Nigerian activist Seun Kuti spoke recently about the need for ‘government to serve us’, rather than ‘us to serve government’. His challenge to President Goodluck Jonathan serves as a perfect aphorism for the global landscape surrounding government, as evidenced by the 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer, launched today at the World Economic Forum in Davos. More importantly, it echoes the more fundamental shift of power from governments to citizens; from the centre to the edge; from old hierarchies to new (and vocal) networks; from Parliaments to the streets.
The world has maybe awoken to the power shift, if not yet as comfortable as it might be with its democratic delivery. Calls for regulation and transparency, felt the world over, are really coded pleas for responsibility and accountability. Only a culture deeply – and misguidedly – embedded in compliance, calls for greater regulation; one that sees the future in values-based leadership can more comfortably throw off these shackles. At Davos, attention will no doubt turn once again to the issue of Executive Pay. Simply regulating financial excess is never going to be the answer, which must surely be found, honestly, from within. Leaders must look to themselves to discover a new, citizen-centric, moral framework within which to base their decisions – if they and we are truly to escape the compliance culture that has not served us well.
Meanwhile, the Jan/ Feb issue of the Harvard Business Review splashes a big, smiley face across its cover and boasts about The Value of Happiness. It triumphs employee well-being and ties this, positively, to the profit motive, in warming echoes of Citizen Renaissance from the spring of 2008. It also reflects the Trust Barometer findings – ‘regular employees’ are now equally as credible as NGO spokespeople, who for so long have quenched the thirst for responsibility and social conscience among business and government. We are trusting ourselves, as fellow citizens, to do what is right and to herald future trust. And we can start in the workplace.
This is not the first time that the HBR has picked up on the Citizen Renaissance theme – its earlier call for Shared Values was both a persuasive argument in favour of more balanced and participatory ownership models and business metrics and a clarion call for public engagement (see Blog Posts passim). Indeed, in the twelve years of the Trust Barometer itself, the sentiment has clearly moved from Profit to Profit + Purpose and now to Profit + Purpose + Engagement. For business in particular, leadership and ultimately success can only flow when delivered through this three-dimensional model.
And this, at its heart, is what the transformative agenda of Citizen Renaissance has always been about: the shift of power from government to citizens; the accountability of both government and business to we, the people; the consequent moderation of excess and better behaviours through transparency –accelerated and amplified by the social digital age and by communities thriving in (social) networks; and the increasingly primary role of a reformed business sector in setting the transition agenda. In addition, Citizen Renaissance has always recognised the fundamental role of communications in shaping good – as it rightly drives partnerships with those who can help deliver societal benefit. Here, we see the confluence of policy and communications – both demanding and driving radical change.
Increasingly, we must learn to live in an era of low and conditional trust. This may not be such a bad thing. Trust in an age of radical transparency is harder to earn but more deeply felt. We have no right to expect false dawns of soaring trust levels and should increasingly accept their passing. The optimistic, current trend is towards increased trust both in one another and in social media – the new glue that binds us. Low trust scores for government (and even for business) should drive current leaders to think again about to whom they stand accountable and, more fundamentally, to the values that they must demonstrate to hold the trust of their constituents and customers. Cynicism may be corrosive but scepticism can be energising, provocative and ultimately reforming. In this sense, just as Renaissance is being realised, what we might in fact be seeing are the first, tentative steps towards real world change – corporate, governmental, environmental and systemic – a story surprisingly told through low levels of trust. Reformation and renaissance go hand-in-hand – and otherwise depressingly low trust scores can hopefully accelerate the reformation.