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Integrity@Work: The power of love in business

By Roger Steare

In his next Integrity@Work blog for Thinkers50, Roger Steare begins an exploration of the power of love in business and how we can get our humanity to work.

One of the first questions I ask people during my workshops, is “Why do we exist?”! I ask them to debate this question in small groups and then find out what answers they came up with. These range from“To be happy” or “To have fun” through to “To drink beer”! Then I ask someone how old they are and then ask them how they survived the first few hours, days,weeks, months and years of their life? The answer that then reverberates around the room is almost always something like “Because I was loved and cared for by my family, friends and neighbours.”

My next question is “So how old are we when this love stops, and we become truly independent of others?” A few people might shout out “18”, “21” or “40” but again an answer that echoes around the room is“Never”.

This is a profound moment of truth for most of us. The human infant is the most fragile of all animal offspring. We need the physical and emotional support of others not only for the crucial early years of our lives, but also to live a life with meaning and a life worth living.

My next question is “What happens to this truth when we go to work? Do we still love and care for each other, for our customers, for our suppliers and for our investors?” It is at this point that pennies will drop, and an argument will begin.

“What’s love gotto do with it?”

Tina Turner

Some begin to argue that the purpose of business is simply to maximise profits. Others will disagree and point out that sustainable profits come from getting your customers to fall in love with the goods and services we produce. One current example is the love affair that over a billion consumers have with their iPhones. Whilst some argue that this love is more like an unhealthy infatuation or addiction, there is no doubting that for many these highly profitable premium devices demonstrate the power of love in business.

“The only way to do great work is to love what you do”

Steve Jobs

There are other brands that research projects such as Firms of Endearment have identified which build “a high-performance business on love” with sustainable profitability that out-performs the S&P 500 by over 5 times in the 15 year period to 2014. These brands include Google, Honda, IKEA, Novo Nordisk and Unilever. Like us, none of these brands is perfect of course. Our intent is to truly care for and serve others and whilst we will sometime fail and make honest mistakes, this is how we learn to be better and to do better.

Take Google for example. At the end of 2018, it was revealed that Google had “paid off” senior executives to leave the firm after allegations of sexual harassment. In the case of Andy Rubin, the creator of Android mobile software, the payout was $90 million. This prompted widespread anger and walkouts by Google employees, and apologies from co-founder Larry Page and CEO Sundar Pinchai. “We want to get better, and we want to get to a place where it truly reflects our values of respect, particularly respect for each other,” Mr. Pichai said.

Whilst Google have clearly demonstrated contrition for their previous policy on sexual harassment allegations, I’m not sure that “respect” on its own is a strong enough moral principle to encourage better behaviour. Nor will more rules and policies help us to get our humanity to work. In fact, our research shows the contrary to be true.

“The more rules,the more corrupt the state.”

Tacitus

In the first Integrity@Workblog I shared Graph 1 which shows how our ethical decision-making changes for most of us when we go to work. Here you can clearly see that whilst compliance with Rules increases at work, our love, compassion and care for other People is diminished.

Graph 1

“Integrity has no need of rules”

Albert Camus

The problem we have is that whilst we live in more or less democratic, caring communities in our personal lives, when we come to work our love and humanity is suppressed by workplace cultures which are both feudal and scary. As a political historian as well as a moral philosopher, it is no surprise to me that sexual assault and violence in the workplace is an appalling echo of the “first night” right of medieval barons, who could legally have sex with newly-wed wives before they were allowed to consummate their marriage with their husbands.

Not only does Integrity@Work demand that we bring our love, compassion and humanity to work, it also means that we must revolutionise the abusive political structure of the corporation. This isn’t a communist manifesto, it is about applying the principles of human rights,democracy and free markets within firms as well as between firms. The truth is that our current governance and power structures are closer to the Stalinism of North Korea than the values of a just and democratic society.

In my next blog I will explore the Dark Triad of psychoses that are demonstrated by many mis-leaders in our workplaces and what we and they can do about it!


Roger Steare is Visiting Professor in the Practice of Organisational Ethics at Cass Business School in London. He also works as The Corporate Philosopher, advising organisations around the world on leadership, culture and ethics.
Twitter: @RogerSteare
LinkedIn: LinkedIn.com/in/RogerSteare
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