In the UK right now we have a huge row about our politicians claiming for all sorts of inappropriate things on their parliamentary expenses. As I remember, it started with the revelation of a claim for purchase of pornography, but has moved on to newspaper allegations about, vast sums for decorating, mortgage expenses, luxury items and so on.
What’s really interesting to me is how so many of them use the “I was complying with the rules, my conscience is clear” defence with absolute confidence and apparently with no understanding that there are other benchmarks for behaviour that are more powerful than rule compliance. Now these guys were all elected on tickets that are value derived. They understand principles, they understand values, they understand ethics; and I truly believe that they genuinely believe in the values they stand for (or at least most of them!)
It’s extraordinary therefore that so many of them seem to have missed the point that it’s not compliance with rules that’s important, it’s doing the right thing, behaving in the value-based ethical way that they would ordinarily expect of themselves and others.
Isn't it easy just to get swept away?
In my view, there’s some powerful learning for all sorts of organisations in this. If people employed for their ability to communicate and enthuse others with their values and moral beliefs can, almost without realising it, drift into morally redundant behaviours, how easy is that drift for all employees, - and for all leaders? Whether we’re talking about politicians, bankers, teenage gangs or the foot soldiers of genocide, we have plenty of evidence that people can so easily fall in to “following the rules” of the society they find themselves in.
To me, this emphasises how vital it is that organisations keep reminding their people of the values that are held dear, and that they need to generate new and innovative way of keeping the message fresh. I feel that the danger to an organisation of staff sleep walking into a moral and ethical vacuum is far greater than the relatively small number of the deliberately and intentionally corrupt.
So lets think of ways we can remind our staff (and ourselves) of what’s really important about how we do our business in ways that retain freshness and avoid preaching!