Removing Toxic Cultures

Barclays-LogoIn a widely reported move, Antony Jenkins, newly appointed CEO at Barclays, has announced an intention to change the culture of the bank. Cynics could easily see this as a PR stunt, which it may well turn out to be, particularly as the bank will continue to benefit from the work of the Structured Capital Markets Division (specialising in tax avoidance) for another ten years.

The pronouncement plus associated explanations, however, illustrate the difficulties an organisational leader faces when addressing issues of culture change. As examples, Jenkins firstly acknowledges that culture change is not a quick fix but will take 5-10 years to implement. Secondly, he admits that upwards of 17 business units are involved in activities counter to the new ‘corporate values’ and need to be closed or sold, which won’t happen overnight. Thirdly, he recognises that the heinous thing investment banking and ‘banker bonuses’ have become cannot be totally abandoned.

Included in the scenario is the message that for those who cannot live by the ‘new values’: “ Barclays is not the place for you. The rules have changed. You won’t feel comfortable at Barclays and, to be frank, we won’t feel comfortable with you as colleagues.”

So far so good, and graphic illustrations of how far a CEO has to go to begin to get a culture change. To be effective, however, the bank’s employees need to start seeing the words translated into actions. They will see more clearly than others when people flout the guidelines. And if they are not removed, the process will falter – as it has in so many other organisations before them.

  • How tenacious are you in living your corporate values?
  • What do you do when you see them flouted?

There cannot be one culture at the top and another for the rest of the organisation.


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