The City is finding its touchy-feely side but it's still survival of the fittest

Timothy Barber
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WHEN Bruce Wasserstein died a couple of weeks ago, it was the end of an era. Wasserstein was the epitome of the red braces-wearing, ball-breaking business style that for many still defines the Wall Street and the City. He was known to respond the problems by giving a lecture telling colleagues to &ldquo;dare to be great&rdquo;. He is said to have once responded to a pitch by simply tearing the man&rsquo;s business card into small pieces in front of him. He is also believed to have been the model for the Gordon Gekko character in the film Wall Street. <br /><br />But was Wasserstein a dinosaur from a lost age in which the pursuit of the deal, to the detriment of all else, was king, or is the banking world still a place where people who don&rsquo;t believe in &ldquo;touchy-feely&rdquo; management seem to thrive?<br /><br />Some would certainly agree with the latter. One former employee of a City fund management firm describes how her manager, when confronted with the idea that good morale was important to the performance of the team, flew off the handle.<br /><br />&ldquo;He said all this touchy-feely stuff was nonsense, that the only things that mattered were the bottom line and meeting targets,&rdquo; she says, describing the manager as &ldquo;a psychopath&rdquo;. &ldquo;He was living in the dark ages, though. There are a lot of people in the City who think &lsquo;I&rsquo;m going to make a lot of money and screw the rest of you&rsquo;, but their days are numbered. It will never entirely go away, but the landscape is changing.&rdquo;<br /><br /><strong>OPEN AND ENGAGED</strong><br />Andy Evans, managing director of recruiter Morgan McKinley, agrees that the City is gradually shifting away from the machismo and cutthroat atmosphere that has sometimes defined it to outsiders. He says that his clients are looking for more rounded candidates, rather than those who are simply driven by deal-chasing.<br /><br />&ldquo;In the past people might have been successful purely because they were aggressive,&rdquo; he says, &ldquo;but we&rsquo;re finding companies are now looking for candidates who are more consultative, open and engaged with people &ndash; and there&rsquo;s the firm belief that they can actually be more successful that way.&rdquo;<br /><br />Avril Leimon, a psychologist and director of management coaching firm White Water Strategies, says that the need for companies to create more conciliatory working environments is being driven by the war for talent. Businesses looking to extract themselves from the recession and achieve growth see their high-performing employees as their most crucial asset, and hanging onto that talent depends on employees being content in their jobs.<br /><br />&ldquo;In this environment your most crucial asset is your people, and if they don&rsquo;t feel positive about the organisation they work for they&rsquo;ll simply go to the next highest bidder or the person who can offer them better employment &ndash; particularly if it&rsquo;s harder to offer attractive bonuses.&rdquo;<br /><br /><strong>LEADERSHIP</strong><br />The issue is in many ways a question of leadership &ndash; after all, the boardroom sets the tone in which an organisation is managed. Figurehead chief executives like Wasserstein might have set brash examples through sheer force of personality, but times are changing fast, and the idea of the autocratic, take-no-prisoners chief exec could itself become a thing of the past.<br /><br />&ldquo;The importance of the wider social impact of a leadership style is huge,&rdquo; says Stuart Duff, partner at business psychology firm Pearn Kandola. &ldquo;Leadership isn&rsquo;t just about taking decisions and making people do what you want, it&rsquo;s about the quality of life in the organisation. With that comes a different style of leadership, one that involves devolving power down the organization and giving people a share in the vision.&rdquo;<br /><br />If the old-school machismo is on the way out, Duff says current research suggests it is women who make better leaders, since they have more success in empowering and developing people and promoting a more considerate business style. Nevertheless, there is an alternative argument that when the chips are down, the City tends to revert to type. Richard Webber, director of the financial services division for Twenty Recruitment, says the recession has actually driven people to be more aggressive rather than less.<br /><br />&ldquo;The ultra competitive nature of banking is ingrained from the first day an analyst joins on a graduate scheme,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;Nothing has changed, if anything bankers have become more aggressive over the last two years, with &lsquo;survival of the fittest&rsquo; taking priority over team building.&rdquo;<br /><br />&ldquo;There is now double the competition for half the promotions, jobs and bonuses we saw in the boom years,&rdquo; he adds. Maybe the age of the dinosaurs isn&rsquo;t over yet.<br /><br /><strong>LEADERSHIP </strong>THE IMPORTANCE OF TRUST<br />The Institute of Leadership &amp; Management&rsquo;s chief executive Penny de Valk says trust &ldquo;is crucial to the performance of an organisation, and a cornerstone of good leadership. Teams are more effective in a trusting environment, and people work better and harder if they trust their leaders.&nbsp; But for leaders, being good at their job is simply not enough anymore. They have to be aware of their &lsquo;signal value&rsquo; and how this is perceived by employees as a sign of integrity. The more senior you are, the more the gap between what you say and what you do &ndash; or what you don&rsquo;t say or do &ndash; is amplified.&nbsp; In recessionary times, employees are anxious and this spotlight will be yet further intensified.&rdquo; <br /><br />In September, the Institute published research suggesting 31 per cent of UK employees had low trust in their senior management teams.