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October 2011

27 October 201125 years of Big Bang

Martin Ledigo

by Martin Ledigo

Big Bang – the deregulation of the City of London – took place 25 years ago today and there has been a transformation and revolution in the whole financial industry. I am sure much good has come from it for London and the UK and in terms of support for business. However, in life for every benefit there is a cost and clearly Big Bang started us on the road to the Credit Crunch and the problems in the Eurozone that dominate the news today. I am no expert on the financial markets but it is interesting to look at the cultural impacts of the change that, if they were recognised at the time, don't seem to have been addressed. When I started in business the City had two major players in the Stock Market – the jobbers who were the market makers and the brokers who were the intermediaries between client and jobber, advising clients on investments and then buying them from the jobbers. Most of these organisations were partnerships with unlimited liability. Today these functions are both carried out by global investment banks.

 

To me the pre Big Bank approach provided a good balance in the market. First, no conflicts of interest (as seemed to be the case when a leading investment bank was recently prosecuted for advising their clients to buy the dodgy investments that they were selling). Second, there is less sense of personal responsibility today. Back in the early 80s the jobbers were putting their own personal capital on the line – with the corollary being that they could lose everything. You would expect that would result in less speculation and more sensible behaviour. Today, traders use their banks' capital and if they lose a lot of money it seems the worst that happens is they get sacked and then go and find a job somewhere else.

 

Bankers will say there are numerous benefits to deregulation around availability and cost of capital, market efficiency etc but I don't think the industry (or the regulations) has really dealt with this issue of responsibility and accountability. I don't underestimate the scale of industry and indeed societal change that is needed but until we start on that road I think we will continue to live the unintended consequences of Big Bang with Governments and regulators playing catch up and forever closing stable doors a little too late.

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Categories: behaviourpersonal responsibilitycompliance

25 October 2011The 3 line whip

Martin Ledigo

by Martin Ledigo

"Belief not compliance" is a phrase we use frequently in our business. In short people will do wonderful things in an organisation if they doing it because they believe in it rather than being told to do it or even paid to do it. Working through belief creates authenticity which many organisations say they want to create. Sadly all too often the approach taken is one of complying with a set of rules. Who hasn't been on the phone to a call centre and had to bear the standard scripts the agents are required to say rather than allowing them and trusting them to say the right things?

I have been reflecting today on David Cameron's decision to impose a 3 line whip in the House of Commons last night on a motion to require a referendum on the UK's membership of the EU. Politics is the antithesis of a high performing organisation; belief and authenticity seem to be in short supply. The politicians would doubtless argue that you would never get decisions made if you had a more consensual approach and I am sure it would not be easy. But looking at last night's vote, MPs in the Conservative party were told that they had to vote against the amendment i.e. with the Government and there was a pretty overt threat that if they didn't then their future career prospects would be limited. If that happened in normal employment I think discrimation cases would already be underway.

What about the 80 or so Conservative MPs who decided to vote against the Government. You might think they were acting out of belief, not out of compliance. I hoped that they felt they what they were doing was right and principled and that they were representing the views of their constituents. Maybe some were but listening to Nick Robinson (the BBC political chief) on Radio 4 left you in no doubt that a good many of the MPs were concerned about the forthcoming boundary changes that threaten many of their seats and that it was really important that the were seen by the local party to be representing the members. That would curry great favour with the constituency leaders.

Maybe I am being a bit cynical but it does seem strange that Government champions business yet fails to show any kind of leadership in the way it organises its own affairs. What was it Gandhi said? – "You have to be the change you want to see in the world".

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13 October 2011Sign the waiver

Martin Ledigo

by Martin Ledigo

We spent our summer holidays in Canada, where my wife is from. Since we were last there a couple of years ago I noticed the emergence of "the waiver", a 1-2 page small-printed-exclusion-of-liability document that you are encouraged to sign and add your initials in a couple of places. 

We spent our first week at a resort in Muskoka north of Toronto. At 8.00 am we were at the sports desk hiring the tennis rackets. "Please sign this waiver". ("Excuse me all I want to do is play tennis; I don't have 15 minutes to read the form and consult my lawyer").

"Paintball for today is fine. $35 each. Please sign the waiver". "Splash pass to go on the beach. $10 for the week. Please sign the waiver". And so it continued. Water skiing for the kids – an even longer waiver. Taking out a golf cart – you guessed it "sign the waiver". When we went to the restaurant I was slightly disappointed that no form arrived with the menu. Clearly they were confident that their food was good enough that there would be no need for me to sue in the event of a dodgy vegetable or because they served some wheat to my gluten intolerant son.

My rantings on nanny states and health and safety obsessions I will save for another day. My point here is that the members of staff asking us to sign the waivers seemed mostly concerned about getting the form signed, not in the safety of their customers. Form over substance; compliance over belief. Wanting to be awkward (surely not) I asked one of the employees what the form said and she was unable to say anything beyond "you agree not to sue us".

The outcome the business and you as customer want is safety and you want that to be the focus of the staff, not just following a process which, I would imagine would be hard to enforce in law anyway. I don't really enjoy doing business with an organisation that seems to want to exclude any responsibility before I even receive their service. But then again I did want to play tennis and the kids were saying "Dad just sign the form".

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7 October 2011Johnson v Capello continued

Martin Ledigo

by Martin Ledigo

At the start of the rugby World Cup I wrote a blog supporting Martin Johnson's "treat them like adults" approach to team management in comparison to Fabio Capello's "no WAGS, no alcohol, early to bed etc". In the light of events of the last few weeks I might have been tempted to eat my words and/or humble pie or maybe just delete the blog and move on quickly to comment on something where the evidence supported my views!

 

In case you have not been reading the sports pages (or increasingly the front pages), the England rugby team has been performing as badly off the pitch as on it. Mike Tindall (described in the Telegraph as Grandson in law to the Queen!) has been among the worst offenders (again on and off the pitch). Excessive drinking, bungee jumping, motor cycling, activities involving dwarfs and lewd comments to a chambermaid are among the many allegations in the papers.  Of course we don’t know how much press exaggeration there is here, but there seem to be some examples of professional athletes behaving badly.

 

The thrust of my earlier blog was that by treating people as adults they are more likely to behave that way. Clearly this has not been happening. So the theory is wrong? Should Johnson now respond with a series of rules and regulations acknowledging that they can’t be trusted and that Fabio got it right after all?  No. I believe the principle is still sound and it would be unfair on those who have not transgressed and demotivating for all if Johnson changed the approach. Work teams sometimes screw up and the reaction or possibly over reaction of the leader is critical – over the years we have seen too many sound initiatives quashed at the first sign of difficulty.  In “management language” Johnson was empowering his people by giving up his control; he was allowing freedom within a set of agreed principles, trusting the team to do the right thing. However, the other side of the coin is that the people have to take responsibility which some of the England team have clearly failed to do. We don’t know if they did establish a set of principles but if they did they certainly didn’t internalise them.

 

Sensing his style from TV and newspaper interviews, one suspects Johnson is reading the riot act in the privacy of the hotel (good).  One hopes re-establishing the standards required and outlining the sanctions if there are future transgressions.  I also hope that he is succeeding in channelling all their energy into their performance on the field – I can’t take any more bad starts to the weekend.

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