Lance, Barclays and You
Lance Armstrong has admitted to Oprah that he took performance enhancing drugs, that he lied under oath and that he was a bully. Yet he stopped short of admitting to cheating. When asked the question he demurred and explained that he’d gone to the dictionary to look up cheating, and found the definition of cheating to be gaining an unfair advantage. As other cyclists could have access to the same Erythropoietin (EPO), Human Growth Hormone, Testosterone and Cortisone drugs as he did, along with blood doping supplies, he wasn’t gaining an unfair advantage. It isn’t perhaps how a child in the playground understands cheating, which has more to do with playing fair and following the rules than careful parsing of language, but it seemed an honestly held belief for Lance Armstrong.
When winning is all that matters, at any cost, it’s easy to justify quite a lot to yourself. It’s not so long ago that we heard the President of the United States defend a position by stating “It depends on what the meaning of the word is is”.
The show aired on the same day as Barclays revealed their new Purpose and Values – respect, integrity, service, excellence and stewardship. These seem like admirable values to live by, ignoring for a moment their unfortunate acronym RISES, which many journalists have latched onto, making the connection in the public mind of bankers and inflated pay. The financial crash followed by the LIBOR scandal brought the public’s perception of Barclays to a new low, yet within the business a large majority of employees were already living by the bank’s original Quaker-inspired values of ‘honesty, integrity and plain dealing’, which don’t seem a whole lot different from the new ones. A few people made bad decisions which fell well outside the value framework, if these actions hadn’t been found out by external people and organisations, they may have been considered good decisions, if winning at all costs is what really mattered.
The Lance Armstrong ‘revelations’ come as no surprise to anyone who has followed the sport. His comeback in 2008 when drug testing had improved and the biological passport allowed far more intense scrutiny of blood doping, seemed a bigger shock. People felt confident he’d be found out, yet he felt confident he wouldn’t.
Producing a new ethics code or values set whether it be for banks, charities, public organisations or sports federations is of little use if the people signing up to it really believe in it, and are willing to live by it each day, challenging others on behaviour that doesn’t meet the standard, without fear of bullying, intimidation or the threat of losing their livelihood.
Barclays boss Antony Jenkins has made clear that the new values mean something, and that people not willing to sign up emotionally as well as contractually should go elsewhere. Cycling has worked hard to clean up its act, and now other sports are committing to greater fairness in competition, tennis, football and golf may follow.
We work with organisations to help them build purpose frameworks that reflect who they really are, creating commitment to real values that are lived by employees every day, rather than being issued in a press release and forgotten about. To find out more contact us.