Monsters, innocents and measurement
My close friends know of my interest, some say morbid interest, in fraud and the personalities who have been involved.One of my conclusions is that these bad guys know about values and emergent properties. Maybe they understand the topic better than many business leaders. Why do I think that?
Of course I cannot prove it nor do I have the time or energy to do so. But there is a pattern in their behaviour which suggests to me they understand the basic truth that values emerge from the many actions, interactions, conversations and decisions which can be observed. Values are based on real events.
The monster and their immediate cohort can create a fictional value driven approach by acting, and I mean acting in the theatrical sense, in a certain way. And that, I believe, is what many of them have done. By and large their staff love them and even respect them. They appear generous, benevolent, charitable, they create emotional dependencies, and may apparently have some heroic endeavour to talk about. Their pr is always world class. If this behaviour is sustained and consistent it creates sufficient trust which helps disguise what is really going on.
One particular case I studied demonstrated, at least to me, that sufficient trust was built up so that the monsters’ advisers, auditors, and bankers were never tempted to examine all the enterprise’s activities from top to bottom and end to end to see if all the numbers added up.
And what if they did? And they found the numbers did not add up. I speculate. How difficult could it be to get anyone to believe them, especially if there are other vested interests to be protected perhaps even among the bankers and accountants.
I have strayed into the realms of fiction. But there is a serious point. And it’s about measurement and assessment. If values are what we think they are then they can be exploited by the clever criminal mind. If you are going to evaluate corporate risk by examining behaviours and culture, be aware. And. Keep looking at the numbers.
While we are on the topic of measurement, let me share my view of the innocent. I still carry that image of bankers stumbling onto Wall Street, their faces unforgettable – anger and bewilderment – clutching their cardboard boxes containing what I assume were their personal effects and office memorabilia. I do not believe they were monsters. They did not have criminal minds. I am sure that if you asked their friends and family about what they stood for you would not find they lacked in personal values.
So what happened? How did they contribute to the collapse of the organisation they worked for?
Well it has to be the culture, which progressive organisations and their advisers are pursuing - the ‘risk culture’, driven by behaviour, interaction, communication, decisions and possibly defining moments. Most individuals have the opportunity to cheat. What if they are struggling under some pressure? Financial pressure. A performance issue. We can think of all the pressure points we have experienced. Can the individual rationalise things in some way –‘everybody is doing it, it’s the way things work around here, it’s what happens’. All are comments about their observations related to values and the system in which they operate.
Values are an example of the emergent, self organising properties of complex, diverse, dynamic systems which are observed by human brains. As such, monsters can exploit them innocents can fall victim to them. And my question – how do you bring measurement and assessment to the party?
Read our previous blog posts about values:
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