Self-realization can be a difficult and sobering journey. After decades in the consulting world, having helped hundreds of companies improve, and make changes for the better, I have come to realize that Corporate Accountability is simply a fallacy. Hundreds of thousands of us are to blame for decades of Corporate Accountability failures. We all have the best intentions, so how did we get here?
40 years ago, almost no attention was paid to Corporate Accountability. I define Corporate Accountability as obeying the law, protecting employees, suppliers, and customers, protecting our communities & our environment, resolving social issues caused or embedded in the company, and maintaining appropriate governance and ethics. Early in my career, I learned very quickly that companies have one purpose, to maximize the amount of money paid to its shareholders. This single purpose resulted in the use of a simple but devious decision-making formula. Which is cheaper, comply and obey the law, or break the law, get caught, and pay the penalty? Executives are rarely sent to jail or held liable for the decisions and actions of their corporation. Executives simply made decisions with impunity, regardless of the cost on humanity, our communities, our economy, and our planet.
Things have changed, right? It is a brave new world. Global Corporations have learned the lessons of the past. Executives and Global Corporations have magically changed and now fully understand and are committed to effective Corporate Accountability. Global companies now issue positive annual ESG reports, promote their ESG commitments in commercials, spend billions with PR firms, marketing, and make big capital investments.
Or is it all smoke and mirrors? If we look deeper, through the deceit, beyond the speeches, commercials, marketing, and PR. What is really changed? Have Global Corporations spent billions to change the public narrative, to present themselves as a friend, an ally of the people regarding Corporate Accountability? Have Global Corporations led us to blame our governments for all the problems caused by corporate greed?
These are all tough questions to ask ourselves. We cannot ignore the lessons our society has learned from the past regarding Corporate Accountability. Global Corporations are always looking at decisions through the lens of “what is cheaper.” Global Corporations are not concerned about the feelings of others or obeying the law or social norms that get in the way, and they are incapable of experiencing guilt or compassion.
Recently, I had the chance to sit down with a close friend and mentor. He is an Executive Vice President and 30-year veteran of the Oil & Gas industry. Due to the nature of the topics, we discussed, let us call him Dan to keep his identity confidential. Dan had been diagnosed with cancer three years ago and fortunately after a lengthy battle, he is healing and in remission.
During our discussion, Dan opened up about some of his personal challenges with Corporate Accountability at his company. Over the past 10 years, Dan explained that all his peers privately were committed to “doing the right thing”, but when they would get together in meetings to make decisions that had a significant Corporate Accountability impact, they would always choose the decision that took the biggest risk and would result in the highest profit. Those that spoke up, were always thanked for their input but the decision would stand. Dan had spent years being one of a select few with the courage to challenge executive leadership’s decisions. After doing all that he could to make a difference, Dan decided to resign.
I realized at that moment that there are so many of us that have been in Dan’s shoes. We have the courage to fight the fake culture. A fake culture that says the company values people, society, and our planet, but behind closed doors, money and greed always wins.
For real change to occur in corporations, we each need to take responsibility for Corporate Accountability. Corporations are run by us; we make the decisions, we are accountable. It is time for us to take back accountability and for government to enact tougher individual criminal penalties to enforce Corporate Accountability. Decisions we make have consequences. Protecting society, people, our communities, and our planet should be non-negotiable.