CS Lewis quipped that ‘Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no-one is watching’. In business we rarely have the luxury of performing any action in a vacuum. Someone is always watching. With this in mind, is it possible to make an ethical stand and, perhaps even, enhance your business?
I have chosen to work in the field of childcare. Specifically delivering fostering services through the independent sector. I would not be content to contribute to an industry where there was no chance of improvement. I believe my strengths lie in identifying weaknesses in systems and in providing solutions to identified problems. I am very opinionated and by inclination I struggle with compromise.
I want you to imagine that you own a pub. It is your right as a publican to choose to serve who you wish, as long as you don’t discriminate on the basis of race, gender, religion, etc. Imagine that you have three lads who come in on a Saturday afternoon, spouting racist opinions, swearing liberally and generally being offensive. As the publican: you can try to modify their behaviour, by making it clear that that sort of behaviour is unacceptable; you can ignore them (and the complaints of other patrons); or you can refuse to serve them. By refusing to serve them, you are sacrificing the opportunity to sell the 6 or 9 pints they would normally consume. By ignoring them you run the risk of losing the trade of customers who are offended by their behaviour. And challenging their behaviour may be difficult (is certainly un-English) and may not work. Ultimately, you make the decision based on a number of factors. What is good for business, what you find acceptable (or not) and which fights you wish to expose yourself to.
Now, translate this scenario into the arena within which I work on a daily basis (and have lived a life alongside): that of fostering. I have recently run a survey with all of our foster parents, to try to discover how accurate or inaccurate referrals information is. I had a hunch that I knew the answer, but was still somewhat surprised by the extreme response. It is quite clear that referral information is generally inaccurate, and sometimes startlingly so. We had examples of the gender of the child being incorrect, age or date of birth has been inaccurate, religion or ethnicity may be wrong. Most of the time, foster parents take these errors in their stride and understand them to be the result of an overworked Local Authority staff. Sometimes, however, the omission of certain critical elements of information has a more sinister edge to it. We have discovered after placing children that, for example, a violent episode is missing from a child’s history (for fear that no-one would look after a child with that on their record), or we might be working with a very risk averse Local Authority who give you every incident in a child’s life that could be spun to appear risky. Where, placing a 15 year old, we might have reference to a game of ‘doctors and nurses’ in pre-school described as ‘predilection to sexualised behaviour’.
We recently looked after a severely disabled child from a London Borough, where at least one piece of key medical information was left out of a referral. This omission had a material effect on the ability of the foster parent to look after that child, and put the child at very real risk of harm. This ultimately resulted in the foster parent giving notice on the child but also giving up a career in fostering. My conclusion is that the decision to omit information damaged that child (the child has now experienced an additional and unnecessary move in their already significantly troubled life). When, last week, that same London Borough referred another child for us to consider. We were, naturally, wary.
We have a number of options at our disposal:
- Now, we could write off a Local Authority by refusing to work with an organisation who by action or inaction knowingly damages children. Losing a client.
- We could, turning a blind eye to damaging practice, ignore our instincts and continue working with the LA. I know many individuals in several organisations who haven’t the moral fortitude to stand up to a Local Authority or Consortium or a regulator.
- Or we could challenge the Local Authority directly to examine their practice, see if involved professionals are capable and motivated to work in the best interests of children and if we receive no satisfaction then progress the concern all the way up the ladder to the regulator.
My inclination is to go with the last option. For a number of sound reasons. It would be bad business to continue entering into damaging relationships where children are let down through placement breakdown (we are all measured on our success and failure). We cannot afford to recruit and train foster parents at considerable expense, only to lose them through bad experiences. Most importantly, once we choose to work in an industry (be it hospitality, manufacturing or child-care) we should commit ourselves to that work, and above all have a set of principles that may change over time based on experience and the acquisition of knowledge but will not be compromised.
In terms of strategic business success in the fostering arena, it makes sense that we need to make a stand on a point of principle. It clearly states our position that, in my case, ‘I will not support behaviour that will damage children’. This, not only, is a position that cannot be challenged; sadly, it is a differentiator: Our customers, hopefully, will respect our position and be more inclined to work with us and less likely to behave in ways that are unhelpful to the children we care for -- which promotes a cycle of success for our organisation, for our families and most importantly for our children.
In answer to the question posed in the title of this blog: Clearly it is not ok to compromise your deeply held beliefs, neither is it necessary. This is one area that you can have your cake and eat it: Stand up for your beliefs and that will benefit your business.
Image credit: Raumrot.
Last modified on Saturday, 27 December 2014 10:57