Three insights from the World Economic Forum

Guest blog by Michael Ambjorn – following the annual Davos circus from afar, a few quick take-aways:

Don’t miss the elephant(s) in the room

Hannibal famously crossed the Alps with elephants. I’m fairly sure that he didn’t go through Davos. Yet, that’s not to say that the assembled leaders didn’t miss a few elephants nevertheless.

Well, apart from maybe this one panel – which is worth watching till the end. It makes for uncomfortable viewing. A difficult, complex debate. I’d like to see more of this from Davos.

Linked to that is a broader set of issues – including corruption – which could have gotten more attention in the main panels. Here’s Professor Mark Pieth, founder of the Basel Institute on Governance with a timely reminder that these issues haven’t gone away. 

The World Economic Forum launched the Partnering Against Corruption Initiative with fanfare 15 years ago. Now’s not the time to take the eye off the ball. And that links to … 


The World Economic Forum’s own Future of Jobs report of course came up again – 2018 predictions, but as they are future-oriented, they’re worth revisiting – where’s your role?2018 WEF Future of Jobs Report - Table 3 - Examples of roles

Maybe not as stable as it seems?

And here’s my take – starting right at the top: it presents CEO / Managing Director jobs as being stable. I disagree. Data from other research [NYT / WSJ reports] does not bear that out – tenures are shortening. There’s turmoil at the top.

Why is this? Restive shareholders and impatient boards. But what lies beneath those symptoms? PwC presented their 22nd annual CEO study which could offer a clue: the CEOs say they’re not getting the data they need. And that in turn means boards are not getting the data to adequately oversee the going concern. And investors feel that forecasts are built on weak foundations.

2019 PwC CEO Survey - Exhibit 12

How to deal with the elephant(s)

Encouragingly, both of the above reports suggest that retraining staff can help address these challenges. I completely agree that more training is needed as jobs change. The strange omission from both reports is a focus on the training needed for the very top: CEOs, their direct reports – and the boards that oversee them.

The fish rots from the head, as the saying goes – and organisations would do well to start here – with a focus on what holds it all together: a solid understanding of purpose, ethics, values – and the culture that ties it all together. It’ll help them deal with inevitable quandaries in a way the organisation can be proud of. This does mean opening up discussions around integrity, values and norms – and ultimately the organisational culture as a whole. It is not easy, but working with an experienced partner, it can be done.

The elephant beyond the boardroom

Oh and that bit about customers and clients preferences and needs (the biggest gap above). Get out more… Talk to real people. Visit your developers, your factories and your shops. The Japanese call it Gemba. You might know its cousin, management-by-walking-around. Either way, it is as old as time itself: trust is built when you dispense with the symbols of power and hierarchy, show an interest – and really listen. That said, when you do, be sure that you’ve worked out what your organisation stands for first.

Good luck.


Michael Ambjorn advises boards, facilitates strategy and develops changemakers.  You can follow him @michaelambjorn.

Culture and Conduct: The many reasons why things go wrong and what can you do about it

Chartered Banker logoWebcast | Monday 25th February | 1pm (GMT)
Presenters: Ruth Steinholtz and Shona Matthews

For most of us, compliance might seem something that happens to us, only about interpretations of what legislation and regulation requires of us; necessary but boring – a nuisance even. But what if doing the right thing was actually good for business? What if we looked beyond the processes to the basis of ethical behaviour? Wouldn’t we care a little more about “compliance” if we thought about the outcome and not just the process?

Register to book your place today – limited space

Is it time to replace the Financial Reporting Council?

We welcomed the New Board Effectiveness Guidance from the Financial Reporting Council that came out last year. And we’re reading the Independent review of the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) with interest.

Download and read the 95 page report.

It contains far reaching recommendations, saying it is time to replace the FRC with a new body, called the Audit, Reporting and Governance Authority. The Review is well balanced; acknowledging that the FRC was “built on weak foundations”, “patched and mended by its inhabitants” but stating it is “time to build a new house”. The new Authority must have a “clear and precise sense of purpose and mission.”

We’ll keep a close eye on this – and welcome the focus on clarity of purpose and mission – and would like to propose that any new body is also built on a solid set of values.

Ethics Dates for your 2019 Wall Calendar & Desk Diary

Some of the events related to #EthicalBusinessPractice and #EthicalBusinessRegulation coming up in 2019 – any missing? Let us know… add #EthicsDates to your tweet.

7th Annual European Compliance & Ethics Institute

Berlin, Germany | 10-13 March, 2019 | @SCCE | Learn more

Ethics by Design Conference 2019

NYC, NYC | March 15 | @NYUStern & @EthicalSystems | Learn more…

7th Responsible Business Summit

NYC, NYC | March 18-19 | #RBSNY | Learn more…

Conscious Capitalism – Annual Conference

Phoenix, AZ | April 23 – April 25 | @ConsciousCap | Learn more…


October 16, 2019 | @carnegiecouncilLearn more…

Conscious Capitalism – CEO Summit

Lost Pines, TX | October 15-17 | @ConsciousCap | Learn more…

Sustainability Reporting and Communications Summit

Amsterdam, Netherlands | 16-17 October, 2019 | Learn more…

The top ethical business practice posts of 2018

In 2018 readers from 55 countries stopped by to learn more about Ethical Business Practice – and Ethical Business Regulation. Thank you.

As we wrap up a year with eight conferences, several consultations and two major reports — it turns out we also did 25 posts here on this blog.

Here’s a quick roundup of the top reads – you could call it an end-of-year tweak to our usual what we’re reading feature:

And there’s always more – just have a look at #EthicalBusinessPractice, #EthicalBusinessRegulation and #AlphabetOfEthics.

Thanks for all you have done to advance ethics in 2018.

Here’s to 2019!

What is Ethical Business Practice and Regulation? A primer…

Excerpt from Ethical Business Practice & Regulation – by Christopher Hodges, Ruth Steinholtz

This book explains why any organisation of human beings is more likely to succeed in its objectives if all the people involved aim to, and do, behave ethically. There is a considerable amount of solid scientific evidence that supports the idea that joint human endeavours will flourish when people do so. It is now accepted in business management that companies perform best if they have clear ethical values and behave in accordance with those values, involving all stakeholders.

We apply these lessons to the regulatory relationship between public authorities and businesses. We propose a model of an ideal regulatory relationship between authorities and businesses: Ethical Business Regulation (EBR). Adopting EBR will maximise good outputs for both business and regulators, and their respective stakeholders—society, staff, customers, suppliers and investors. To achieve EBR, both regulators and businesses need to adopt ethical practice. On the business side, we call this Ethical Business Practice (EBP).

The Essence of Ethical Business Practice

An organisation in which the leaders consciously and consistently strive to create an effective ethical culture where employees do the right thing, based upon ethical values and supported by cultural norms and formal institutions. EBP requires people who can recognise ethical dilemmas, challenge constructively, speak up if they know or suspect unethical behaviour, and who use mistakes and wrongdoing as an opportunity to learn and improve. Engagement with EBR then requires the organisation to be open with its regulators and provide evidence of EBP.

Ethical Business Regulation

A relationship between a business, or a group of businesses, and a regulator, or group of regulators, in which the business produces evidence of its ongoing commitment to EBP and the regulator recognises and encourages that commitment.

Read more in:

Ethical Business Practice and Regulation

A Behavioural and Values-Based Approach to Compliance and Enforcement

Book cover: Ethical Business Practice and Regulation A Behavioural and Values-Based Approach to Compliance and Enforcement

Available from Waterstones, Foyles, Amazon – as well as your local bookseller.

Participate: #EthicalBusinessPractice & #EthicalBusinessRegulation

You can also download this excerpt as a one-page-primer PDF. In case you want to stick it on your notice board, add it to a board pack or bring it along to a meeting. 

Video killed the radio star – but can it help you think about ethics?

I recently had the opportunity to participate in a viewing of ICAEW’s new short film. It is called Without Question and sets out to:

provide an impactful and interesting way to highlight the challenges of directors and professional advisors seeking assurance on difficult issues… 

It does what it says on the tin. If you’re on a board – or advising one – the challenges that it deals with, will be familiar:

  • conflicts within a family-owned company;
  • the difficult transition to become a listed entity;
  • the struggle of founding shareholders with the loss of control; and
  • the struggle of new independent directors in spotting and raising difficult issues and good governance.

What I particularly like is the focus on helping directors (anyone really, including ethics ambassadors and general managers) discuss challenges (rather than just talking-at them; adopting ‘best practice’ which might not best practical as such). It follows an overall welcome trend, also advocated by the FRC:

Good governance is about asking the right questions  

It was no accident that the first ethics policy I was responsible for, was called, “It is a Question of Ethics” and featured a large ? on the front cover, made up of people.

Also, like the videos that came out of the work I did with the UNODC, this one can also be used by students. That’s important, because it is not enough to address these issues with those already in the boardroom. We need to think about the next generation too.

Or put differently, video might have killed the radio star. But it need not cause havoc in your boardroom. On the contrary – it can help you look at the difficult questions.

You can help spread the word about this important initiative:

The 2018 Ethical Leadership Summit



  • Are we in an ethical crisis today?

  • Does ethical behaviour reduce competitiveness?

  • What are the ethical implications of AI for HR?

These and other pertinent questions will be explored at the Ethical Leadership Summit 2018.

Whether you work in the private, public or third sector, if you would like to gain a deeper insight into ethical behaviour in the workplace, this summit is for you. This event promises to give you powerful insights in tackling some of the biggest ethical dilemmas in business, politics and society today.

Simons Muirhead & BurtonDATE:

Tuesday 27 November 2018


9am – 5pm


Simons Muirhead & Burton LLP,
87-91 Newman Street,
London W1T 3EY


H.E. Ebrahim Rasool

Former South African Ambassador to the USA & close companion of the late Nelson Mandela

Laurence Cockcroft

Co-founder of Transparency International & noted researcher on global corruption

Keith Grint

Professor of Public Leadership at Warwick Business School and lecturer on Wicked Problems and Ethical Dilemmas.

Julia Wellbelove

Senior Consultant at Roffey Park and researcher for the Management Agenda including understanding the impact of AI on HR

Andy Pellant

Corporate Leadership coach for leading global brands including a major global automotive. Chairman of Murabbi Consulting

Andrea Moffat

Associate Trainer and Assessor for CIPD. Specialist in Leadership, HR & Diversity

Charlotte Sewell

Head of Social Impact and Learning and Development at COOK

Ruth Steinholtz

Author, speaker, consultant/coach and founder of AretéWork LLP. She pioneered staff led efforts to build values-based ethical cultures.

Neil Jameson

Founder of Citizens UK, the influential and ethical NGO behind the Living Wage Campaign.

Tamara Ludlow

Partner at Axis HR Consulting. Specialises in UK employment law, equality and diversity matters

Adrian Lock

Senior Consultant and Programme Director for Strategic Leadership at Roffey Park Institute, writer and blogger on leadership, ethics and diversity issues.

Junaid Ahmed

Director for Strategy and Organisational Development, and co-founder, Murabbi Consulting

Makbool Javaid

CEO of Frith Street Consulting & Partner at Simons Muirhead & Burton, Heading the Employment Law team.

Nabeel Al-Azami

Managing Partner, Murabbi Consulting; trainer on ethical leadership and values-based HR; founder of the Ethical Leadership Summit

Read more (and get your seat)…

The ABC of Anti-Bribery & Corruption

This 15 – 16 November 2018 I’m participating in the 7th Annual Anti-Bribery & Corruption Forum in London.

There will be essential updates from the G20, European Public Prosecutor’s OfficeInternational Anti-Corruption Coordination Centre, Interpol, Transparency International and many more.

And I look forward to joining Gaon Hart and Sterl Greenhalgh for a breakout session on increasing the effectiveness of Anti-Corruption and Corruption (ABC) training.

Breakout session: Increasing the effectiveness of your ABC training & education – evolving best practice Gaon Hart, Global Anti-Bribery & Corruption Policy & Education Lead, HSBC Group & previously Senior Crown Advocate, UK Crown Prosecution Service Ruth Steinholtz, General Counsel, Ethics & Culture, AretéWork Sterl Greenhalgh, Training Consultant & formerly Partner and Head of Anti-Corruption, Forensic & Investigation Services, Grant Thornton
Full programme:

You can follow along using the hashtag #EthicalBusinessPractice.