Is doing the right thing the next cultural revolution?

It was C.S. Lewis who famously said, “A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line.”

Each one of us inherently knows, in terms of ourselves, our community and the way in which business should run, what is just or unjust, or what is morally right or wrong. We all follow some ethical principles or moral obligations to guide our day-to-day actions. As humans, we understand there must be a meaning to how we navigate our work, and our communities. We understand that those relationships must have a core element that satisfies us at a number of levels.

When we decide to navigate around our knowledge of what is right, to reach for artificial comfort zones of short-term or false and shallow satisfaction, we begin to fray the edges of our values, and of our conscience, and so of whom we are as members of our local and national community.

We shouldn’t need Royal Commissions or Regulators to identify what is trespass and what is not, or what we will tolerate and what we won’t.

Our salvation lies in the fact that it is no great burden on the general population to bring their own understanding of what is right into the workplace.

Corporate Australia has had to work quite hard to seduce their employees to turn away from this instinct and to compromise their core values.

The lure of short-term financial reward is only one element of that successful distraction from core values. Development of business cultures of safety and security, as opposed to aspiration and excellence, has operated to place another level of distraction between the actions and the hearts of employees.

There have been some examples that stand at the opposite end of this spectrum. In 2009, the incoming CEO of NAB, Cameron Clyne, suggested that, while he decided on how to rebuild a damaged culture that had developed within the organisation, he would urge his employees to simply, “Do the right thing.” No expensive or lengthy cultural change program was needed to drive his suggestion, and no exhaustive hiring and firing process took place. When the Victorian bush fires hit some months later many of the NAB frontline staff left their posts to donate their own cash, from their own accounts, to help support victims of the fire. Eighteen months later, NAB employees in Brisbane observed the same response during the time of the extensive floods. Each of these individuals, and those that supported them, were driven by the simple maxim of “Do the right thing.”

We don’t need million-dollar programs and we don’t need expensive retreats to remind us that cultural change is necessary to build our way out of this mess.

Where I see a path is through the lens of our core values, we all know, already what to do. We know what the culture change needs to be. Therefore, all we need to do is hold our leaders, both in business and politics, accountable, and insist that they lead us out of the morass we currently find ourselves in, or get out of the way.

As a coach of many years standing, I have seen first-hand the diversity of women and men, old and young, from varied cultures and backgrounds, and with different skills and approaches, a range live their lives through core beliefs. I have also seen, in this broad-brush group of people, the common desire to do the right thing. The solution is not only within our grasp, it has always been our companion.

Let us take the initiative away from regulators and politicians, and turn to each other, every day, simply begin to rebuild on the basis of doing the right thing.

Peter Hislop

Peter Hislop

Peter has 20 years experience coaching CEOs and Executive Leaders in Australia’s biggest listed and private companies. He specialises in financial services and the CEOs and Executive Leadership Teams of Australia’s ASX50. Prior to coaching Peter was a senior insurance lawyer.

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