How to avoid 'doing a Barclays'

Three heads have rolled so far, but something is still very rotten in Barclays, says Megan Meredith, consultant at leadership institute Roffey Park. Here's how to stop the rot in your business.

by Megan Meredith
Last Updated: 06 Jul 2012
It’s was always inevitable that, as the Barclays scandal unfolded, calls for the chairman and chief executive to step down were going to be answered. Whilst politicians may pat themselves on the back, we are kidding ourselves if we believe this scandal is down to a small number of wrong-doers; that all will be well again with new leaders at the helm.
 
The underlying issue is that Barclays is an example of a closed culture, struggling to be open to scrutiny and accountability. Corporate governance principles also appear to have been forgotten. Thus problems arise. In cultures or systems like this, individuals have two choices – conform or get out – it’s impossible to do anything else.
 
So how do you lead in culture like this?
 
Much has been written about the financial sector over the last three years – how it’s a sector completely focused on monetary rewards, fuelled by testosterone and reliant on systems that appeal to greed and competitiveness.  Any form of monetary reward is vital for companies, but leaders need to think carefully about what behaviours their reward systems are consciously or unconsciously promoting amongst their employees.
 
Is what’s been revealed at Barclays just the tip of the iceberg?  How can senior leaders enact the type of culture change needed? Here are a few key points to bear in mind:
 
1. Be clear about your organisation’s purpose and values. Make sure that these values go beyond financial/individual gain.  These are more than pithy statements for the noticeboard: your purpose and values need to be lived and breathed from the top down.  At the same time, boundaries need to be set and consequences explained.  All of this needs to be rigidly enforced, one 'blind eye' turned will multiply and your culture will implode. 
 
2. Dysfunctional cultures often have dysfunctional leaders. These leaders will mean well but their emotional intelligence fails them. As Kets de Vries says 'Walking the talk isn’t possible if they don’t see their limp'. Focus on improving emotional intelligence at all levels of your organisation, starting at the top. Bankers, salesmen and brokers are a tough breed so leaders in these industries can't just sit them down in a room, preaching theory. You will have to think creatively of ways to tap into their natural competitive streak to enable them to learn by doing. 

 3. Look at your succession planning and reward system.  Develop, promote and reward those leaders who are role models rather than those who bring in the most money.  Strive for diversity amongst your leaders and employees so challenge and creative conflict are the norm.  See diversity as a competitive advantage as it keeps your organisation open to change.
 
Finding a scapegoat, setting up investigations and public statements of apology and promise are the easy bit.  But the system needs changing. Government regulation may force the sector down the route of change, but only when board leaders tackle the above will reform that’s real and meaningful have a hope of coming about.
 
Megan Meredith is senior consultant at leadership institute Roffey Park.

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