Trust has taken a beating in my lifetime. From the Watergate affair to the recent financial crisis, from Enron to Lehman Brothers, we have been failed by government and business institutions and lost our faith in them.
In light of these multiple failures, how do we function as a society?
In my book, the protagonist – CEO of a global corporation – develops a corporate culture based on trust. Espousing a communitarian ideal, he advocates that each of his employees from senior management down the front lines, think of how their actions affect the communities in which they live – their neighbors, their employees and their families.
Here’s how he puts it to the business press:
“Would you want your children to drink water that’s been polluted by the chemical plant you manage? Would you like members of your family to be treated shabbily by their employers? How can a corporate leader expect a company to thrive if the people in his or her community aren’t thriving?”
Culture starts at the top. A CEO must communicate his or her expectations clearly and consistently to change the behavior of people in a corporate environment. The right behavior must be reinforced through recognition, both formally and informally. Why?
The Reluctant CEO answers this way:
“Most corporate employees simply do what’s asked of them and little more. We’ve never asked them to be good citizens. Most employees will be excited about it. Their better instincts will be unleashed.”
If that sounds too vague or idealistic to you, consider this. A person’s social identity and personality are largely molded by community relationships. As Juan Gabriel Vásquez wrote, “Experience, or what we call experience, is not the inventory of our pains, but rather the learned sympathy towards the pain of others.” If allowed – no, encouraged – to contribute to the wellbeing of your community, how would you respond?
Our CEO closes his argument this way:
As CEO’s, we have the ability and the obligation to make things better for those whose lives we influence. We work at corporations; but we live in communities.
So, who can you trust?