Monthly Archives: April 2011

//April

You are what they think you are – it’s a question of perception

My nephew told me that his parents think he’s lazy.  “You are” I told him.  “But I am not, I clear away the dishes and do all kinds of stuff, it’s just that nobody notices!” he replied. I told him, “You do nothing.  If no one sees you do it and nobody notices it, then you do nothing, it’s a question of perception”.

I guess there must be people somewhere doing very important jobs which nobody notices. But think about it, if really no one notices, not even ones’ direct line boss, then one must ask the question ‘do they do anything at all?’ 

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Ethics, Morality and Integrity in business

A recommendation to watch a TV show called ‘House MD’ ended up in simply reinforcing my belief that most TV is not worthy of our attention.  However, I am being a little harsh because the program did get me thinking about an extremely important topic.

In Sunday’s episode (I am told it is Season 7, Episode 6!) The leading actor plays a doctor showing absolutely no remorse in ignoring all decent moral and ethical codes one would usually expect of a doctor. In fact not only does he lie to his colleagues, he even arranges for his patient’s home to be broken into, falsely labels blood samples and a host of other abuses, all in the name of ‘doing what is best for his patient’ ie saving his life.   

It is human nature to lie and cheat to get what we want, in fact we all do to a greater or lesser extent.  The question is how far is it acceptable to go?  In most cases businesses have detection methods and before long the ‘bad’ are caught and disciplined according to the local legal, ethical and moral codes of the business.  But these codes vary greatly. What is acceptable in one may be far from acceptable in another.  Add to this the cultural and geographic borders from around the globe and you can see the real dilemma facing business leaders today.

If it were only a matter of integrity, then this would pose less of a problem because integrity is mostly about ‘being true to oneself’.  Or as I've been recently told by the CEO of a well known international business ‘one way to measure integrity is to imagine that if what you said and did was captured on video, would you feel comfortable with it being shown to a wider audience?‘  

Unfortunately, in business, one can have integrity while at the same time acting immorally.  Imagine, for example that your business is conducted in a society where bribes or ‘incentives’ are totally acceptable, or the use of child labor is an integrated part of the economic structure.  Although I have picked two extreme cases, in these situations people can retain their integrity while working within the ethical boundaries of their culture.  Therefore a thorough understanding of global moral and ethical codes is becoming essential in order to conduct international business in an acceptable way, but this is far from easy, especially in the usually much more subtle cases.

However, religious politicians have a neat copout that most business people are denied.  They can take what might be seen as unfair or even unethical standpoint without the need for any explanation or justification. For example, it is commonly known that Barack Obama is opposed to same sex marriage and he is able to support this position in his role as ‘President of the free world’ by simply stating that it is his religious viewpoint. End of discussion.

As globalization increases, ironically it may well be international businesses that cover the moral high ground.  My experience of ensuring sustainable business tells me that it is to a large extent about building long term trust and friendships; in being fair to one’s suppliers and honest with ones customers and employees.  But perhaps I am too naive?

Have a good week,

Harley

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Life is naturally stressful

Since the beginning of time stress has been the center of human life and activity: Finding food & shelter and keeping ones offspring out of harm has provided all the adrenaline and stress that anyone needs.  However today, in the West at least, a lot of our stress is of our own making. 

We like to take on responsibility to set ourselves challenges, to push ourselves onwards and upwards.  For most of us, if we are strictly honest with ourselves, stress is much more exciting (and dare I say ‘fun’) than relaxed inactivity.  

I have just spent the good part of a sunny weekend loading and unloading my trailer with chopped firewood and stacking it up in my woodshed ready for the winter.  And why?  I do not need an open fire to keep away tigers and other predators after dark, and my house is centrally heated by an extremely efficient natural gas boiler.  So what’s the point?  

For our ancestors, sitting around the fire, staring into the inner flame listening to the crackling and hissing of the logs as they burn, was probably the only chance they ever had to relax and de-stress at all.  And perhaps it is this basic primeval desire that remains today?

But now with the Spring well and truly here, maybe it is a good time to think about re-learning how to do nothing.  No TV, no debates, no cooking, no cleaning, no emails, no reading, no nothing for just a few minutes everyday?

Learning to share, and to momentarily delegate, some of our responsibilities might take away some of the fun and the reward that comes from stress, but in return it means one can stay chilled and open, more receptive to new ideas and different ways of looking at life.

Have a good week,

Harley,

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Women in Business

Last week Michelle McDowell won the Veuve Clicquot businesswoman of the year award. A quite outstanding engineer, Michelle McDowell has driven the architectural/engineering business, BDP, forward in an extremely tough market.  But the one thing that annoys me every year is that the winner is always asked the same two banal questions: “How tough is it being a woman in business?” and “Do you agree with positive discrimination for women?”

The first question is easy, I have never heard a woman answer that being a woman in business is a breeze.  In fact, ask any man the same question and you’ll get the exactly the same answer, “it’s tough, very tough”.  No one wants to admit that the achievement of a prize was easy and why should they?  But the second question is the killer, no matter how it is answered the respondent will always end up being chastised one way or another.

A neat side step is to talk about ‘positive action’ to promote and encourage women into and up the ladder of a business career. However, some people support the notion of ‘quotas’.  One of them is the non executive director of Standard Life, Sheelagh Whittaker, who recently said in an interview for the BBC “I am a big supporter of quotas. I believe that we will only have true equality when we have as many incompetent women in positions of power as incompetent men!" This made me laugh out loud, because it is such a deep an honest truth. 

The sad part is that after millions of years of evolution, and three thousand years of non nomadic social development, news reporters seem to be unable to ignore the urge to ask the same stupid questions.  Next year I hope it will be different, that the interview will be a deeper and more meaningful exchange of ideas, in a time slot of more than the normal allotted thirty seconds of air time.

Discrimination exists, fact.  What we do about it is a news item in itself.  Personally I like quotas because not only do they force people to seek out and promote talent in areas where, if they were honest, they might not have looked so hard before, but they also create the environment within which change can happen.

Have a good week,

Harley

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