Running an organisation of any size is tricky. There is an assumption that simply because of your position that you must know the correct answer for everything. Not only must your actions be without criticism, but your intentions too. And we will be the judges and juries of both.
Our intolerance of imperfection and propensity for cynicism serves us badly.
I’m in no way trying to absolve genuinely corrupt, immoral and (let’s be honest) bad organisations. Merely to make an argument for encouragement for improvement, rather than blanket judgment. It should also be said that this isn’t a factor of business alone, you could run the same slide rule over politics and other parts of society too.
Last week Tortoise published their assessment of the FTSE100 against the UN sustainable development goals, you can see the full report here. What I think is fascinating about the approach is that it looks at both actions and PR, the walk and the talk. Of the top 20 companies overall, only 4 were “guilty” of overselling their actions and many quite significantly undersold their performance. Probably not what you’d think from big business, right?
Compare and contrast with the annual vacuous press release from the CIPD and High Pay Centre which talks about FTSE100 pay, high on moral indignation and low on understanding and intellectual rigour. Frothing at the mouth and screaming into the abyss on a topic of significant complexity without any intention to encourage or support change.
We say that we want change and then we right off progress as “washing”. Pinkwashing, purpose washing, vegan washing, even woke washing. We will be the judges of whether you really mean what you say, not you.
If we wanted to develop an organisational culture of positive strength, would we start by doubting individual intentions, blanket criticism, reinforcing stereotypes? Or would we praise and recognise, reinforce positive behaviours, encourage?
There is a lot wrong in the world, that goes without saying. Business, politics, society, sport, media, take your pick. Whilst we should always call out the abuse of power and serious malpractice, I also believe you get the culture you deserve. Maybe we should spend a little more time celebrating and encouraging change, supporting and championing progress?
It might not make for the most exciting headlines, “Organisations do what they say they’re going to do”, or help us absolve our own consciences, but it would sure make for a more pleasant world.