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Return of Service

Who are we meant to trust? “In trust I have found treason,” Elizabeth I is said to have told a parliamentary commission in 1596. No change there, then.

The latest parliamentary lobbying scandal seems to have confirmed that not much has changed in the Palace of Westminster since the MPs’ expenses scandal of 2008 (or since it was occupied by the Tudors, come to that). Elsewhere, banks which were paragons of probity in the Victorian era have turned out to be casinos run by spivs. Major retail chains have been wolves dressed as lambs, serving us horsemeat dressed as beef. Utilities gang up on us in cartels. The press have hacked our phones and broadcast celebrities have grotesquely breached the greatest human trusts of all. And even the Church hasn’t been exempt from that shame.

In the face of this tsunami of sleaze, those whose job it is to present corporations and institutions in the best light have often talked simply about “getting your message across” and the importance of a return to economic growth on the pre-2008 model. These public relations people are like Chekhov heroines longing wistfully for life in old Moscow. You just know it’s never going to happen.

But there is a way. I have two suggestions to make. The first is to recognise that everything in business, everything without exception, is about communication. You don’t talk about “getting your message across” to your family and nor should you in your professional life. Life isn’t just about saying things. And it’s not just about doing things either. But it is about being something. That’s why organisations in this new, straitened economy need to know what their values really are and have them owned by all their stakeholders.

Secondly, we need to re-discover service. We are accustomed to dividing our economy into manufacturing and service industries. But all industry is about service. If we’re a public company, we serve our shareholders. We serve our customers. We serve our employees (too many employers think it’s the other way around). And in doing so, ultimately, we serve the common good.

None of this is so radical. It used to be like this. And if those in the business of communication re-discover some of the values of communication and service we can set about transforming this broken and rather dreary economy into something new, fresh and rather more fun to participate in.

Originally posted on www.farrerkane.com

George Pitcher

George Pitcher

George Pitcher is a writer, independent public ethics consultant and an Anglican priest. He is a journalist by background, having been an award-winning Industrial Editor of The Observer during the years of the Thatcher government’s privatisation programme and a columnist and commentator on a wide range of newspapers and broadcast media.

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