My Fair Lady and Grayson Perry

show meWith a title like that then I probably have some explaining to do.  Like most thoughts in life, it began with a stream of consciousness, where one thought triggers off another and leads to a kind of unfolding…

It all began on Friday with a conversation with a colleague about writing a Corporate Responsibility Policy and the general opinion that this task should probably fall to me.  I said no, not because I am work-shy or I don’t want to do it but because I don’t actually think that we should have one, although not necessarily for the reasons you might think.

Looking around, I scoured the web for CSR policies.  The great and the good, the small and local, giant and global, I have now read lots of them.  Many of them are much the same and most express similar aspirations – let’s be honest, the core values that people generally want to be seen to espouse are very similar.  We all want to be seen to be the kind of people and organisations that will be admired by most people.  All the examples were great in their own way, but I was just left feeling – unsure. Those of you who know me well will know of my liking for musical theatre (and my devastation that I am still unjustly undiscovered) and I was thinking of a song from My Fair Lady – “Words! Words! Words! I’m so sick of words! I get words all day through; first from him, now from you!  Is that all you blighters can do?  Don’t talk of stars burning above; if you’re in love, show me!”  It’s from a song called ‘Show Me’ and it started me thinking.

The professional mystification of language in the middle ages was the preserve of priests and their Latin texts.  More lately lawyers, doctors, academics, economists and entrepreneurs of all types have all played the myth-making game in order to preserve their positions and their jobs.  It is easy really – construct a system and then articulate it in a language that takes years of practice to understand and you have a job for life – particularly if you can manage to convince other people that they will be seriously at risk if they don’t access your specialist knowledge and services.

I think it would be a shame if anyone’s version of ‘doing good’ in this world was wrapped up in this same kind of really complicated language.

Grayson Perry this week gave the Reith Lectures.  He offered the absolutely shocking proposition that sometimes the art establishment and art critics and writers spoke gobbledegook to a slightly stuck up in-crowd and that excluded the rest of us.  #whowouldhavethought

It would be shame if whatever ‘doing good’ you are attempting became the victim of this.

It would be shame if, in the writing of lots of PR-spun policies and reports, the general public became cynical (imagine that!) and suspected that all your organisation was really into was maximising profits and using smoke and mirrors to make that look more acceptable.

So the pointers I’ve taken from My Fair Lady and Grayson (the irony of the juxtaposition of those two is not lost on me) mean that I don’t think we are going to have a CSR policy yet; not because I can’t be bothered writing one but because I’m still looking for a great way of writing one, a way that really works for writer and reader alike.

I’m inspired by the words from Midsummer Nights Dream ‘our true intent is all for your delight’.  I know, I know…it’s been used in other contexts (!) but I really think people can tell if you are genuine in your desire to ‘do good’ for the planet and its people or if your only real intent is profit.  And if your true intent is only to do ‘business as usual’ without regard for impact or consequence then no amount of reports or policies will fool people.

So I am not going to write a document to state simply what we believe, what our values are, what we are going to do and what we did.  People will find other ways to judge our true intent and I can get on with making it happen and listen to musicals rather than writing policies.


About Sarah Dunwell

Sarah Dunwell is executive director of Arena Partners and has twenty years experience in the corporate and business sector. After a number of senior roles in customer service and retail management, Sarah led her own successful catering business and is experienced in business turn around and SME growth. Sarah has a particular interest in the role of robust business planning and development in the not-for-profit sector. Her passion lies in seeing social businesses grow successfully and sustainably through creating mature businesses that deliver strong social agendas.
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