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The Art of the Corporate War

One of the greatest challenges in digital transformation is the cultural change, that has to be led with passion and commitment from the top-down. As I’ve already mentioned, that means a Board mandate and the Chair and CEO being fully on board. But what about the C-team? And the level that reports to the C-team? What about them?

Often in any large corporation, the C-team is like the Knights of the Roundtable, with many of those at the table wanting to kill the King / Queen to get their crown. How Prince Charles has resisted that urge for all these years is beyond me. Intriguingly however, in most of the large corporations I’ve worked in, it means not being an out and out Macbeth murderer but, instead, being a discrete backstabber.

Yes, the office politician and their political games.

I’ve seen this in action many times and find it incredibly frustrating as the #1 focus of people in any business should be on their customer, whether that customer be internal or external, and yet often it’s on how to get up the next ring of the office ladder.

It was brought home to me on many occasions, but one vividly stand out. This was when I joined a company and we had a meeting of managers off-site for the January kick-off meeting. The top 200 people in the firm assembled and, in the evening, were whisked off by buses from the hotel to a superb dinner.

Getting onto the buses, I sat with a colleague and he exclaimed: “oh look, here comes Richard Cranium*, he won’t stay on this bus”.

Sure enough, Richard walked up and down the bus smiling and shaking everyone’s hand and giving a few high fives, and then walked off.

“How did you know he wouldn’t stay on the bus?” I asked. “Because there’s no one important on this bus”, my colleague replied.

Sure enough, two years later, he was the right-hand man of the CEO and I had left. But then I never could tolerate office politics.

The challenge therefore for the CEO and Chair when engaging in digital transformation is to recognise that there are layers working against them. Not just the middle management who worry about losing their little empires, but the Knights around the table who have spent years working the party line to get to be at that table and now the last thing they want to happen is to lose their prerogative … or their bonus for that matter.

What tends to happen in such situations is that the CEO, who is often new to their role, engages in a mass cull. Wipe out the immediate layer below and remove the threat. Set an example to strike fear into those who oppose the new way of doing things, and ensure that those who now rise to the table are loyal to the new way of thinking.

That sounds ruthless, but think how often it happens. And it really strikes at the heart of Machiavelli and Sun Tzu … to change the organisation, you have to change the management first.


* English sublety: Richard Cranium translates into Dick Head


A few choice Machiavellian quotes:

“Never was anything great achieved without danger.”

“The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the” people they have around them.

“I’m not interested in preserving the status quo; I want to overthrow it.”

“Never attempt to win by force what can be won by deception.”


And a few choice Sun Tzu quotes:

“If you know the enemy and know yourself you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.”

“If ignorant both of your enemy and yourself, you are certain to be in peril.”

“The general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service for his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom.”

“He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks.”




About Chris M Skinner

Chris M Skinner
Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, TheFinanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal’s Financial News. To learn more click here...

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