Shape up or ship out

Shape up or ship out

Shape up or ship out

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

7 thoughts on “Shape up or ship out

  1. Can values not be an aspiration rather than a retrospective reflection of what people are experiencing? I do accept the premise that they have to be bought into and lived by all concerned.

    In 1896 Barclays bank was formed with three values – honesty, reliability, and fair dealings. You could argue they were aspirations as recent history shows they were not lived up to by all concerned.

    • For me, values are fundamental beliefs that define what you stand for and what is important to you, whether ‘you’ are an individual or an organisation. I accept that one’s values can change over time in response to various influences and experiences, but not because someone simply asks you to change or adopt them. That’s why I don’t believe that they can be aspirational. If a value is an aspiration it is not an enduring truth that defines actions and shapes decisions but a statement of intent that may or may not become a value over time.

      I probably would argue that Barclays founding values in 1896 weren’t values at all, but aspirations intended to bring together the diverse workforces of a number of independent banks that merged to form the new company. I’m sure they recognised that honesty, reliability and fairness would resonate with customers!

  2. Thanks for the mention Jon, I’ve been mulling it over today and been fascinated by the responses to my tweet this morning. LOVE your French translation!

    I think your point about being a blueprint for behaviours is spot on. That’s exactly it. Values should be the DNA of an organisation, not just a set of words on a mug somewhere. You should be able to find them embedded in the very real sense – running deep, flowing everywhere and living and breathing. Simply creating words that sound smart on paper is foolish, particularly if they don’t resonate with employees.

    Great article, thanks for sharing, Rachel

  3. Great article and I’d be interested to find out the process Barclays went through to develop the new values. If employees were involved in workshopping ideas, discussing the current values and creating the new values then I would say that this communication does retain credibility. Jenkins’ statement would have launched the values and been part of a carefully planned campaign including other activity, not a standalone piece. And what better way to launch the values, get them on everyone’s radar and have employees fully understanding where they stand and what they need to do. His statement was so strong and impactful, it’s an example for all.
    Brilliant thought-provoking blog post, thanks

    • Thanks for your thoughts Anna. I’d love to have seen the full communication, as I felt a bit uncomfortable writing about something that I’d only seen snippets of. I agree that the tone and bravery of the comms is a great example to us all. My only issue is the apparent way that values, code of conduct and ethics appear to be used as interchangable terms for the same thing. Knowing Barclays I’m sure they will have involved people and gone through a rigorous process to arrive at the new articulation of their values, and I’d like to think that details of this will form part of the overall internal communication to staff.

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