ICT Views

Culture, ethics and…. lawn sprinklers?

by: (Associate Director, Research and Development) on

Culture and ethics remain massive topics.


Personal responsibility, accountability, ‘doing the right thing’ – you’ll see us writing about these quite often. They are high-profile issues in the compliance arena and quite rightly so. Regulators are keen to assess culture (see recent FCA culture papers) and the media also takes an active interest. Doing it ‘badly’ can have serious repercussions.


‘Culture’ can be a really difficult thing to quantify though. What does ‘doing the right thing’ mean? In reality, it might mean different things to different people. The old FSA approach when the Treating Customers Fairly initiative was launched was that treating customers fairly doesn’t mean treating everyone the same. Outcomes are a key focus, but these encompass a variety of stakeholders.


The ‘right thing’ is therefore perhaps a flexible or subjective concept. But I’d suggest its outcome is less arguable. I thought I’d share a couple of personal, albeit slightly random, examples that have made me think about this over the last week.


Lawn sprinklers


You may or may not be aware that the UK is basking in something of a heatwave at the moment. I guess it’s all relative, but for us it’s pretty warm! Whenever this happens, the first issue to raise its head is water supply and whether it’s OK to use a hosepipe. After all, plants are suffering, lawns are turning brown…and the English love their gardens.


There isn’t a formal hosepipe ban in place in England as yet, but I’m already accepting my lawn is going to go brown. The sunflowers get a quick water but that’s it. It seems to me this is the ‘right’ thing to do. Water is in short supply, the grass will survive and it’s in the greater good not to waste water. Outcomes and stakeholders considered.


On the other hand, my neighbour this weekend decided to put their lawn sprinkler on for the whole afternoon. Whilst the sun was on the lawn. I’m not by any means a scientist but as far as I can tell that just leads to instant evaporation. Oh, and yesterday they spent two hours jet-washing the drive. Both of which made me do that very British response of grumbling under my breath…


So, in comparing the two approaches, it seems to me that this reinforces the subjective element. Whilst I thought that conserving water was the ‘best’ approach, they clearly thought that they were fine doing what they wanted to do, based on their own perception of what ‘right’ means.



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Another divergence of opinion emerged during the World Cup. ‘Game management’ is a term that has appeared in recent years in football (although it was probably always there). Some teams have different approaches to how they play the game. Elbows fly in unnoticed, or injuries are feigned when there was no contact. This was highlighted in the England vs Colombia game, but also with the antics of Neymar for Brazil.


Does the end justify the means? If you win, have you ‘done the right thing’ by ensuring the result you wanted? Again, this is a floating concept. If you lose, but have conducted yourself in the right way, is that a good result?

An interesting comparison is that of a firm and a regulator. Are you honest and open with a regulator? You should be. But is it the same with a player and a referee? I’m not sure it is. Certainly not where ‘game management’ is concerned.   


Mobile phones


OK, last one: I needed to increase my monthly data allowance so rang my mobile phone provider. They told me I wasn’t allowed to, which seemed weird as I often get emails to the contrary. So I logged in to my customer portal and did it that way.


The funny thing was, not only was I able to change it, but I could get three times as much data per month for slightly less than I was already paying.


Hmm – culture, ethics, doing the right thing: shouldn’t my provider be keeping me informed of the ‘best’ deals for me, as that then enhances my brand loyalty? Has somebody decided that they don’t want customers to know they can get a better deal, and that this decision is therefore the ‘right’ outcome for them?


Summing up


If I’m honest, I haven’t yet made up my mind (but thanks for bearing with me!)


I’m kind of back where I started. ‘Doing the right thing’ is, it seems, a moveable concept which depends on your own perception and the environment in which the decisions you make are made. What’s right for one person isn’t right for another – but the examples I’ve used nevertheless evoked pretty strong opinions from me (hence this piece).


Perhaps within an organisation framing the right thing is easier, because you are then adding in a lens of expectation, which perhaps removes some of that subjective element? I don’t know. Any thoughts welcome under #BigCompConvo.


I need to go though as I think I can hear that sprinkler again…



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