What employers can learn from the Piers Morgan debacle

22 Mar 2021 By Dev Modi

Businesses must be able to take a stand against leaders who don’t live up to their company’s values, says Dev Modi

The footage of presenter Piers Morgan storming off the set of Good Morning Britain, before subsequently parting ways with ITV, over his extreme views about the Duchess of Sussex will now be familiar to most people. For me, this parting of ways was inevitable, given the fact that hosting such a polarising personality seemingly runs against the broadcasting giant’s diversity acceleration plan – brought to the fore last year by the appointment of Ade Rawcliffe to the role of group director of diversity and inclusion.

The problematic clash of core values between employers and leaders is not uncommon in the corporate arena. I’ve witnessed many examples of leaders and brand ambassadors who say and do inappropriate things that fly in the face of their employer’s values, yet they face few or no consequences because they bring in commercial results. This is a serious problem because leaders play a disproportionate role in creating both internal and external culture, meaning they also have an enormous responsibility to role model inclusive behaviours. 

Employers must constantly question the message they promote through the behaviour of their leaders and figureheads, ensuring that their organisational brand is a positive force for societal change. Unfortunately, many businesses don’t ask that question until it’s far too late. 

Inclusive leaders live out the brand

A truly inclusive leader sits at the nexus between the customer brand proposition and the employer brand proposition. They are the conduit between these two essential aspects of an organisation, not only influencing the brand people work for, but also the brand people purchase. A 2018 Brandfog survey found 93 per cent of respondents agreed that when CEOs issue statements about the key social issues of our time and the respondent agrees with the sentiment, they are more likely to make a purchase from that company.

On the other hand, brands can be significantly damaged overnight by poor leadership behaviour. When engineer Susan Fowler blogged about the discrimination she had faced from management at Uber, this led to a huge backlash. At one point it seemed that every month bore yet another PR crisis at Uber, either because of the behaviour of the CEO or other leadership challenges. 

When a brand is under attack it also opens up space for competition. For example, where traditional banks have been embroiled in ethical scandals, it has allowed new players such as Revolut and Starling to gain a foothold.

Here are four steps employers can take to make sure the behaviour of leaders builds up, rather than tears down, their inclusive brand:

Honestly assess how leaders measure up again core company values

Particularly in the corporate arena, political game playing often prevents honest conversations, meaning bad behaviour can go unchecked. Ask yourself:

  • Do you champion inclusion, yet have senior employees who get away with inappropriate behaviour because they bring in commercial results?
  • Do you have talent in your business that are better representatives of your brand values and need to be given a chance to step up?
  • What radical action can you take today to demonstrate your commitment and belief in building an inclusive organisation?

Provide the chance for change

If a leader has the humility to listen to feedback and take part in coaching then take this route first, giving them an opportunity to examine and develop their leadership style.

Make difficult decisions

At a certain point, an organisation must take a stand against unacceptable behaviour. If you need to part company with someone who doesn’t role model core company values you may see a short-term negative impact, but you will see greater benefits in the long term. 

Look harder to hire inclusive talent

Search for people who show long-term commitment to inclusion and who lead with compassion and emotional intelligence. This may mean taking risks and looking far more widely and carefully than you normally would, including across other sectors. Be committed to onboarding to enable the leader to have the best chance of success. 

Ultimately, it is not enough for businesses to be bystanders to damaging leadership behaviour. Employers must actively challenge discrimination because, at the end of the day, a disconnect between an organisation’s values and behaviour of senior leadership can cause irreparable damage both internally and externally.

Dev Modi is a chartered organisational psychologist, partner at Equiida and author of The Inclusive Leader Scorecard

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