Tim London: how to avoid becoming the next KPMG

"Up until about two months ago, KPMG was great. But now it's in the news and they're not great. By the time these kinds of things appear in the headlines, there was a whole system of things that had gone wrong," said Dr Timothy London, senior lecturer Allan Gray Centre for Values Based Leadership at GSB - UCT, at the Finance Indaba Africa on 13 October 2017. Tim gave an extremely engaging and entertaining talk on what companies can do to avoid public relations nightmares like the one currently unfolding at KPMG.

Key to keeping your organisation out of the Sunday papers is for the company to have values that it is committed to, not only by way of displaying them on its website but to focus everything it does around those values, he said. Values are important in that they create coherence between a company's structures, culture and people.

"If you have people there who care about the values of the company, structures that encourage people to live those values, and a culture where people can hold each other to account around those values... that's why you have values. Not to look good on your website."

When companies don't have values, or they don't practice the values they espouse to, bad decisions and behaviours start to creep into the organisation and are left unchecked because they are not measured against the company's values. Tim referenced former SABC CEO Jimi Mathew's resignation letter, in which he said he had done things he was not proud of and that he had "compromised the values that I hold dear under the mistaken belief that I could be more effective inside the SABC than outside, passing comment from the side-lines".

This, he said, was a classic example of a situation where an individual's values were firstly not aligned with that of the company and things slowly begin to unravel. "The key thing about this is that these things often don't happen in big giant leaps. They happen little by little over time. In the movies, the dramatic music plays and the character makes a big decision and it's either the right one or the wrong one. That's not how real life works," he said.