Welcome to the 21st century desert. The desert of nobility, neighbourliness, honesty, decency, integrity, responsibility and accountability. Welcome to the desert of moral purpose, moral leadership, moral values and moral conduct.
Given the recent revelations regarding the UK banks you might be tempted to assume that I am talking about the banking industry. After all the banks have been shown to:
- Design and sell worthless products to their ordinary/vulnerable customers – the PPI scandal;
- Aggressively sell unsuitable financial products to SME’s which made the banks money and crippled or killed many of these businesses;
- Have acted without morals in the Farepak collapse where 116,000 people, amongst them some of the most poor/vulnerable, lost 37m;
- Deliberately sell worthless products (annuites) to the elderly who were close to death and unlikely to ever be able to claim on these products; and
- Lie, collude and rig one of the most important interest rates (Libor).
And the Governor of the Bank of England has asserted the following
- ‘shoddy customer treatment’;
- ‘deceitful manipulation’
- ‘excessive levels of compensation’;
- bank staff have been ‘let down’; and
- banks need ‘leadership of an unusually high order’.
If I am not talking about banks and the banking industry then who am I talking about when I talk about the ‘desert of moral purpose, moral leadership, moral values, moral conduct’? I am talking about Anglo-Saxon capitalism. Yes, the banks and the bankers cheat customers, mislead/deceive customers and the regulatory authorities and pay themselves way in excess of the value that they create. Yet they are not the only ones. Take a good look at the telecoms industry where ISPs mislead customer regarding download speeds. Or the deliberate practice of making it hard for customers to be on the right plan. Take a good look at the gas and electricity suppliers. Take a good look at the automotive trade especially car repairs. Or the software business where ‘ignorant’ customers are sold sophisticated software that they don’t need and/or will not be able to make good use of……….
Have you ever wondered why with all the talk of customer service, customer relationships, customer focus, customer engagement, employee engagement, customer loyalty, customer obsession there is so little of the genuine stuff? I have. And this is what I say: underneath all this fine talk is a capitalist structure and mindset that does not value people, nor relationships, nor communities, nor the long term. In this capitalistic system ‘relationship’ is simply moving from one transaction to a series of transactions that line the pockets of the company. There is no commitment to genuine care for one another. Engagement is doublespeak for getting the customer to buy more from the company, sell on behalf of the company (word of mouth, word of mouse), conduct customer service or product development on behalf of the company. Engagement does not involve the company actually listening to customers, getting involved nor standing for the values/outcomes that matter to customers.
It is a system, a structure and mindset devoid of morality and humanity. Morality and humanity are seen as a brake on money making – revenues and profits. Money making is the be all and end all – the reason for existence of the company. Customers, employees and suppliers are resources to be captured and used as productively as possible. With customers the objective is to extract as much money as possible at the lowest cost. Which is why customer service is atrocious and product quality is ordinary. The same is true for suppliers -suppliers are usually set demanding targets and then squeezed for every penny and usually not paid on time especially if they are smaller and weaker. Employees are unloved and feel unloved – the objective is to get as much out of them for as little as possible. Anglo-Saxon governments do a great job of colluding with big business: if you do not instill fear of destitution in the hearts and souls of employees then how can you get them to work hard for little pay?
Yet business is only a subset of the bigger system – society. As in family therapy we can focus on the ‘bad child’ point out his flaws and ask/tell him to change or we can look at the bigger picture, the family, and as a more useful question: “what is it about his family that calls forth this ‘bad child’?” And “What can this ‘bad child’ unconceal about the family?” So the more useful question is this one: “What does this behaviour of the banks unconceal about us, about big business, about our institutions, about our society?” And having seen what we have seen are we willing to courageously face what is so and act? Or will pretend that it just needs a patch here and there and go back to our seductive sleep like we did after the credit crunch secure in the dream that all is perfectly ok?
If you and I want a ‘world that works’ then each of us must play our part. That means what we do and do not do matters – as customers, as employees, as citizens, as voters. If we want companies to treat us better than we have to be ‘better’ customers – buy only from those companies that merit our custom. If we want companies to act ethically and treat people right then we have to act ethically and treat people right – including picking and working for the right companies. If we want our society to work then we have to act and shape our institutions – including those who supposedly govern in our name.