I climb a hill on a clear fall day, sit under the shade of a large oak tree, pull out my laptop and work on writing my next book. I’m not there very long when an acorn falls on my head. My first reaction is one of being annoyed but very quickly I realize that what just happened was not only natural- it was to be expected. Acorns fall from trees. It’s an irrefutable law of nature and if you’re sitting under an oak tree, sooner or later, you’re going to get plopped on the head.
I shouldn’t have been surprised by the event much less initially annoyed. Even a third grader knew that would happen. Many things in life and business can be predicted based on a natural series of events. But, it seems that businesses today can’t seem to get it right. They lack accountability even though they cry that they want more accountability, they struggle to maintain relevance and profits and they find all sorts of excuses from a troubled economy to changing consumer habits as the reasons for their struggles and failures. The irrefutable laws of nature and business seem to be suspended. But, are they?
JP Morgan gets slapped with a $13 billion fine for fraud related to mortgage-backed securities. Some people are surprised, some are outraged at the amount (some too high and some too low) and others don’t even pay attention. Then it comes out that between $76 billion and $100 billion was transferred from Bernie Madoff’s (yep, that guy sent to jail) account to another wealthy JP Morgan client’s account and then back again without questioning from executives with the bank.
This begs the question, isn’t anyone at JP Morgan Chase in a corner office with lots of glass asking one simple question, “What’s the right thing to do here?”
It’s not that the economy is hurting our companies, it’s that our companies are hurting our economy – and our society for that matter. It is so easy to hide under the challenges and rigors of tough business but the reality is that if we want greater accountability in our companies we need greater accountability in our people. If we want greater accountability in our people then they need to know what it is they believe, measure those beliefs by a proven standard, and make decisions that support those beliefs. That sequence is an irrefutable law of nature.
In the end, in life and in business, it comes down to doing what’s right. When we follow greed we are serving ourselves and ultimately things come crumbling down. When we ask the most important question, “What’s the right thing to do here?” and then listen to that answer we find ourselves building stronger character and better companies. Increased accountability becomes the natural outflow from asking, answering and living that question.
We need to get back to a set of beliefs that serve us well, that are based in truth and that lead us to make great decisions. It should be the natural thing to do. Even a third grader knows you don’t just take something that isn’t yours and that you should treat others the way you want to be treated.