a systemic issue. What do I mean by that? Something in the system (a system can be the whole company, a department, a team, the board, etc.) is happening that either triggers certain behaviours, or doesn’t allow other behaviours to take place. So, even if an executive has a strong belief about a business plan, he may choose to remain silent because the rest of his colleagues are enthusiastic. This person may choose to remain silent for several reasons: they may not want to stand out, they may not feel ‘safe’ to articulate their opinion, or even not be willing to take a personal risk. In organisations, we believe we communicate, but the reality is we don’t. Groups behave totally different to how the individuals would behave if they were acting on their own. They perceive risks differently, they tend to conform even when it’s obviously wrong, and no group is immune to these dysfunctional patterns.
Timing is another factor, and it has a multitude of dimensions here. One, the business industry has an extremely short memory… things, people, acts, get forgotten very quickly. Second, people at the top rotate much faster than in the past. We more often than not, witness assignments of CEOs that only last for a couple of years, and then that’s it. Off to the next.
An acquaintance of mine mentioned to me the other day that there is an ‘over-liberalization’ of everything, and you know what, I think he is right. There is no consequence, no impact, anyone can do anything, can claim to be anything and this is what resulted in having Trump as a President… and then if things don’t go well…. ah well, an apology should do the job! If Mark Zuckerberg can do it…
Great article Dr. Katsarou.
There may be no consequence, no impact, and lots of excuses for the rich and famous otherwise…. there are fines, penalties and plenty of unpleasant consequences.
I am sharing.
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Thank you so much my Sophie, you are honouring me!