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.

David

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Comments

Comply or explain, Walker Report, FRC Guidance for Audit Committees, sector-specific guidance - the list of corporate governance rules and guidance is endless. Why is there so much of it? and why, largely, has it not delivered what it promised? It's down to one word: behaviours. It's one thing to say - it's another to do. And the real issue underneath it all is VALUES.

Yesterday afternoon, I met with 11 like minded individuals from across a number of sectors to discuss what initiatives we could take to - and we coined the phrased on the spot - "Rebuild trust and confidence". So, I read your piece with some relief (that there are others with the same intent) - and renewed determination to figure out how I can make my contribution to this debate.

I reckon we need 3 things:

- a fresh sense of personal accountability (my favourite 'call to arms' phrase here is "If it is to be, it is up to me"),

- fresh leadership to incite organisations and professional bodies to embrace this approach (somehow embracing ethics and integrity without a collective groan or roll of cynical eyes), and,

- a viral campaign to inflame minds and provoke response (let's use our social networking and interconnectedness to good effect?)

Who is up for it?

Dear Sir,

I have just completed reading your article Trust: The Behavioural Challenge. October 2010. In particular I was struck by page 13 and the first key question which PwC posed as to what all boards should consider.

“What aspect of your business would you worry about appearing on the front page of the paper?”

As a contribution to your debate and research can I point you to the documented case study and reports at www.fortfield.com which I believe PwC should consider as an important insight in to the matter of building trust and the role which “PwC seek to convene” – Richard Sexton video clip. You will also be able to listen to the various audio tapes and read Part G regarding the Corporate Framework . I hope this provides the opportunity for that reflective mirror and “Tone at the Top”. You will note that I have also included a video clip from Mr Paul Moore which I and others consider to be centrally relevant in such matters.

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