Businesses beware – the Corporate Spring is upon us

We have had the Arab Spring, which is still going on throughout much of the Middle-East of course.  The founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales has predicted a Chinese Spring. Now, the bosses at Barclays Bank find they are being hounded out of office by a public clamouring for blood on the carpet in The City. No-one seems to be sorry that Mr Diamond has had to give up his £20m a year job, except his daughter who was busy Tweeting away in support of her Dad yesterday.

But the banks are not alone in the growing public outcry about the seeming lack of integrity in the business boardroom. That great media giant, NewsCorp is about to be split up following an international outcry against the phone hacking and the less than nice behaviour of the company as a whole.

More than ever these days we are finding that business leaders are having to say sorry – but often we think the “real sorry” is that they are sorry they have been “found out”.

Fake leadership
Business leaders have not been found out, they have been found wanting. In many instances their leadership is fake; real leaders are people of integrity, honesty and caring for the people they lead. Many business leaders these days could not care less, it seems.

Rather like the leaders of some Arab nations, we could be forgiven for thinking that some business leaders are more interested in themselves than the people they lead or their customers. Gosh does that remind you of politicians too? Where do we put them in the league table of trust these days?

As recently as 15 years or so ago, business leaders were respected. Indeed, your local bank manager was a pillar of the community. When I was a child, politicians were always called “Mister” or “Madam”, never by their first name like our Prime Minister, Dave. And Olympic Sports stars were respected for their amateur dedication to winning, whereas many now are merely married to their big business sponsors.

At the heart of all these changes is a perceived move in integrity. Can we really trust what a sports star says in the post match press conference, or are they more interested in displaying their sponsor’s logo? Can we really trust what politicians say, or are they merely interested in getting the right headlines in the Daily Mail?  Can we really  trust what business leaders say, or are they more interested in lining their own pockets than serving us?

Decreased trust
The spread of a decreased lack of trust in many of the leaders around us has been accelerated by social media, of course. If a few of your friends had found out about the lack of leadership in a British bank you may have chatted about it over dinner, but it may not have gone any further. Now, you probably say so on Twitter, on Facebook or on your own blog and soon millions of people see it and repeat it.

One way out of this problem for our leaders is to ban social media. So, in countries run by despotic leaders they often switch off social networks. In Syria, for instance, large swathes of the Internet are not legally accessible, such as Facebook. And in nations where you have more liberal regimes, you still find politicians attempting to control social media because they see it as a threat to their power. Here in the UK the Government is planning to have access to every email you send, know every web page you have ever visited and be able to see inside your social media accounts. They dress it up as dealing with terrorism, but really it is about control.

Social media censorship fans the flames
However, new research shows they are on to a losing battle. This study looked at the use of social media in the Arab Spring and in the riots in the UK last year. What the researchers found was that banning or censoring social media actually had the reverse effect to what he leaders wanted. Censoring social media actually INCREASED unrest and violence. The leaders switched off access to social media to reduce the organisation of protests, but what happens is this just makes things worse.

Within this, there is an important lesson for corporate boardrooms. Banning social media works against you. Many businesses switch off access to Facebook or Twitter, even YouTube, on the grounds of “security”. Really it is about control, ensuring the staff do not become unproductive and carry on doing the work they are being paid to to, rather than chatting with their mates online.  The banning of social media within most businesses is ultimately the same reason it is banned in some nations – the leaders want to retain control.

But this new study shows that when leaders do that, they lose even more points in the integrity game. The more business leaders try to censor social media, the more likely they make it that a Corporate Spring will happen. It is almost with us already with the banks in the firing line. Don’t think your business will be excluded. The people have the blue touch paper in their hands already.

1 thought on “Businesses beware – the Corporate Spring is upon us”

  1. Some great points Graham. We’re also seeing backlash against government here in the UK with the recent comments made by chief whip Andrew Mitchell against a policeman. Social media is a great outlet for public opinion and enables us all to become ‘armchair activists’.

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