Management Futures: September round-up

27 September 2013

First of all, the shocking statistic: most respondents to our September question: ‘Have you ever been asked to do something unethical at work?’ clicked the button marked ‘Yes’. This was true in the poll on the website blog, and in the Linked-in discussion space.

It wasn’t a wafer-thin majority, either: 73 per cent of a poll of 200 managers.

What’s more, CMI’s latest survey report, Managers and the moral maze [link to:]has found 35% of managers tell at least one lie a day at work – more than non-managerial staff (25%). While managers recognise that it’s important to be seen as ethical, a whopping 80% of staff don’t feel that their manager sets a good example. As Ann Francke, CMI Chief Executive, summed it up: “We’ve seen company after company fall foul of ethical scandals and the costs can be huge – not only financially, but in the damage that’s done to hard-won reputations. It’s time for employers to step up and confront unethical behaviour and commit to developing management cultures where strong ethics are rewarded.” (CMI’s now calling on members and non-members alike to help review the Code of Practice for Professional Managers – see below to get involved.)

But cutting corners, misleading customers, neglecting basic duties in pursuit of short-term targets all seem to constitute ‘business as usual’ in UK plc. It’s hardly surprising that, from time to time, this habit escalates into monstrous issues such as rigging the London Inter-Bank Offered Rate (LIBOR), passing off horsemeat as beef, or allowing vulnerable patients to die of dehydration.

More scandals emerged during the month. It was announced that London-based broker  ICAP was fined $87 million for its part in the interest rate-fixing LIBOR saga. The British Social Attitudes Survey showed that trust in the banks had plummeted from 90% reporting them as well run three decades ago, down to just 19% today – following scandals such as mis-selling and speculative activity, as well as the LIBOR affair.

The comments section in the September blog included some interesting examples of unethical practices that CMI members had been asked to perform. One reported that, as a young individual, he had been asked to complete reports for tests that were never performed.

Another reader, Clive Deakin, recalled: ‘I was asked to delete the service charge from clients’ receipts after they had paid their bills, and deposit the collected service charge in cash in the night safe for the owner’s personal use.  I refused and left his employ a few weeks afterwards.’

John Spiller picked up on the theme of the blog – that unethical conduct is generally bad for the business – using a vivid sporting metaphor: ‘If unethical behaviour is accepted … then that company or organisation will never improve its actual performance … It is a bit like playing golf, if you play a par 4 and actually score a 6 but put down a 4 on your scorecard, will your game ever improve?’

Of course, one matter to consider in this area may be: is there a universal understanding of what ‘unethical’ conduct constitutes? Is it sometimes the case that one person’s whistle-blowing is another’s unfair accusation? Perhaps this is a matter for further discussion.

While there may be areas of grey, this is difficult to argue in the cases of blatant deception. Last month’s blog noted that, when it comes to orchestrated attempts to mislead customers, regulators and so on, the conduct may turn out to be illegal. As if on cue, the Serious Fraud Office announced it will prosecute the photographic and medical equipment company Olympus. Former CEO Michael Woodford had been fired by the Board – but he has been vindicated and those who dismissed him received suspended prison sentences in Japan.

Risking your job for principles is difficult. Ultimately, though, it’s better to be fired than end up in jail.

  • CMI updates Code of Practice: strong ethics are at the heart of good management. Feed your views in to our review of the Code of Practice for Professional Managers, by clicking on this link. We want input from as many managers as possible to make the Code relevant and useful to you – please take a few minutes to give us your views.

Submitted by Philip Wood 

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