Soul sold for swag

Posted: 9 February 2017 in Business Systems, Understanding Others
Tags: , ,
Bank crook.jpg

Yet an earlier HBOS scandal

Last week Judge Martin Beddoe jails HBOS banker who “sold his soul for bling and swag”.  The noise and clamour over Trump, Brexit, etc, cannot quite distract from the low hanging stink over business practices.  BHS, Sports Direct, even Volkswagen.  As an accountant and an HR professional, I am well aware of audit and legal compliance.

“Why does all this still happen so much?” “Why are there so so few convictions?” “Where are the whistle blowers?”

Last Week
Also last week, CIPD published a research report asking much the same, and why aren’t the professions doing more.  In today’s transient labour markets, where lifetime company loyalty has ceased, why aren’t people acting to protect their professionalism.  Alas – the knife cuts both ways.  Because the UK labour market is much more fluid, so many of us now work as contractors, or on fixed term tenure – that we are much more resultant to speak us..  We’d lose our jobs.  Not a joke when rents and mortgages are so high.

The CIPD report analysed responses from 3024 professionals from HR, IT and Teaching.  It found teachers the most likely to be personally aligned with the norms and values of their profession when up against their employers.  Despite the significant legal requirements in HR, HR people had a slightly stronger sense of identification with their employers than their profession. Rather surprised me, I admit.  Interestingly, teachers had the highest commitment to both their employer and their profession.  IT professionals the lowest to both their employer and their profession.  And of course, teaching has the higher job security and IT the lowest.  HR professionals saw themselves as ’ethical stewards’ but actually were often failing to act as such.

Not-For-Profits Also
Ethical ambiguity includes the Not-For-Profit sector too.  In my many years in the sector I have seen:

  • Recruitment of students who perhaps should not be recruited, to meet admissions targets.
  • Priority given to childrens services because it is good for fundraising
  • Priority given to curative and emergency medicine over public health and community medicine because the doctors have more sway than community health practitioners.

We are a million miles away from BHS or HBOS here.  But we are in mission-drift territory.  Expediency rather than principle purpose.  In organisational self interest.   Though this is the shallow end of a wide spectrum, readers of this article might be able to have an influence.  When I speak to colleagues, everyone knows this is a problem.  But not a lot of noise is made about it.

What To Do

  1. Active Boards of Directors and NGO Trustees might help but are not the solution. They are wrapped up in the organisational self interest.  Which is not always wrong either.
  2. None of these problems are new, and legal compliance has grown to try to help. It struggles to make a real difference, costs a lot to make happen, and burdens us minnows.  But we should not sneer.
  3. Use professional channels and support the professions. Goodness! Accountants need more help than most and CIMA regularly publish advice.  But it is small stuff.  Yet professional fora are the most likely place to get sensible advice.  The pressures are often both subtle and also technical. And a professional forum will have the common language and understanding.
  4. But eventually it does come back again to what kind of ethical framework do you have. The CIPD research showed that over 80% claimed to have ethical values in both personal and work lives.  Perhaps.  But these values seem to do be impotent in the face of corrupt bankers, cheating retailers, and manipulative on-line providers.  Ethical values need boosting, to more away from a mere contractual relationship with employers.
    • To respect and expect more from the employer.
    • To have a pride in our professionalism, a joy in our craft.
    • A stronger sense of purpose in work, and what work is for – a good service to customers/clients, a good product given.

Anyone with an active faith, or humanist perspective, should easily identify with all this.  Nothing I have written here will be a surprise to readers. Some groups combine professional and faith interests: see Lawyers Christian Fellowship excellent article on banking ethics.  Personally, I believe a personal Christian faith will be the back-stop for acting for the common good.  A sense of [1] God’s creation, [2] our “gifted” creativity, [3] prayer. And [4] courage.  For the good of all, regardless of faith.


CIPD: Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development – the UK’s HR professional body.
CIMA: Chartered Institute of Management Accountants– global management accountant professional body.

  1. Bill says:

    “Why do people seem to behave ethically in their personal lives, but not at work?” asks CIPD, the professional HR body recently. Are they surprised? As if people act ethically in their personal lives.

    Some like to think that only ‘bad’ people could be responsible for cheating the system in ways that resulted in the major corporate scandals we’ve seen recently. But it turns out that many employees at various levels in the organisations played a part in these wrongdoings. They are referring to a recent Harvard Business Review article ( ).

    The Harvard Business Review said “we were surprised that 30 leaders in the study recalled a total of 87 “major” ethical dilemmas from their career histories. Over 50 had occurred in the course of the last five years. Another surprise was how few of the incidents were caused by bribery, corruption, or anti-competition issues (only 16% of all ethical dilemmas mentioned). More often the dilemmas were the result of competing interests, misaligned incentives, clashing cultures”. Surprise – there is a streak of naivety here. The competing interests, misaligned incentives, clashing cultures are endemic in our personal lives.

    The solutions proposed are:
    • Know where you stand. Understanding what matters to you and having the courage to do the right thing. Have your own moral compass.
    • Understand what really matters in the organisation. Be aware of what actually happens in practice in the organisation, in order to be able to challenge the status quo and lip service.
    • Build a strong and diverse personal network. Your personal network can be the most useful resource when dealing with an ethical dilemma.
    • Speak up. Having the courage, and remaining true to your personal values.

    Having a real, personal faith and being part of your church community is an obvious backstop. Churches rarely address these issues. But there will be those in the church community with whom you can usefully discuss the dilemmas.

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