Sunday, 15 February 2009

The wreckers of culture

In today's Independent on Sunday, Paul Moore, whistleblower from the bank HBOS [Halifax Bank of Scotland], is reporting as saying, "Look, I love the Halifax, I love the people, and most of the business was good. But there was a terrible culture…" that pushed people to take reckless risks.

Cultures is the key concept here, in the sense that organizations and institutions as well as communities have cultures.

Our targets for public exposure in this crisis ought not to be just bankers (and 'bankers') but the wreckers of cultures. We see their work all around us. Think of the cultures that have been destroyed: the old BBC in which people were left to themselves to get on and make fine programmes, the government as run by Clement Attlee, the self-respecting workforce of the former railways, those successful teams in any number of different fields in the war, the long-gone culture that enabled a scholar to take twenty years of research to produce a great work and some distinguished scholars to publish nothing at all and yet found schools of study – of historical studies, for instance -- through their PhD teaching. The basis of these cultures was a belief that people could be trusted to get with their jobs without interference – to ‘be professional’, as it’s called -- and reliance on motivation by pride in work.

Think of all those people in the public sector who used to love their jobs and now, because the culture of their organisation has been wantonly wrecked, have come to hate working in them – or have taken early retirement. I know such individuals across a range of sectors from universities and schools to social services to the National Railway Museum in York. (For many examples, see Simon Caulkins’ columns in The Observer.)

It takes many years to create a culture, the briefest time to destroy it. We've learned to be sensitive to the fragility of natural ecologies; we need a parallel intolerance of vandalism in cultures.

Maybe we need a campaign to identify and label the culture destroyer as a menace to society, Public Enemy No. 1. He/she needs to be put to shame for arrogance and ignorance, with documentation of crimes committed. We need appearances before beefed up parliamentary committees. We need descriptions of what such wreckers do, guides to identifying them, outfits to whistleblow them to --- and counter-examples of what it is to manage and foster a culture in such a way that it doesn't get complacent and stays creative without sacrificing trust and pride in work.

No comments: