Editorial: It's hair shirts all round

A year ago, the last place Richard Atkinson thought he would wind up was on the cover of MT.

by Matthew Gwyther, MT editor
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

Now he's there for all the wrong reasons. The former business development manager for a West Country marketing consultancy lost his job in January when the business went under. He's broke, signed-on, struggling to pay maintenance for his 11-year-old son and living in a Bristol shoebox on his credit cards plus Jobseeker's Allowance. We bumped into him at his local job centre.

Atkinson is quite typical of the face of UK unemployment in 2009, poor bloke. Professional services have been hit very hard by the recession and aren't showing much sign of recovery yet. If you want to help him out with work offers, you can e-mail me at matthew.gwyther@haymarket.com.

I would imagine Atkinson's faith in the world has been sorely tested by his experiences. Trust is in short supply in Britain at the moment. Business is held in low esteem, while politicians are now grouped together with granny-bashers and axe murderers. With the Institute of Leadership and Management, we are about to embark on a major survey called 'Where has all the trust gone?' We want to know what you think about your line manager, your company and your CEO, and whether you believe your competitors operate in an ethics-free zone. You can take part at www.managementtoday.co.uk/trustsurvey. You stand to win a bottle of champagne in our prize draw for taking the trouble to participate.

One of the possible causes of a loss of trust is an incentive system - in both the private and public sectors - that is over-focused on targets or goals. The calamity that the bonus-chasing mania of investment bankers has brought on has parallels with the havoc caused to the 1930s Soviet economy by five-year plans. Both involved duplicity, whether it concerned tractor numbers coming off the Chelyabinsk production line or the true worth of a bundle of toxic Nevadan subprime mortgages. How to motivate people efficiently, honestly and in a low-risk fashion is a real problem.

How should targets be set and what should the penalties be for missing them? The current ugly mood of recrimination is going for clawback, litigation and mass distribution of hair shirts. In a thoughtful piece, Philip Delves Broughton suggests that organisations require a healthy diet of consistent excellence that looks to the needs of customers, rather than the sugar-high of quick wins. Fewer hyperglycemic episodes all round.

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