Vogel Wakefield blog

Vogel Wakefield blog

May
15
2014

How should executive coaches respond when the role of business in society is contested?

Indignant, in any language.

Indignant, in any language.

I’m looking forward to the APECS symposium on the future for executive coaching on 18th June. As part of a group working on the social and business context for coaching, I’ve submitted a discussion paper. I found it a useful opportunity to pull together the themes I’ve been developing at this blog over the past few years. I’ve been receiving a number of requests to access the paper even ahead of the symposium, so I’m posting it here with the following caveat: my thinking on this is a work in progress rather than my last word. Feedback, critical or otherwise, most welcome.

Anglo-Saxon capitalism is experiencing a shift in the socio-economic paradigm by which we organise ourselves. In the period after the Second World War, a consensus was established around social democracy, with its emphasis on welfare, corporatism and mitigating inequality. As this became dysfunctional, it was replaced by a consensus around free markets, managerialism and shareholder value which, itself, is now being called into question by systemic failure. What replaces it will be contested. It could be a more benign form of capitalism in which organisations accept responsibility for greater stewardship of the public realm or it could be something much closer to fascism or something else again. What role, if any, should coaches play in helping executives both to recognise the shift and to play a role in shaping a constructive outcome?

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December
04
2013

Co-operative values: missing in action

Spinning in their graves? The Rochdale Pioneers, founders of the Co-operative Movement

Spinning in their graves? The Rochdale Pioneers, founders of the Co-operative Movement

Last week, I ended a 30-year customer relationship with the Co-operative Bank. The move was precipitated initially by financial caution as a gaping hole was revealed in the bank’s balance sheet but cemented by dismay at the catalogue of mismanagement revealed in recent weeks.

While I feel a litte sad as a customer, I’m also discomforted professionally as the collapse of the Co-op Bank raises questions about my advocacy of values-driven leadership. I believe the problems of the self-styled “ethical bank” stem not from an excessively values-driven approach but from a disconnection from its values. But – and here’s the sting – the complacency generated by its intent as an ethical business may have played a role in the bank’s undoing.

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July
17
2013

The shadow side of values

shadow

 

Only about a decade ago, corporate values were all the rage. We lived in a world in which business was largely viewed as a force for good and corporations identified their success with the general wellbeing. Now, as we labour to fund the bailouts of the banks, we have a more nuanced view of business and the statements of values seem hollow.

But values remain potent. The public cares about them: not the values of PR spin but the actual lived values of organisations. Most of the corporate scandals of recent years became scandals precisely because they generated perceptions of values betrayed.

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February
06
2013

Purpose and values in the NHS

NHS

 

It was only last month that we were asked whether a hospital, of all things, would ever need to consider its purpose and values. To those outside the NHS, it is self-evident that a hospital exists to treat people’s health problems and to save lives. Yet today both Robert Francis QC and the Prime Minister have dispelled any notion that the NHS can currently be trusted to deliver such a purpose.

Introducing the final report of his inquiry into the Mid-Staffs hospital scandal, Robert Francis spoke of an NHS trust that “put corporate self-interest and cost control ahead of patients and their safety.”  Responding to the report, David Cameron condemned “a focus on finance and figures at the expense of patient care” in the culture of the NHS.

The facts of the Mid Staffordshire scandal were already established, in part by Robert Francis’s earlier inquiry but also thanks to the campaigning efforts of relatives of some of the hundreds of patients who needlessly died because of negligent and inhumane “care”.

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January
18
2013

Antony Jenkins and the FIFO test at Barclays

An inspiring model of leadership

An inspiring model of leadership

Many a year ago, when I was working at BBC News, leadership by acronym was very much in vogue. One department head who favoured a flamboyantly macho style enjoyed satirising the culture by describing his approach as the FIFO model.

The Vogel Wakefield blog is too polite a space in which to spell out the meaning of FIFO. Suffice to say the manager’s broad intent was along the lines of, “Kindly toe the line or consider finding employment elsewhere.”

I was reminded of this on reading the email to Barclays’ staff sent by the bank’s chief executive, Antony Jenkins, redefining Barclays’ purpose and values.

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August
24
2012

Murdoch talks values

Elisabeth Murdoch

Elisabeth Murdoch’s MacTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh Television Festival could have been cribbed from the Vogel Wakefield rule book.

Discussing the phone hacking scandal that engulfed News Corporation last year, she demonstrated that at least one Murdoch sees the fundamental importance of alignment between values and behaviour in the family business. She said that News Corporation was “asking itself some very significant and difficult questions about how some behaviours fell so far short of its values.” And she took issue with the assertion by her brother James, at a previous MacTaggart lecture, that “the only reliable, durable and perpetual guarantor of independence is profit”. Not that she denied the importance of profit; rather, “profit without purpose is a recipe for disaster.”

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May
11
2011

The risks of the spiv economy

John Kay writes apropos the banks’ PPI mis-selling scandal:

Market economies are always vulnerable to chancers and spivs who sell overpriced goods to ill-informed customers and seem to promise things they do not intend to deliver. If such behaviour becomes a dominant business style, you end up with the economies of Nigeria and Haiti, where rampant opportunism makes it almost prohibitively difficult for honest people to do business. Our prosperity depends on a self-enforcing culture of ethical business values, in which traders value their reputation and seek to develop long-term commercial relationships. That is the culture in which banks used to operate: it is time they did so again.

March
08
2011

Welcome to London

Home to the reputationally challenged

Home to the reputationally challenged

 

There’s some interesting coverage today of the reputational fallout of Britain’s relationship with Libya.

Philip Stephens, in the FT, examines London’s status as a place where dictators can launder their image.  He portrays a city where it is just so much a part of the everyday culture of business to deal with unsavoury regimes that the risks are normalised.

Britain, he says, has become a “coin-operated laundry for the reputationally challenged.” He’s referring not only to the PR agencies which cast dictators in a more benign light, but the investment advisors, hedge funds and private banks that help them recycle ill-gotten money into more legitimate vehicles.

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March
01
2011

The LSE and Gaddafi

Colonel Gaddafi, erstwhile friend of the LSE

Colonel Gaddafi, erstwhile friend of the LSE

 

Sir Howard Davies, Director of the LSE, defending the LSE’s acceptance of a £1.5 million donation from Saif Gaddafi makes for interesting listening.

Today, it is uncontroversial to point out that a leading university of the social sciences might be compromised by accepting money from the family of a pernicious dictator. Saif Gaddafi’s bellicose statement last week in support of his father’s regime in Libya has seen to that. But when the decision was taken – only seven weeks ago – the calculation must have looked very different.

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February
15
2011

Health care and the dignity of humans

hands_002-thumb1

The Health Service Ombudsman’s report on how the NHS is failing to treat elderly people with care, dignity and respect begs the question of how a service whose raison d’être is to look after people can so dehumanise them.

The report highlights the cases of ten people who suffered grievous neglect. Many of them were fit, active and healthy before treatment but all but one died during or soon after the events they experienced in the care of the NHS, and in circumstances which caused distress and anger to the patients and their families.

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