Many years ago, I was asked to chair a Citibank meeting during which the CEO and directors would meet the staff and answer pre-submitted questions. The whole event was started off by the Chief Executive delivering a “Where We Are Now/Where We Would Like To Be” presentation.
In the manner of all Chief Executives with an accountancy background, there were upward-sloping graphs, slides entitled “Return on Equity”, “Return on Income”, a lot about Profit, Expense Overruns, Assets, Take-over Plans etc. After about 15 slides of numbers, there was a final slide which, for some reason, senior management invariably feels obliged to roll out….It is the one about “Our MOST valuable asset…..OUR PEOPLE!”
I believe that it is meant to reassure staff how important they are to the business but having attended many meetings where the CEO only referred to staff as “FTEs” (Full Time Equivalents), that final slide seemed like a bit of an afterthought. ” HR needs an incremental FTE next year.” (In fact, his slides had been prepared by a team of Actuaries and Accountants, so inevitably there had been a slide showing how our FTEs needed to grow in order to deliver some very bullish business plans.)
Then we came to the Q&As. The ones which had been chosen were primarily about the business and its future. As the answers had been rehearsed by various members of the Board, the session went very smoothly and appeared to end on a high.
The CEO turned to me and whisphered ” Before we wrap this up, Richard……let’s take some more questions from the floor…”
I replied “No Paul….Just say a few words of thanks and let them loose on the sausage rolls…..”
The CEO nodded and stood up and addressed to 200-strong audience ” Does anyone have any more questions….Anything you like…….!”
I assume that no-one heard my “Oh, fuck!” as the benignly-smiling Chief Executive waited….
A gnarled hand at the back of the hall went up. It was Harry. He was past retirement age but we’d kept him on as office Postie. He was an old-school Union man who hated all management and their “queer” ways.
Paul the CEO knew Harry because everyone knew Harry, so he was extremely proud to be able to use a first name and demonstrate to everyone what a lovable caring boss he really was. “Yes, Harry….What’s your question?”
“Thank you, Paul,” said Harry “Are you aware that there are no plasters in the fourth floor First Aid Box. I’ve been telling Personnel for ages but they just don’t seem to care…..Not only that…but it’s contrary to Section C of the..blah, blah, blah…..”
“Oh , fuck,” I repeated into my notes.
The smile never left Paul’s face as he turned to me and said in a very loud voice “Richard….Why wasn’t I briefed about this? “
Needless to say, the meeting deteriorated as the staff, emboldened by troublemaker Harry started to ask the REAL questions. The meeting ended with an exhausted Board, an newly-liberated staff and a CEO who wanted me to meet him in his office the following morning.
The Coalition government has made the same mistake as Paul the CEO.
It has spent the last five years telling the voter about its achievements. It has bombarded the voter with statistics. It has told us that there is a “plan”. It has told us that there is a Deficit and that it has to be paid off…….and apart from a very short period last week, when there appeared to be a sudden realisation that it was not making contact with the people, it continues to spout figures and intentions.
As Harry showed the Citibank management, ordinary people are not interested in the Big Picture. What they are interested in though, is enough money in their pockets to deliver self-respect , good health, food and shelter for themselves and their family, freedom from worry and where appropriate, a job which can deliver a future as well as provide their present.
There is only ONE additional concept which every voter supports and which does not affect themselves directly. It is the thought that all vulnerable members of society are respected and catered-for.
The Deficit, “Since Records Began”, taking MILLIONS(!) out of tax etc are the Accountants’ slides which Paul the CEO bored his audience with.
The United Kingdom desperately needs a government and leadership which resonates with its people and not just with a calculator.