Yesterday Gordon Brown espoused a new world vision, proposing that society's values of "fairness, stewardship and co-operation" must be upheld in business, markets, public policy and across the whole public arena. These are welcome words, but are they just that? They come from the very man who at the 11th hour kicked out the very mechanism that would have ensured the incorporation of such values into the boardroom just two years ago.
The Operation and Financial Review, if it were still operational, would have mandated the 1,300 or so publicly listed companies in the UK to produce narrative statements assessing their performance for the next financial year, including the reporting of social and environmental risks and opportunities. The OFR was set to be included in companies' annual reports, and the first batch were to be published in April 2006. Yes, the new Companies Act was subsequently rolled out, but the included amendments (the limply termed "expanded business review") had successfully watered down any level of increased corporate accountability.
So I am greatly intrigued to hear Gordon's rhetoric. He is right of course, we do need these three values embodied within business practise. But of course, it all depends on how you define and act on these terms (I hear the chant of the Suffragettes echoing ever louder inside my head: Deeds Not Words). Could this mean a reinstatement of mandatory reporting by boards on environmental and social issues? Could it mean the bottom line not being just one of profit but also people and planet? Businesses built on partnerships, support, co-operation, equality, protection of their communities (not just human communities), gender balanced - and dare I say it, love? A place where communication and creativity thrives, where flexibility and decentralisation become the norm rather than the top-down dominator hierarchy that most corporations adhere to (and are now beginning to fail). This would indeed be the business world of the future.
Mr Brown, I hold you to your words.
If you want to know more about how to restructure corporations for the 21st century, read these two:
Ori Brafman and Rod A Beckstrom The Starfish and the Spider
David C. KortenThe Great Turning: from Empire to Earth Communities
[with thanks to John for nudging me to ping this up]