It’s lately become fashionable amongst those whose job it is to sit in a tank and think to pronounce on the need for businesses to develop (or renew) a sense of purpose, above and beyond the simple goal of making money.
I have some sympathy with this point of view. But I think it misses a bigger truth - the need for businesses to develop (or renew) a sense of morality.
Far too many businesses – IMHO – act at best, amorally, at worst immorally.
We can debate where the examples below fall on that scale. Surely though, we can’t debate whether they’re good or bad. Yet these are all common day occurrences, specific to me, but no doubt familiar to you;
- The cable TV company that can’t fix a problem with the quality of the picture after multiple service visits. Then just sort of gives up …
- The contractor who won’t return calls, makes you feel like you’re being unreasonable when he finally does (when you’re not), and then messes up the work order but is extremely resentful at having to do the work again.
- The insurance company who invoke all sorts of small-print clauses when you make a claim, so you end up getting a check for 24% less than you were expecting.
- The airline that cancels a flight that you’ve been sitting on for three hours at 1:30am, and then buses you 90 minutes to a hotel that you wouldn’t put your worst enemy in.
- The airline that puts you in a business class middle “pod” seat where you end up nose-to-nose with a complete stranger. For $7,000.
- The $65,000 German car that you have to replace the tires on after only 22,000 miles.
- The waiter who completely blanks you as you get up from your table after the expensive check (with generous tip) has been paid.
- The taxi driver who drives at 85 miles an hour like he doesn’t have a care in the world. Or a valuable life in the back.
- The landlord who is on the doorstep the second the rent is not paid, but is MIA for days when a leak brings down the roof.
- The surgeon who makes a mistake in an operation but absolves herself of any responsibility.
- The ordinary university that charges $50,000 per year in fees.
- The extraordinary university that charges $300,000 for a research project, the quality of which would embarrass the ordinary university.
- The cell phone bill that keeps relentlessly creeping up and up, to the point that after a couple of years (when you finally notice) it’s 35% more than when you signed up.
- The cell phone store assistant who makes you feel like a monster for wanting to get your bill back down to the price you signed up for.
- The financial advisor (from a reputable blue-chip financial institution) who recommends a course of action that will line his pockets while fleecing yours.
- The insurance agent who suggests a policy that is completely irrelevant to your needs, with the hope that you’re just the latest too-busy-to-pay-real-attention sucker on the block.
- The bed salesman who slips in – moments before the credit card is swiped – the news that the additional option you had chosen and thought was $500 was in fact $1,000.
- The “creative” sub-contractor who wants to make a FX based adjustment to their invoice in the middle of the project.
Many of these scenarios are, of course, first world problems or not worth a hill of beans in the grand scheme of things, but to me they speak to a first world in which businesses – and the people that work within them – have forgotten (or perhaps never learnt in the first place) the difference between right and wrong.
They act as though the only right is making money.
That the ends justify the means.
They do to others as they wouldn’t be done by.
This is the culture we live in.
In our post-religious world (at least for the elites in the prosperous powerful parts), there is no shame in the temporal here and now or the ethereal ever after. There is no judgement, other than that of the bottom line.
Every day we seem to be sinking further and further into a deep morass of bad behavior. Immoral behavior. Every day sinful wrongs seem to be further normalized. Every day our expectations that businesses (and the people that work within them) are sharks and not to be trusted are further reinforced.
Every day we inch closer to living in Pottersville, not Bedford Falls.
Speaking of which, it is almost Christmas so time for the annual viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life.
While you watch it, snoozing after stuffing yourself with stuffing, ponder on the thought that the great opportunity and challenge of building the future of work is to make that work good work. Good, not only in the sense of being fun and profitable, but in the sense that the little boy whose life some will be celebrating on December 25th meant it.
My new year’s wish is that businesses (and the people that work within them) will develop or renew a sense of right and wrong. Of doing the right thing, not just because it’s good for business, but because it’s simply right.
I further hope that this moral renaissance becomes more than organizational virtue signaling paraded in the fashionable salons of Davos and Aspen.
If we are to have a future of work that is more than just survival in a dog eat dog – or bot eat bot – jungle we need to recommit ourselves to our better angels, not our worst.
That is the message of the season, for all seasons – whether told by Jesus. Or Clarence. That we must remember. Or learn for the first time.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a Good New Year.