Being careful what we sign up to.

When we start to make our way in the world, we sign up for something. If it’s our own business, it might be an idea. If it’s an organisation, it might be a set of values. When we start, we convince ourselves that our values and the values of the organisation are compatible. We all need to make a living, and the compromises that we make depend on our circumstances.

The reckoning comes later when the realities bite.

The business that we started with friends, based on friendship, gets entangled with banks and investors. We joined an established company based on its recruitment blurb and the warm induction programme, and then it shows its authentic colours under pressure.

The organisation we joined for the love of the work tests us to the limit when it comes under pressure. We’ve seen a lot of this in the last year and understood just how real what we signed up to is.

Manchester United fans signed up to the club and bought the idea that people with money but no connection to the club would improve it. Years later, a half-billion pound debt and a prospect of better money by abandoning those fans to a better money-making scheme showed where the real goals are.

Those signing up to the values of the corporate world discovered that whilst things were good, they were good but that when circumstances tested those values, it is the shareholders who matter more. The transition from good to horrible can be brutally fast.

Those signing up to work that matters; the NHS, Teaching, Care found themselves under incredible pressure. The difference is that the pressure extended from the top to the bottom. Teachers who spend their own money to support children in difficulty during lockdowns. Healthcare professionals appearing in government briefing rooms found working on the wards on Christmas Day, not for photo opportunities but because it’s what they signed up to do.

As we emerge into whatever is next, perhaps we have learned to pay more attention to the authenticity of goals we are lending our support to. There will be more pressure to come.

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