Combating style over substance

combating style substance

Business has always incorporated a degree of bullshit. The fine art of confusing and confounding the facts into a game, the rules of which no-one quite understands. The toppling of a director through the guile of the rest of the board, the plausible reasons justifying giving contracts to dubiously familiar associates and lies told to one person in order to hide the unfair advantages bestowed on another are all examples of playing the game, accompanied with a hefty dose of BS somewhere down the line.

We are now in an era where these behaviours are increasingly exposed and frowned upon—at least outwardly. Good governance guidelines exist to protect whistle-blowers and guard against corruption and HR policies are there to prevent bullying and promote good relationships. There is more ‘leadership development’ than ever before and people are falling over themselves to be seen to be emotionally intelligent.

Scratch just under the surface however and sometimes the painful parasites of power and opportunism can start to wriggle. Organisational cultures that are more about creating an image of authenticity than about any real change in behaviour. A reliance on the ‘storification’ of media-friendly photo-opportunities, whilst continuing the subterfuge, now coupled with self-aggrandisement through a veneer of constantly-referred-to authenticity. New cliques, sometimes clustered around ‘causes’ and trending issues but, nevertheless, still self-selecting and impenetrable.

In an age where the truth and real authenticity seems to matter less and less, you could say that this is in-line with the general direction of travel. Yet, it is my firm belief that this scenario is unsustainable. Why—because people in organisations, like the rest of society, are becoming much more cynical about the sort of PR that we see some people desperate to access. Good PR needs to be genuine PR that reflects the organisation inside and out. Supporting good causes, whilst laudable, is not a panacea for dealing with inconsistent and sometimes unfair working practices or poor management. Perhaps an organisation can exist, even thrive, on PR alone, but it is not likely to be a happy place to work.

In addition, I’m starting to detect the start of a wave of PR fatigue, especially when this looks ‘staged’ or where there is a suspicious mismatch between the outward face and the internal culture of an organisation.

So, what does this actually mean for organisations? In my view, organisations need to become better at making themselves great places internally as a core element of social responsibility—alongside taking an interest in the wider community. This is about not using photo-opportunities to mask the lack of progress in truly changing organisations to make them progressive and enjoyable places to work. The really successful leaders of today and the future are those who embrace and champion this change.