Morality – A critical success factor for business and society?
Luke Andreski and Graham Williams
There can be little doubt that we have reached a point in our history which is marked by profound ethical issues.
We face the acceleration of AI, an environmental crisis, the potential for future conflict over resource, probable large-scale migrations and an ascendancy of populist authoritarianism in politics across the world.
In parallel with this, another disturbing change has occurred. Morality has become unfashionable. It is no longer cool – and now carries with it connotations of ‘moralising’, of self-satisfaction or superiority, of being ‘moralistic’ or ‘preachy’. It’s as if, in the world of realpolitik and commerce, ethics no longer matter. Effectiveness and profit have taken morality’s place. ‘What’s in it for me?’ has become our guiding principle.
Yet this is a guiding principle which places our world in jeopardy. ‘What’s in it for me?’ cannot provide a solution to the major challenges which our businesses, our economies and even our species now face.
In addition to compassion, truth is at the heart of any moral code. If we cannot see our world clearly, if we are unable to separate reality from fake news or ideology, then how can we navigate our way towards personal, business or wider societal success? The reverse is also true. As our society drifts away from honesty, so it increasingly attacks it: a vicious circle we see all around us. It is now common to say, particularly of our politicians, that ‘everybody lies’. This then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Lying is normalised. We see this amongst some of the most prominent politicians of today’s world. A willingness to lie is no longer considered a quality which debars them from office. And the more they lie, the more they hate the truth. To quote George Orwell, “The further society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those who speak it.” A wonderful example of this is seen in this interview with Michael Gove, the British politician campaigning for Brexit and the re-election of the Boris Johnson government:
https://www.channel4.com/news/michael-gove-interview-on-truth-lies-and-brexit. It is also replicated in the many attacks we see from populist politicians on journalism and the press. Populism disdains experts and facts.
“To assert that everybody lies becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Lying is normalised.”
In collaboration with Graham Williams, a writer and consultant based in Cape Town, South Africa, I’ve been looking at how we can reassert the value of morality, honesty and compassion in a business context, and also for society as a whole. In a series of articles for Phase3 Consulting and HR Zone I’ve argued for the value of ethics specifically within business. See: https://www.hrzone.com/content/ethics-in-the-workplace-is-morality-good-for-business
In my book Intelligent Ethics I expand this argument to society as a whole; and in his powerful work, The Virtuosa Organisation, published by Knowledge Resources, Graham takes a similar approach. See: http://www.kr.co.za/knowres-publishing-1/the-virtuosa-organisation-1
There are so often situations in the marketplace where “business considerations” take precedence over ethical considerations – an either/or solution. Our contention is that this is a mistaken dichotomy. Business considerations (efficiency and profit) are in fact enhanced by adopting an ethical approach. Unethical practices exist in many toxic workplaces, including all forms of discrimination and exclusion, harassment, overt or unconscious prejudice and bullying – and tackling these can only benefit the performance, reputation and, ultimately, the profit of the business.
Leadership, training and coaching responses all too often fall into the ‘compliance’ and ‘rules’ category, when what is needed is:
- Development of an intrinsic ethical maturity and value base
- Encouragement of a learning, growth and mastery journey
- Nurturing of appropriate application in the context of the situations faced and their community impacts
Thomas Moore agrees, sees ethics as a ‘soul’ matter, points out that “Ethics is a way out of confinement in a self-absorbed personality”. (Moore, Thomas 2003 The Soul’s Religion Bantam Books)
To assist with further understanding, we have drawn together a map of ethical best practice, outlining a set of cultural, process and human capital considerations for business leaders, a framework for:
- Providing a quick overview of the ethics landscape
- Moving from a rules-based to a values-based mind-set
- Guiding people how to behave positively and effectively, overcoming a bystander mentality
- Entrenching an understanding that ethics is an important bridge in aligning behaviours with core values
“Business considerations (efficiency and profit) are in fact enhanced by adopting an ethical approach.”
We hope you find this guide useful.