Monday 8 July 2013

Are you a European?

I watched Andy Murray win Wimbledon on a screen at a tennis club here in Brussels. The Belgians around me were commentating. ‘Les Anglais sera tres fiere. C’est tres bien pour les Anglais’ I had to correct them in that Andy Murray was Scottish and not English. This is a common error made by the Europeans, misinterpreting the English with the entire island. I had to explain that in the UK, we have the Union of three nations (and Northern Ireland), and to help us identify with the Union we are known as British. They knew this of course. They pressed on by asking why the Scots wanted independence when we have the European Union?  Or worse still, how come the UK is arguing for a referendum in Europe whilst the Scottish are seeking independence from the UK? I asked them that how was it that Flemish political forces were seeking the break-up of Belgium whilst they too were in Union with Europe. Nothing really made a lot of sense.

These are big questions ofcourse which are fundamental as it raises so many other issues. They are fundamental because it has everything to do with our beliefs, values, purpose, history, culture, and tradition. In a word, our identity which is about who we are and why we are here which President Holland of France argued recently we seemed to have lost. There is clearly an air of unease in and around our formidable continent. As this belgian continued to speak, he blamed everything on our liberal and tolerant attitudes (liberalism) as well as individualism. In other words so many of us seems to have a difference of opinion with differing self-interests succumbing to what people want and not what they actually need which arguably numbs our identity, core values, conviction and beliefs.

How does one turn the tide of liberalism and individualism in differing representative democracies? Somehow we have to keep the birds at bay.  The solution that this person and I agreed with was that we were Europeans in that we needed a strong identity in Europe which implies we have to change our attitudes. This requires a need for strong leadership and a very strong representative power structure in Europe one in which has a coherent sense of direction to keep everyone together by respecting each other’s traditions. Not have everyone going in every different direction linked to a total misconception of  individual freedom. With no higher authority this will have a tendency to result in a breakdown in conduct, general standards aswell as a general decline in our services as we are seeing daily everywhere. Moreover we cannot just plodder along by simply having a bit of everything in order to satisfy a bit of everything. At some point hard choices and big decisions would need to be made. Perhaps Europe is now ready for a federal system in what the founding fathers, Monnet, Schumann and even Churchill argued for but this time with a different vision fitting to the times of today. The UK with their hands tied will have no choice but to stay in in order to preserve their very own Union. Or with their potential turn of events would we prefer Scotland in and England out?

It is the same in business, with globalisation, businesses went on the global rampage seeking new markets. Some went ahead of themselves where often personal ambition got the better by exploiting resources from other territories and using employment as their just cause whilst others realised that due to the crisis this may not have been the solution and humbled themselves by re-localising again. Often businesses are in direct conflict to how political forces operate which may explain why they hire so many lobbyists. It also depends where the power is. Is it in those that lead large businesses or in those that govern? Or is there simply a struggle between the two, leading to the two coercing with each other impeding our grasp of our very own destiny adding to our inability to advance forward? The solution in business could be that, once Europe has its power structure right and regained its coherent sense of purpose; business can reflect let alone respect that power structure so that they too can get it right.

Reverting to our cultural identity, I don’t know about you but if I was to travel abroad outside of Europe, and I meet a German or a Swede, apart from my limited linguistic skills, I can totally identify with them far more than with the local country I am visiting. I am a European and we just poke fun at each other and our differences but somehow we are of the same stock. As for our economy, the Brits can invent, the Italians can design, the Germans can engineer and so can the French. The Dutch can trade, the Spanish can help renew everything and the Scandinavians can make things useful.  As for the Greeks, they founded Western civilization they can help us rebuild it again. We really can stick together and become a winning force to reckon with if we try and help each other with our core expertise in our advance forward. In all this a common denominator will need to be found to help keep us together and by this it would require something more than just the Euro.  It would be sad if we were to breakup, God only knows what would happen. 

Anyhow Time MCG likes to leave food for thought, raise the big questions and the small ones in combining the macro with the micro. In the meantime the sun is out, our holidays are here and we can also enjoy ourselves to spend time with our families. I’ll stay in Europe (UK for sure) because it has everything on offer that we need!
Without identity, involvement will be dysfunctional

Wednesday 3 July 2013

Should money be there to rule or to serve?

After having read highlights of the UK parliamentary commission report on banking standards, the key issues that spring to light are; lack of responsibility and accountability, general poor conduct and high levels of reward and risk amongst senior bankers which has resulted in a general breakdown of trust in the sector. It all seems so familiar and Time MCG has been offering solutions for some time now.

In all fairness to the banking sector, this poor conduct is wide spread across the wider business community as a whole, across Europe and perhaps elsewhere. The banks share the main brunt of the blame mainly because the consequence of this type of conduct has been so devastating to our wider society largely because their bail outs have been at the tax payer’s expense which logically implies that they carry a major responsibility. It is of no surprise that the spotlight is on them.

In my previous career, I worked in a culture that was very similar. Very few of us were willing to take responsibility. No one wanted to be accountable. Our proposals carried no risk and our sole purpose was making money. That was our motive and our main driver.  It was a means to an end. This was how we all were in business to the extent that it simply blinded our judgement and practically obliterated our inner core value system. Poor conduct and mistakes were common place. Most were either tolerated or turned a blind eye, brushed under the carpet and even laughed at. We were in awe of the haves and brushed aside the have not’s. We often said the right thing but acted the opposite. There was plenty of narcissistic conduct amongst senior people and plenty of victims as a result. In coaching terminology many of us were rebellious children and the culture of individualism was rife. It was pretty sad to see and to experience. As a result no one trusted anyone to the extent that there was very little creativity, synergy and integrity. I admit I had played my part as it was just considered normal of which I can only be ashamed of. All this was in total contrast to how our behaviour ought to be i.e. as mature autonomous adults whereby utilising our natural talents to contributing to where there was an actual need for a moral benefit or even a higher purpose.

What the commission argues and what Time MCG argues daily is a change of culture and a reaffirmation of corporate identity that we need urgently before sheer havoc will break lose in the current economic system initiated by society’s rebellious and spoilt children. Let’s analyse further this culture. What might be causing it? Or is it the system that just allows the cat to chase its tail? As someone quite aptly pointed out to me the other day there are three forces which perpetuates our inner struggle and if used inappropriately i.e. for our own pure self- interest in our already complex human nature, it can cause much havoc, suffering and grief not just to us but to others around you in our everyday lives. The three happen to be sex, power and money. They are often intertwined and interlinked and sadly can arguably exasperate our loss in identity.

Let us take one of the three. Money. (Sex is hardly an appropriate subject to write about on a corporate website or a business domain such as linkedin) Money we all know is a need and a highly practical one yet today it can so easily be linked to one of our main inner selfish desires commonly known as greed which Time MCG often writes about. We all want it. We all feel entitled to it. This is what we work for. Those who work in it may feel more entitled to it than others. Some want it more than others and some may even need it more than others. There are those that make a lot of it for self enrichment purposes to the detriment of others. Some know how to make it by exploiting the system or through unethical methods, use it for the wrong purpose or as an end that justifies the means.  Others who don’t make any or not enough often become depressed and unhappy. There are those who make it by becoming more opportunistic or multi-functional than ever. Then there are even those who have so much of it and have no idea what to do with it. In short when our inner selfish desire comes into play there is always someone else that loses. This is the case at all levels be it individual, corporate, or even national. Here is an amusing sketch that caught my attention of late.

More worringly the money culture today has become a tool of power and success giving us that delusional capacity to rule over others as well as giving us a delusional sense of confidence, belief and identity whereby it has lost all its ability to serve. Perhaps throughout the different cultural ages it has been like this but today it happens to be more people in this category than ever before. Someone mentioned to me the other day that in order to succeed in making money or reach turnover targets in business in our modern world we have to walk over people. Aggression is the key. There we have it.  In order to succeed we have to break down our very own inner value system. It is often the case that companies hire aggressive people to make their money for them.

If our work has a sole purpose of making money, we are first and foremost going against our key value or driver in our human nature. Let me give you an example. The other day I met a nice promising young man in business. I asked him what his key driver was. He told me that serving a client and creating trust was fundamental and it was this that made him tick. Together by utilising his talents he felt it was this way he was really adding value and in which he felt recognised. I asked him where money fits in as a motivator. It is important but it ranks as number 3 or 4 out of all his key drivers. I asked him about the firm he worked for. Yes. Money, profit, turnover in the short term was their main priority. He felt he had no influence in the matter and that this culture was endemic which he felt was simply caused by shareholder pressure.

Most mature and responsible professionals that I had interviewed over the years, money was important but it was never a sole driver. Most people wanted to add value with their own expertise and knowledge to where there was a real need, benefiting stakeholders and even society. If customers have trust in you and are in need of your services, expertise and know how, they will pay for them, it as simple as that. If your services are no longer needed, then you change and adapt them according to your own expertise and know how. It is as simple as that.

It is logical to deduce therefore that if you work in a business whose sole purpose is making money which is in contrast to your own primary driver. You will be swimming against the current in your organisation. If you happen to be someone who has discovered your talents and gifts which has anchored your sense of identity and you use them to meet needs and produce results and at the same time the rest of the crew is thinking on a different level. Then you will be working upstream or become an island of excellence in a sea of mediocrity.  Against these internal forces, the conflict will arise. Eventually you will not be happy. Either the culture has to change, or you will have to leave. The worst outcome is you get sucked into it and become like the rest of them which is such a waste resulting in much harm to yourself professionally, privately and perhaps elsewhere. Alan Watts describes this way of thinking far more eloquently than myself here.
Barclays have just recently published a deal on their website. They have closed a project finance deal together with two of their customers to help design, and construct 7 hospitals in rural Ghana. Here is a perfect example of how money can be used to serve. It is an example of how a bank by possessing the courage to take destiny into its own hands, can help to create growth and not just follow the growth. It was even recognised as a deal of the year by the Banker Magazine!!

Time MCG believes that in order to help eliminate money or profit as a sole driver in business or as an end through whatever means resulting to such a detrimental effect in our conduct, our society even our planet, we need a higher belief or purpose instilled by the top. Banks for example would need to come out with tangible mission statements or a renewed identity where its ultimate goal is to serve a purpose or really adding value to where there is a need by benefiting others and improving our society we live in. We must also serve in the interest of our customers and to eventually strive to become a force for good as per the example I just gave.

Meanwhile as for us Europeans as the post war baby boom generation leaves us, let's get a grip of our own destiny before something more sinister will get hold of us and show the rest of the world what we are made of.

We do not see the world as it is, we see the world as we are.