Friday, 19 September 2008

Doom and Gloom


   I've started two new projects this week but I've still been finding it difficult to keep smiling.  What a nightmare!  Just in the UK, we're looking at a loss of 1400 jobs at British Airways, 6000 jobs at HP, 5000 at Lehmans, up to 40,000 at Lloyds / HBOS and possibly still 10,000 at Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs???

And it's not going to get better anytime soon.  The CIPD point to this week's figures from the ONS showing the worst deterioration
in the UK's underlying job situation for at least a decade and warn that the economy is increasingly likely to experience 'an avalanche of job losses' in the coming months.

A lot of these cuts are going to come from the City where job vacancies are down 34% compared with August last year and financial services recruiters report being flooded with CVs.

So what's led to the turbulence of the last week?  City bosses, regulators, politicians and speculators have all been targeted for blame.  But one function that seems to have escaped so far is HR.  Perhaps this is natural enough - if we don't get the credit for our organisations' success, it would be strange and also unfair if we got named when they fail.  But then the belief behind this blog is that people, the human capital they provide, and also therefore, HR, as the function that enables this, are increasingly the basis for organisational performance.  So I think HR should take its share of the flak too.

The Financial Services Authority have said that "bankers are to blame for exacerbating the crisis in the financial markets because they were taking too many risks".

But why was this?  Well, earlier this year, Richard Lambert, director-general of the CBI,  put much of the blame on the City's bonus culture, and Mervyn King, governor at the Bank of England commented:

"Banks have come to realise in the recent crisis that they are paying the price for having designed compensation packages which provide incentives that are not, in the long run, in the interests of the banks themselves."


King was criticised for "sticking his nose in where it doesn't belong", but some of the displaced City HR people may now be wishing that they'd listened to him.

Bonuses are any case likely to be a lot lower this year but the FT notes that "this is likely to leave many employees, who have yet to recognise the depth of the pressure on finances, deeply disappointed".

And a survey by Morgan Mckinley found that 46% of financial services professionals expected bonuses to be at least similar to last year while 17% expected payments to be higher.

These expectations may now have moderated somewhat, but HR is going to have an interesting challenge in reducing payments and changing the way that people are paid, for example, by following Max Hastings' suggestion that they "gamble with less of our money and more of their own".

City firms need to understand and remember that this needs to be a cultural, and not just simply a reward policy change. The City may even need to start changing the type of people it's employing.  Perhaps a more appropriate profile for the City (without the criminal tendency of course!) would be Benedict Hancock, a bank manager at Royal Bank of Scotland who has just been jailed for channeling more than £7million from rich clients into the accounts of companies in trouble. According to his defence, this 'real-life Robin Hood' has been acting from 'an entirely altruistic motive'.  OK, this may be going a bit too far...

Anyway, the change in culture that's required isn't simply about reward.  Remember Jerome Kerviel at Societe Generale? - it seems a long time ago already.  OK, Soc Gen's controls were weak and this had little to do with HR, but a probably more significant factor leading to Kerviel's fraudulent behaviour was the bank's arrogant culture where risk managers were treated with disdain on the trading floor.  And HR needed to have been on top of this.

So perhaps it's no surprise that axed HR professionals could be among the few victims able to find jobs elsewhere in the City.  They've got a lot of work to do.