Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Rebuilding trust

 

       There’s a major focus on trust in Harvard Business Review this month.

Referring to the declining levels of trust found in this year’s Edelman Trust Barometer, HBR’s editor notes:

“If companies can’t address this problem, an economic turnaround may be delayed indefinitely:  Banks won’t lend money; innovation will slow to a crawl; trade across borders will fall even more rapidly; governments will overregulate the private sector; unemployment numbers will continue to rise; and consumers won’t open their wallets for anything they consider nonessential.  A complex modern economy simply can’t function unless people believe that its institutions are fundamentally sound.”

 

One of the bodies receiving criticism is the business school, with MBA graduates being seen as ‘greedy, selfish creatures’.  In ‘The Buck Stops and Starts at Business School’, Joel Podolny suggests:

“Business schools have largely ignored the teaching of values and ethics because those aren't subjects of inquiry for traditional business school academic disciplines. The consequences have been disastrous. For instance, when HBS professor Scott Snook recently surveyed MBA students, he found that a third regarded right and wrong as defined by the norm. That is, if several people were following a course of action, the students felt it was OK for them to do the same. Even when business schools teach ethics courses, as some of them started doing in the wake of the Enron fiasco, they do so in a vacuum. Teaching one ethics course doesn't ensure that a marketing professor will, for instance, discuss privacy-related issues while describing the Net's use as a marketing medium. On the contrary, because of a lack of interest, perhaps, or a fear of leading a discussion in an area outside their expertise, faculty members often stay away from teaching the normative aspects of business.”

 

Podolny suggests a range of solutions to this problem, but I’ve also been drawn to an article in the New York Times, ‘A Promise to Be Ethical in an Era of Immorality’, which discussed a group of graduates from Harvard Business School who would be taking a new oath to remain ethical throughout their careers.

This idea has panned quite widely, including in this post (and most of the comments) from Wally Bock at Three Star Leadership.  But I’ll admit that I’m quite drawn to the idea – it at least attempts to make change at the right sort of level (belief as well as behaviour).

What else do you think would help develop trust in managers and other business professionals?

 

Photo credit: Bridge builders by Gyula Drekovits

 

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