By Lynda Gratton
May 24, 2013

(TheMIX)– What is it that you most want to change about corporations? That’s the question I put to my elective program at London Business School, and here are three deep frustrations that the 50 students shared:

Corporations don’t do as they say. We’ve all had a friend start a new job and report back, “it’s nothing like I thought it would be.” This resonated strongly with my students, who felt that corporations go to great lengths to attract them with strong value propositions; but once they join, these values are nowhere to be seen.

Employees aren’t empowered to change the way things are done. My students felt that corporations don’t give employees at all levels of the firm the ability to challenge the way things are done and propose new ways of working. This stifles innovation at big corporations and contributes to employee turnover.

Leaders aren’t accountable to their teams. While most students had heard of leaders “turning the pyramid upside down,” few of those working in large corporations had experienced this in a practical sense. They felt that traditional management structures still prevail and that leaders are rarely held to account by their employees.

Over the course of a week, and with the help of a series of guest executives, we explored how corporations are beginning to respond to these frustrations. One example students found particularly interesting was Standard Chartered Bank’s commitment to living up to its corporate values. Marianne Mwaniki, head of social and economic impact at the bank, talked through one of their most successful initiatives.

The UK-based multinational bank states its brand promise as being ‘Here for goodsticking by clients and customers through good times and bad, and always trying to do the right thing.’

To really live up to its brand promise, Standard Chartered felt it needed to fully understand the effect of its activities on the countries in which it operates. In 2010, it became the first in its industry to carry out a comprehensive socio-economic impact assessment in Ghana, one of its key markets. The results were astounding: the bank’s direct impact on Ghana’s economy through paying taxes, creating jobs, and buying goods and services contributed around $55 million of additional value. Better still, its indirect and induced impact, mainly through companies and households spending the money it lent them, dwarfed this, amounting to $400 million, or 2.6% of Ghana’s GDP.

These findings helped Standard Chartered understand its influence on Ghana’s economy, and it showed stakeholders that the bank was truly striving to fulfill its brand promise. For my MBA class, the bank’s desire to measure its impact was a great example of how companies can do as they say, building accountability and demonstrating their values in the process.

The message is clear: to attract and retain the next generation of talented individuals, companies must develop effective ways of living their values. This is one of the many challenges the CIPD/MIX “Adaptability Advantage” hackathon is trying to address. The hackathon is now underway, with nearly 1,000 progressive HR practitioners and thinkers from around the world working to make all organizations more adaptable. It’s not too late to join.

Lynda Gratton is professor of management practice at London Business School and the founder of the Hot Spots Movement. 

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