Insights at UBC Sauder

UBC Sauder professors offer their predictions for the events to watch in 2018

Posted 2017-12-27

Our previous post explored how Blockchain, Vancouver’s condo prices and the Paradise Papers will shape the business landscape in the next year.

In the second part of this series, UBC Sauder professors predict how uncertainty over a number of major trade deals, online activism and corporate scandals will play out in 2018 and influence corporate decision making.

TPP, Brexit and NAFTA: The inability to strike a deal means an uncertain path

In October, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau returned from a summit in Vietnam without signing off on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The Canadian delegation disagreed on some provisions, and Professor Keith Head believes there’s little wisdom in squabbling over the deal. 

Going in to 2018, Head is skeptical about how negotiations over Brexit and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) will pan out: “My prediction is that negotiations on both these deals will drag out over 2018 with little progress. There are basic contradictions in what the negotiating parties want and what they believe they can achieve.”

Corporate leaders will play a bigger role in cementing trust

Uber to Japanese industrial giant Kobe Steel’s attempt to falsify data on products, the setbacks underscored the importance of regulation and compliance. Trust in organizations is at an all-time low.

According to Professor Daniel Skarlicki, ethical conduct will now be a function of ‘responsible leadership’ rather than government’s carrot-and-stick approach. Going into 2018, he believes organizations will step up and take more responsibility for doing the right thing, and this will also reflect on a company’s senior management mix. “Crossing the line is less likely to be tolerated, especially as an organization’s activities are increasingly under public scrutiny to do the right thing. Organizations will take steps to hire and promote talent that can enhance the firm’s reputation in terms of responsible leadership.” 

#MeToo will spill onto the corporate shop floor

As the #MeToo campaign gains momentum and public scrutiny of the handling of sexual harassment cases increases, Professor Jennifer Berdahl believes that organizations will be tasked with investigating the claims while also trying to save face in the court of public opinion.

“The #MeToo movement may spread from naming individuals to naming organizations, and the liability for harassment will increasingly spread from harassers to the organizations that tolerate and protect them. The growing norm of erring on the side of believing accusers will continue to shift the burden of proof onto the accused, but not without push-back. I believe 2018 will witness a shift toward increased awareness of and lower tolerance for sexual harassment in most organizations.”

Public shaming and the HR mandate

Michael Daniels, assistant professor at UBC Sauder, has been closely following the effect of public shaming on the workplace. Online communities are galvanizing the power of social media to expose people’s transgressions and to pressure their employers to take action. Whether it’s the viral video of a spat between former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and a driver, or a CBS legal executive’s controversial remarks on Facebook regarding the victims of Las Vegas shootings, public shame is prompting corporations to a take a decisive stand on their employees’ fate.

“There will be increased scrutiny of Human Resources departments going forward in 2018. In many of the cases where public shaming resulted in job loss, earlier reports of the same troubling behaviours were reported to HR staff with little or no consequence,” says Daniels. He believes that companies will “re-evaluate their training, employee selection methods and workplace policies to first try and prevent misconduct.” And when problem behaviour is flagged, companies will try to be swift in dealing with the issue before the court of public opinion harms the company’s image.