Andrew's background is strategy consulting in the financial services sector, where he experienced how contrasting corporate cultures shape very different business principles and practices. He then studied theology and have worked for 20 years in inner city London as Vicar of Saint James Clerkenwell and founder of The School of Faith. His latest project – www.SoulfulEnterprise.org – is at the intersection of life values and business practices.
My role is to be a corporate theologian – combining my previous experience as a management consultant in financial services at Coopers & Lybrand, now PwC with my role for the past 20 years as the vicar of a church in Clerkenwell. And that intersection of business and theology gives me the opportunity to ask questions from a slightly different perspective. I’m going to act a bit like Giselle, who is a fairy-tale princess in the Disney movie Enchanted. In the story, Giselle falls down a magic well and goes from fairy tale land to modern day Manhattan. When that happens, she is amazed by the way she is treated, the attitudes of the people she meets and the view of so called reality that she encounters. At one point she is speaking to a lawyer who says there’s no such thing as happy ever after, that life is complicated and he doesn’t know if he’ll get through today never mind happy ever after. To which she replies, ‘but it doesn’t have to be that way.’ My contribution to today is to ask ‘does it have to be that way’ when it comes to reporting.
There are many types of report that we receive and read and an equally varied selection of responses those different reports elicit.
But what about the mother of all marketplace reporting – the company annual report? Do company reports elicit any emotion at all? I want to suggest that they should do if they report what’s really going on rather than some synthesised version that has been hyperbolised by the marketing department, de-risked by the legal department and conditionalised by the finance department.
It doesn’t have to be that way! What if company reports were more than a set of historic data and a few slick aspirational statements? What if instead they told an inspirational story in words and numbers of what the firm believes in and why it delights in doing what it does?
I want to know more than what a chief executive has done in a year. I want to know why he or she gets out of bed in the morning. Inspiring reporting is more-than reporting – reporting that has a bit of heart and soul in it. There are three ‘more than’ movements we need to take.
Techne is a greek word for technology – the application of science and knowledge.
Telos is about purpose and the end goal of an action.
Techne is how an object is produced, telos is why the object is produced – the objective of the object. Technology therefore serves some other telos than ‘I made it for no reason’ or ‘I made it just because I could.’
The need for purpose is shown in situations where it is removed. Repeatedly asking people to make something and then destroying it in front of them is a powerful form of torture. Without purpose our actions have no meaning and are soulless – wasting precious commodities of materials time and effort. Take the Fidget Spinner as an example… why is the only word I have for it!
To apply that to reporting, there is more to be said than ‘we did A and B’ – the deep and more inspiring question is ‘why did we do A or B rather than C?’ Children are great at asking why. But it seems that our natural desire to understand the logic and story behind something is gradually dragged out of us as we get older. But that’s a shame because the why question is powerful and inspiring.
For example I look my friend, Patience Wanzula, Principal of Carlile College in Nairobi, round the National Gallery during her first visit to London. She asked me why there are paintings hanging in a Gallery and ‘why can’t I touch the Caravaggio?’ Those weren’t childish or pointless questions, they were questions from a perspective that had never experienced art in an exhibition and that was trying to understand the purpose behind it before viewing the art of it. Grasping purpose deepens our understanding by placing what we experience within a fuller perspective.
One factor changing adding telos to techne is the millennial generation (or avocados as they now seem to be called). As one partner at KPMG said to me recently: candidates interviewing for training positions are now asking what are you going to do for me far more than what they can do for KPMG!
More than reporting will go beyond telling me what to telling me why – not just what we did, but what is the point of what we did.
Telos is about purpose and action towards goals. Ethos is about the guiding principles, values and beliefs of people or an organisation.
It’s the ethical dimension at the heart of what a firm does that is shown in a myriad of choices. A firm’s ethos is shown in its instinctive response to threat or opportunity. Ethos is about outlook on how the world is and how the firm fits into the world and contributes to the world. Ethos is also a mentality – for example of seeing abundance (glass half full) rather than scarcity (glass half empty). The ethos of a firm frames the choices it makes and the objectives it is preoccupied by.
Jeff Goldblum in the movie Jurassic Park says: ‘your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.’ Ethos is about how a firm answers the should questions.
Soulless firms are preoccupied with asking ‘how can we make money’ while soulful firms ask ‘what should we do with all the opportunities and resources we have and in the process make money?’ Should doesn’t ignore could, but refines it. As a result people work for the firm, supply the firm and buy from the firm with an understanding of purpose they can relate to – the firm’s telos has ethos.
More than reporting clarifies the should as well as the could. What does that mean? It means reporting the ethical commentary on the financial activities. Explaining the values driving choices of which coulds we turned into a shoulds and why. This type of reporting goes beyonf marketing spin, it’s about reporting ‘this is our thing.’ It’s about reporting what is at the heart f the firm – the story which shapes the actions taken day by day.
Charis is a Greek word for grace, favour, kindness. Grace is about unmerited favour that goes beyond duty-bound expectation. Grace is received with a ‘why me’ delight that gives what the person needs but often can’t provide for themselves. Grace therefore is transformative rather than simply transactional.
In the story of Cinderella, her mother on her death bed tells her daughter to have courage and be kind. This is described as ‘a great secret’ that has ‘more power than you can know.’ The Disney version of the story rightly emphasises this message of strength and kindness being held onto in spite of opposition and the moral of the tale is quite clearly that kindness prevails and shines through as Cinderella forgives her step family and lives happily ever after with her prince. What is interesting is how the phrase ‘a Cinderella story’ has come to mean a rags to riches tale rather than the prevailing benefit of good character. Cinderella’s story of character from hardship into happiness has been repurposed in a culture where getting rich is preferred to giving grace. Soul-full firms have a true Cinderella story of keeping to their principles of kindness and enjoying the joy and happiness that brings. Is that just a fairy tale or is ‘doing the right thing even when it’s hard’ a remarkable reality worth reporting?
Looking at the charis of a firm recognises that a corporation isn’t just a faceless limited liability legal entity vehicle for maximising shareholder value. It’s more than that – it’s a cooperative of people. We are made as human beings to depend on other human beings. We are completely dependent at birth and in our early years and mostly become highly dependent on others as we approach death and our twilight years – but for most of our life we think we can be independent. But a corporation is a vehicle for human cooperation and functions well when that cooperation is enabled and encouraged.
So what does that mean in terms of reporting? It means reporting at a level of human relationship – reporting on how as a firm we understand people and how that understanding shapes our products and processes. More than reporting isn’t about PR meaning public relations but PR meaning people relationships.
This topic fascinates me and I’m just beginning a three year research project into what makes companies not just financially profitable but soulful – soulful companies are more than the archetypal cash cow of the Boston Consulting Group’s strategy matrix.
Soulful enterprises share 3 factors: creativity, generosity and humanity
The advantage of these three factors of Soulful Enterprise is that they can all be measured by looking at specific behaviours. And by measuring behaviours and business practices we can report on the telos, ethos and charis of a firm as well as the techne.
And not just report on but celebrate. An annual report that tells me a story of how the world is being changed for good is a more-than document I’d read and be inspired by!