Friday, 5 August 2011

News International - a failure of culture?

The hackgate scandal and the subsequent repercussions in the News International empire have provided a graphic demonstration of what can happen within a company with a toxic culture. It's quite possible that the various executives were telling the truth when they sat before the select committee and professed their ignorance of phone tapping, but that doesn't mean they were blameless. Accounts of journalists working there at the time of the alleged events describe a workplace where there was overwhelming pressure to get the story at all costs. It's quite understandable that under these conditions some might feel compelled to resort to illegal methods of getting the scoop. The leaders of a company set the vision and values that drive its culture, and in doing so create a kind of moral framework that informs the decisions made by its staff.

This kind of culture is a hangover from the Gordon Gecko "greed is good", "win at all costs" mentality of the nineteen eighties that has mostly been left behind by today's more enlightened businesses. In its place, we are seeing a new approach to doing business where social capital is valued alongside financial capital on the triple bottom line. These organisations have a "win/win" mentality and aim to beat their competitors not by undercutting on price (and, as an inevitable consequence, quality) but by being more trusted as business partners. So as consumers - of goods, media, services, whatever - we now have a new benchmark for judging the desirability of a brand. Integrity, respect and honour are becoming the new currency of business, and the cynical and exploitative companies will find themselves outmanoeuvred in a way they quite possibly won't fully understand until it's too late.

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