Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Stockholder meetings, annual board meetings and annual meetings best practices 4 – building from a foundation of effective, ethical behavior

Posted in job search and career development by Timothy Platt on March 16, 2012

This is my fourth installment in a series on corporate and organizational meetings that by their very nature serve as more public interfaces too – and windows into the operations and practices of that business (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2, postings 221-223 for parts 1-3.) I began this series by outlining a relatively standard model as to how these meetings are organized and structured and I followed that in Part 2 with a case study negative role model example of how they can become derailed. Through the first two series installments and into Part 3, I have focused on the core principles that a business should seek to represent itself by when facing the public: readily demonstrable transparency, openness and accountability in adhering to good, ethical business practices. One of my goals in my Part 2 case study was to illustrate what can happen when outside shareholders and other stakeholders see these qualities as absent. And in Part 3, I stated that:

• Depiction of positive, reliable business practices can only make sense and appear genuine if their display in public-facing meetings represents the ongoing day to day of how that business has actually been operating all along.

My goal in Part 3 was to make the case that the public face it presents through stockholder and other public facing meetings can only be considered an end point and that presenting these meetings effectively has to begin in the actual day to day practices and decisions and the business culture that that organization operates under, through the year leading up to the annual meeting.

I stated at the end of Part 3 that I would continue that discussion here and I want to begin that with consideration of mission and vision statements. Not every organization formally drafts an explicitly worded mission or vision statement but if asked, most senior executives and owners would be able to state their public facing general principles of operation that would be spelled out in these statements. And even if their statements of principle were loosely formulated and not set in specific phraseology as would be found in formally announced mission and vision statements, their statements essentially always reflect conducting business and participating in marketplaces according to high standards of consistency, accountability and ethics. I have never heard of an organization stating that its mission was to cut corners, cause harm or loss to their customers and to the general public and for it to strive to behave unethically while doing so. Every business sets out with at least a professed goal of offering positive, reliable value and according to positive principles. This posting is about connecting what is done with what is claimed, and that has to begin at the top, with consistent enforcement of standards throughout the table of organization.

• The CEO and their senior executives have to set the example and it has to be a part of operational practice that good business practices – behavior on the job and decisions made and followed through upon reflect well on the business and that they meet its standards.
• This approach should be a part of the performance review process, and from the board’s review of the CEO on down, and in all annual performance reviews.
• This should inform the lists of criteria that quality assurance and due diligence reviewers look to in identifying risk sources and addressing them.

And when a manager or an employee at any level in the organization is found to be violating business standards and good business practices, that has to be addressed. Cutting corners for personal gain, and creating risk to the business or to their clients and customers from doing so cannot be considered acceptable. And I turn back to my case study of Part 2 where that financial organization had and still has very positive and even inspiring mission and vision statements in print and in public view. But the people who ran that organization going into the annual meeting that I outlined, all saw their positions primarily as opportunities for their own personal self-aggrandizement. And the tenor of their approach radiated down the lines of their table of organization and many others cut corners too; it was made clear to them that this is where they would gain the most and that others would carry any penalties if their gambles failed. That, on a larger and industry-wide scale is where our home mortgage crisis and our financial institution meltdowns came from, leading into the Great Recession.

I add here as a final thought that with the advent and proliferation of social media and the interactive online, and with everyone potentially sharing word and insight about everything, if it is done it will get out – and definitely where that means cutting corners or otherwise violating business or interpersonal ethics or good business practices. WikiLeaks and sites like it should not be seen as the exception or as anomalies. They should be expected.

I wrote in Part 2 of how the senior executives of that business manipulated the process for securing bonuses that their own corporate rules said they were not eligible for, and how that got out even though they expected this to remain hidden to the public. If you make decisions like that and take actions like that you have to expect people to find out and lots of people – everyone. So the executives and board members of my Part 2 case study went into their annual meeting with the outcome of it that developed already essentially fated. And their unwillingness to acknowledge their real problems simply added fuel to the fires.

This is a short series in only four parts but I at least seek to present some important points here. I may come back to add more to this at a later date, but I am finishing this for now at this point. In a few days I am going to begin a new series on consulting and the consulting assignment life cycle. You can find this posting and others of this series at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2. I have also posted extensively on jobs and careers-related topics in my first Guide directory page on Job Search and Career Development.

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