Is G4S living its stated value of Integrity if it claims its Olympics management fee?

Posted on July 18, 2012

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Nick Buckles has recently suggested that G4S will still claim its management fee despite the Olympic fiasco we read about each day. There is a claim that states their contract says they can. But does this show integrity? Maybe not. And maybe that wouldn’t matter if Integrity wasn’t one of the G4S publicly stated values.

Should we be surprised though? After all in the light of MPs fiddling expenses; Barclays rigging the Libor; HSBC holding money for drugs barons; Jimmy Carr outed as the face of the K2 tax avoidance scandal; GSK paying huge fines in the USA – is anybody ethical anymore?

I recently worked on the publication of the Code of Conduct for BP. It’s a mammoth document that is designed to ensure that every employee understands the rules that guide the way they behave and the decisions they take. It’s admirable. What’s more, every line manager is expected to sign up to it and make sure their teams know about it and the content within it.

Now, BP aren’t unlike any other major FTSE, so I’m certain that the other companies listed in the first paragraph also have their own extensive codes. In fact, the pharmaceutical and financial industries have their own codes of practice as well as those owned by the individual brands. So, how come things keep going off the rocks? How come we find ourselves living in an age of moral decline when it comes to our big brands? How come we have these ethically bankrupt CEOs riding roughshod over us all without a care in the world? This must all be true, I read it in the press!

Or is it true?

Andrew Witty has just gone on record as saying that GSK had learned valuable lessons from the fines imposed upon it. This is the same GSK that as recently as 2010 released 13,500 chemical compounds from its study into a cure for malaria. Compounds it had spent years researching as part of its commitment to finding a cure for malaria – a goal that many felt was too hard to reach.

The vilified Bob Diamond was one of the first to endorse the FSA and G20 guidelines on remuneration control. That’s not Barclay’s guidelines but independent guidelines designed to control excessive remuneration.

In 2009 HSBC’s Michael Geoghegan gave his bonus to charity. This was a bank that was unscarred by the financial crisis of the time as it had been seen to be charting a sensible course – he was not seeking to offset his bonus against negative press coverage.

So, there you go. They are in fact all angels.

Clearly, polarising any debate into “evil empire led by evil CEO” versus “pious community led by selfless leader” gets us nowhere, and this is the problem – there is no realistic debate taking place today.

I have no doubt that Bob Diamond is not an evil man, just as I have no doubt that Tony Hayward would not have wanted BP’s Deepwater Horizon to happen. But the fact is, the Macondo platform did explode and the Libor was rigged and it happened on their watch. Deepwater suffered a lazy meltdown in process and Libor was rigged because those with the access to do so took a greedy step to far.

Greed and laziness are a result of a lack of Values. It’s a classic example of why Values are not something that you put on your wall (Bob Diamond kept referring to “One Barclays” during his appearance in front of the Treasury Committee and he sounded like he’d swallowed a poster.)

Values only truly come to life when they are talked about as much as possible. Where I work we’ve got 3 values – explore, simple and together – and I have to work bloody hard to make sure I raise them every day and use them as examples of how we want everyone to work. And I forget sometimes too. It’s easy to forget the “how” of business and focus on the “what” – targets, delivery etc. etc. Without the “how” though you stray into dangerous lazy and greedy territory. Even if you’re one of the good guys the temptation to take a short cut (unless your values are front of mind) can be very strong.

Values aren’t passive then. They are unbelievably active. They are the grease that you have to use to keep the machine moving smoothly. It’s not process that counts first and foremost – it’s values. It’s not hitting the monetary goal that counts first and foremost – it’s values that are the long-term compass.

Values, those soft fluffy things derided or forgotten by too many CEOs, they may just save you from a humiliating public appearance in front of MPs. Something Nick Buckles may have just found out to his expense.

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