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How to stop cronyism, anger and mutiny in a new banking job

Time for a one-man rule

Time for a one-man rule

Shared leadership of a team is a popular option in Asia as global banks try to groom a larger senior talent pool in a region they view as important to their future expansion. In August, for example, Deutsche Bank appointed Michael Ormaechea and Bhupinder Singh as co-heads of corporate banking and securities.

But such dual-rule strategies tend to be temporary, with one of the two managers eventually going it alone. Most recently, in early October, Bank of America Merrill Lynch announced that Jiro Seguchi, co-head of investment banking in Asia Pacific, was moving from Tokyo to Hong Kong to assume sole charge of the department.

Bankers who take the reins in this fashion face an angry potential backlash from staff whose allegiances remain with the previous co-head. Here’s how to avoid infighting and win over the whole team.

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1) Answer the “me” question

A quick meeting with the entire team shortly after the appointment announcement will help dampen any doubts about your leadership, said Jonathan Kwan, owner of Kwantum Leap Career Coaching in Singapore. “The meeting needs to address the all-important, ‘what does this leadership change mean for me?’ question. Until these concerns are alleviated, people will not care about, or adapt to your new high-level vision.”

2) Begin with a bang

Mark out your authority from the start. “If you’re ready for it, on day one, make a single significant change to the business – that may be a hire or a fire, a reassignment, or a very hard conversation with someone or a team. Just one thing, clean and simple,” said Nick Wells, a director at search firm Webber Chase in Singapore.

3) Keep on communicating

Ensuring that the team buys into your business strategy also entails relentless ongoing dialogue. “Communicate your vision and values to the broader organisation through as many forums as possible, including town-hall meetings, videos, email and small-group meetings,” said Henry Chamberlain, a Hong Kong-based career consultant and a former head of selection at Standard Chartered. “Let people clearly understand what you stand for: what will remain the same and what will be different with you as solo leader.”

4) Mind your gaps

Identify which relationships matter most in the new role, be these with clients, staff or peers, and assess which ones of these are weakest and need strengthening, said Jeremy Stunt, a former banker who is now an executive coach at training company CFT Asia in Hong Kong. “This helps you figure out what conversations you should be having with your most important stakeholders – discussions you might not otherwise have considered, but which will contribute to delivering results,” he added.

5) Meet individuals individually

These stakeholder conversations should take place one-on-one, ideally over an informal coffee, drink or lunch, said Kwan. “Being open and transparent in face-to-face communication will also help minimise potential resignations from those that may have been loyal to the previous co-head and are now feeling nervous.”

6) Revamp responsibilities

But don’t just talk to your team – empower them. The new leader should find out what motivates each employee and encourage them to take on more responsibility, according to Gerard Milligan, strategic account director at recruitment firm Randstad in Singapore. “This will not only develop relationships with employees, it will also free up your time to concentrate on overall management of the department.”

7) Crack down on cronyism

“There will be scepticism abound when you take over, so any sniff of cronyism will reflect poorly on you and may even lead to mutinous behaviour,” said Singapore-based Mark Sparrow, managing director, Asia-Pacific, at the consultancy NP Group. “So approach each person with a fresh, meritocratic view, regardless of what you thought of them before.”

8) Set new goals and monitor engagement

Employee performance standards should be reviewed towards the start of your solo rule. But it’s also important to monitor how your staff are reacting to you and the new regime, said Lynda Aurora, an executive coach at the consultancy Plus Partnership in Hong Kong. “After six months, run an employee engagement survey to see how the transition is going. Recalibrate and make the necessary changes as a result.”

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