Do we Need a Better
Business Act?


Author: Mark Savinson

In a recent article in the FT, Mary Portas wrote in support of a Better Business Act, highlighting the impact of P&O’s decision to fire 800 of its employees and stating financial survival as the reason.


The question I ask myself is, 'Will legislation deliver change, or do we as business leaders have to look at our company cultures and the behaviours they drive within our entire workforce?

As the article highlights, directors have a fiduciary responsibility to stakeholders, or in simple English - a responsibility to ensure the financial stability of the organisation. On the face of it, this seems a very narrow framework of responsibility and a Bill that widens Director responsibility to include environmental issues, diversity, equality and inclusivity can only help. But is there a danger that rather than changing behaviours, we introduce a series of check boxes that people find ways to tick, without necessarily changing their attitudes? Take environmental credit trading and carbon offset as examples - do they make us greener or do they allow environmentally dangerous businesses to greenwash?

What Mary Portas and others are asking for is a fundamental shift in how we look at success in organisations: 'We need to create a decision-making culture that balances the needs of society, our planet and our wellbeing with those of commerce.' This requires a major shift, a behavioural change, and as such we need to treat it as a change programme. As with any change, having clarity as to what is expected is important, but we need to get people to buy into this.

We need to operationalise the behavioural change. We need to ensure that people not only know what is expected of them, but also know how to do it, and actually do it. It shouldn't be such a great leap - we are all stakeholders in our own lives and we know that, unless we are treated well, mindful and generally content, no amount of money or success stops us feeling unfulfilled. The old adage of, 'Do unto others as you would have done to yourself' certainly rings true here.

So, let’s go beyond the call for regulation, and actually build business cultures that have people at the centre, rather than financial KPIs. If we focus on our colleagues (a diverse group built on a wide mix of views and attitudes), embrace the differences for the value they generate and truly see each other as equals, then we can deliver on Mary Portas’ desire for “Better Businesses”.

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