Rachel Miller (@AllthingsIC) asked an interesting question this morning after sharing the breaking news story on Sky News about the apparent leak of an internal memo from Barclays CEO Anthony Jenkins.
In an uncompromising email to Barclays staff Jenkins sets out clear expectations regarding their conduct and in essence challenges them to ‘shape up or ship out’:
“… there might be some who don’t feel they can fully buy in to an approach which so squarely links performance to the upholding of our values…
My message to those people is simple: 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.”
Rachel’s question was “would/ could” your leader communicate like that? Rather than get personal, I’d rather look at this through the ‘should’ lens and keep it hypothetical.
My answer is a big fat YES!
It is great to see strong leadership expressed in writing – articulating something leaders often want to say to people whose behaviour is at odds with company values but shy away from doing so en masse in the interests of diplomacy and avoiding conflict. To launch a Code of Conduct or set of ethical principles with such high level sponsorship and unequivocal support is a beautiful thing to behold. It’s bold, spirited and unambiguous. It’s impactful and will get everyone talking.
My only issue with the note is the apparent language around core values, which are sadly being chucked around like some kind of disposable toy. Core values are enduring truths about what is important to people within an organisation. They are not objectives. They are not aspirational. They do not seek to change behaviour. They cannot be invented. They already exist in every organisation. You don’t create them, you uncover them. Regular readers may recognise this sermon.
So for Barclays to switch from its current five core values (Keep it simple, Own it, Work together, Think smart, 100% energy) and replace them at the flick of a switch with “respect, integrity, service, excellence and stewardship” feels a bit contrived and lacking in credibility. It doesn’t help that 2 of the 5 new Barclays values are the same as Enron’s at the time their particular merde a frappé le ventilateur* (respect & integrity) over a decade ago.
A company’s Code of Conduct needs to be aligned to and consistent with its core values, however at the same time it must be recognised that is a wholly different beast. It can and should be a blueprint for desired behaviours and conduct and as such can be aspirational and can seek to change behaviours. If you contravene the Code of Conduct you can expect to be hauled through the disciplinary process. As such it needs to be prescriptive and give detailed examples of what you can and can’t do as an employee, both on and off duty.
Desired behaviours can be amended to shine the spotlight on a particular problem that needs fixing. Core values cannot, and sadly that for me takes the edge off an otherwise courageous piece of communication.
* ‘shit hit the fan’ sounds so much more acceptable in French