Modern-day alchemy: Turning bankers into humans

'OMG!' tweeted Bob Diamond's daughter Nell following the Barclays news storm. OMG indeed, says Campbell MacPherson, MD of the eponymous leadership consultancy.

by Campbell MacPherson
Last Updated: 25 Jul 2012
When banks implode, boy do they do it with a bang. Just when the dust might have been about to settle on the financial crisis and ensuing bonus brouhaha, another debacle comes along that's even worse than the last.

Now we discover that a sounder of banking swine has been colluding to fix the Libor rate in a manner so brazen that it would make an OPEC member blush - with Barclays, one of the UK’s oldest and, until recently, most revered banks not only leading the charge but also found guilty of mis-selling complex, expensive and unnecessary investment products to their small business customers.

And that is on top of Barclays caught trying to avoid a whopping £500m in tax just four months ago.

The banking sector and Barclays in particular has shown the world a corporate culture where personal greed is paramount and the needs of customers, shareholders and society are mere after-thoughts. Mervyn King has described this culture as 'deceitful', Alastair Darling has said it 'encouraged abuse' and David Cameron has called for a complete overhaul in the cultures of our banks.

But calling for culture change and seeing it implemented are two completely different things. So just in case the chairmen of Barclays, Lloyds, RBS, HSBC, and their ilk are wondering how on earth to do this, I have put together a simple little checklist for them. Let’s call it: The Banker’s Guide to Culture Change.

Step 1. Admit you have a problem. Look yourself in the mirror and say, 'Hello. My name is Marcus Agius, and my bank has a rotten culture that is destroying shareholder value and trust.'  Now open your eyes and say it again. Now say it to your wife. Now say it to your fellow board members. Well done. You have now taken the first step on the long road to recovery.

Step 2. Understand that corporate cultures are wholly and solely a by-product of the company’s leaders. Leadership is the number one driver of employee behaviour. An organisation’s culture, the way its people behave, is a direct reflection of the behaviour of its leaders.

Step 3. Understand that the secret to creating a powerful corporate culture is to start and end with the customer. Genuine customer-centricity is incredibly hard to find in financial services; too many companies pay lip service to the concept. The global financial crisis is testament to that.

Steps 4-10. Do something about it. Hire leaders whose behaviour sets the standard for others to follow, whose primary drivers are not ego or greed, who care about the company’s employees, and who know what it is like - or at the very least care what it is like - to be a customer of their organisation.

'Culture is how people behave when no-one is watching.' I think this is the best definition I have ever heard. How ironic that the person who said it was Bob Diamond...
Campbell Macphersonl is MD of Campbell Macpherson & Associates

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