A progressive agenda to rebuild trust
18 October 2010
The word "progressive" is somewhat over-used today particularly by politicians trying to differentiate their programmes of change. Hearing someone from the accounting profession talk about a progressive agenda would, for many, appear an oxymoron. In a similar vein, a close friend of mine recently posed an interesting question over dinner - is it possible to change a profession, he asked?
I have to admit I have reflected long and hard on this question, particularly in the context of some research we are doing with the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) and the think tank Tomorrow's Company, to look into why the reporting system is as it is.
The more I have thought about it, the more I realise how a professional career, in all its guises, moulds and shapes your thinking in a manner you don't realise. After 35 years in the profession, I like to think I'm a radical, a black sheep, and to many of my colleagues I am. But to outsiders I'm still an accountant, perhaps one that's a little frustrated.
So last week’s speech by PwC's UK chairman, Ian Powell, at our annual Build Public Trust dinner was a real watershed for me. In all my years in the firm it was the first time I had heard someone publicly saying the profession needed to embrace a progressive agenda. He put down the challenge of a change agenda, both for the profession and those leading it. His programme set out a broad spectrum of changes and he acknowledged that as part of a system, the support of other key stakeholders will be critical.
At the heart of the whole speech was the issue of trust. And here he provided some clear views on more general actions that all business, including PwC, need to take to rebuild trust. He suggested that these changes might constitute the beginnings of a new settlement between business and society.
The main themes are captured in a recently published thought piece entitled "Trust; the behavioural challenge". In his speech Ian focused on the need for companies to be more understanding of why they exist and he suggested that more time needed to be focused on the manner in which wealth is being generated; the how and not just the what.
Secondly, he talked extensively about the tone from the top and its importance in creating the right corporate cultures and behaviours - ones that can effectively respond to risk but also deliver the competitive advantage all companies seek. And finally, on the topic of reporting, he suggested the word transparency needed to be supplemented by the word authenticity. When reporting became authentic and personal you knew you had arrived.
I'd be delighted to hear your views and comments on this piece.