Barclays boss, Antony Jenkins, on rebuilding trust

Antony Jenkins, Barclays CEO, guest editor on The Today Programme, has said that it could take up to ten years to rebuild trust in Barclays (1). Jenkins is ushering in big changes, and one of them is a change of mind-set and speaking to values that promote responsible business.

In my cross-collaboration report for the Foreign Office, the first international report of its kind published in 2009, I singled out trust as a key driver in improving collaboration, not just between sectors, but with consumers and citizens. I researched the banking sector, particularly Lloyds Bank.

One of the risks identified by Dr. Roger Miles, an expert in risk strategy, is gaming behaviour, learning the rules of the game and playing up to them.

Organisations are rarely one homogeneous mass. A large bank can have competing cultures, where one of its strongest performing businesses – in terms of income generation- consciously or unconsciously sets its own rules, ignoring its corporate, espoused values. CEOs can set direction, but cannot by themselves change destination if the organisation is pulling in different directions. This is why, inspired by the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations tradition, my theory of collaboration captures conscious as well as unconscious forces (2). Complexity science is illuminating for practitioners of organisational development because of the importance placed on the emergent, not just the planned. Every interaction produces consequences, opportunities as well as challenges, often unforeseen. These changes are difficult to “control” – but it is possible to respond appropriately to them.

Leaders are particularly vulnerable to the contradictions embodied by organisations. Antony Jenkins is very mindful of the challenges he faces in turning Barclays around. He rightly argues that leadership must happen at every level of an organisation.

The point he makes today is not just about reputation, and the time lag between a change in behaviour and changes in perception. One reason why it could take as long as a decade for Barclays to recover trust is public loss of confidence in the banking system, not just one bank. Barclays not only needs to get its own house in order, which under Antony Jenkins, it already seems to be doing, but ensure that acting collaboratively the banking sector sets itself standards to which it is seen time and time again to adhere. This requires not just PR, but living the brand inside out.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has spoken about how much some finance leaders are still “in denial”.

When asked what “strategic communications” means, I explain that all the different channels that make for communications activity are not a substitute for a clear articulation of how strategy, policy, operations and communications are fully aligned within an organisation. Organisations need communications directors, as much as they need finance directors and HR directors, for this strategic function, as well as the management of the communication resource.

With the energy sector under attack on prices, large dominant sectors are now more vulnerable to worsening reputation, and because of suspicion of collusion, are finding it more difficult to collaborate at a time when collaboration is most needed. Leaders need to shape the rules of the game, as well as play the game. Jenkins gets it. Do other CEOs?

The Global Financial Crisis of 2008 revealed that under pressure systems can respond collaboratively to prevent further disruption. But what has not yet been demonstrated is how the banking sector is shaping its own cross-institutional reform. Banks will be even more trusted if the public saw that change was coming from within the sector, and not just being imposed from without.


(2) Eliat Aram and Dr. Mannie Sher, The Tavistock Institute of Human Relations, have helped me develop my thinking on collaboration through a professional network I established, Collaborative Strategies Network. I first worked with them when I was Chairman of Council at the institute, 2003 to 2007, a time of significant change and consolidation for the organisation itself.

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