…Important lessons and maybe even something positive
As I write this piece, the news has broken overnight that Dame Alison Rose has resigned as CEO of NatWest. I confess, this is not only not a surprise but was inevitable once she admitted to being the source of a BBC story about a customer. Any other employee in the same position would automatically have been gone and CEOs, quite rightly, need to be held to a higher standard. So, her departure was inevitable.
As an aside, I predict the Chairman will also be gone shortly for not enacting something that was obvious to most observers.
More widely, it’s a safe assumption that the 60,000 employees of NatWest will not currently be feeling as proud of who they work for as they were before this sorry episode. Likewise, the repercussions for the TA team trying to attract talent into the bank will reverberate for some time to come.
The root of the issue is, ironically, ‘inclusion’: Nigel Farage was excluded from Coutts because a committee didn’t like his political views which, even to those of us who are not fans of Mr Farage, just seems profoundly wrong. Another prediction here: This whole farrago will soon be a business school case study on how to get ‘inclusion and purpose’ spectacularly wrong. And this will be a good thing because lessons can be learnt.
My view is that too many employers have expanded their definition of ‘purpose’ to the point that Terry Smith, a top 10 shareholder of Unilever put it last year, they have ‘lost the plot’. He went on to say that ‘management prizes displaying its sustainability credentials at the expense of running the business’. This criticism does not just apply to Unilever and increasingly, current and future employees just won’t buy it, never mind shareholders.
That’s not to say that employers should go back to the ‘greed is good’ philosophy of the 1980’s, but rather that a mature, practical and (crucially) relevant articulation of purpose is what’s needed.
This is achievable. Our TIARA awards programme introduced an ESG category for our Talent Solutions campaign a couple of years ago and some of the entries have been utterly inspiring – practical, strategic and highly impactful. Most importantly they were also clear about how they support the commercial aims of the organisation without straying into wider ‘social justice’ issues without any rationale.
In summary, meaningful purpose and values are important for employers, and not just for younger employees, but for everyone. It helps them attract the talent they need and keep the talent they have. Talent Acquisition leaders have a key role in this by making sure these values are articulated clearly to a wider audience and also making sure that they remain focussed and relevant and ‘mission creep’ is avoided. It’s another layer of responsibility to an already overloaded list of priorities but, as the NatWest affair shows, it’s an important one. So, step up and drive the agenda, your CEO may well thank you for it.