Tuesday, 13 March 2012

No More Undue Deference

By now we've witnessed the disasters that resulted from a lack of critical thought amongst auditors, ratings agencies, the Federal Reserve, the IMF, the UK Parliamentary Fees Office, the HBOS audit committee, and Gordon Brown's cabinet. So you would've thought a few lesssons had been learned. Yet I was peeved to hear last week that the protocol for meetings within the Bank of England demands complete deference to its officials - even an expert from another regulator must not speak unless asked to, and their unsolicited questions or observations are pointedly ignored.

Now, I'd like to think that somehow overstates the position - especially in light of Mervyn King's increasingly vociferous assaults on the banks he oversees - and I'm very happy to be put right in a comment. But I also fear someone will laugh and point out that every wing of the civil service works the same way and probably many other large organisations to boot. 

But if this is true, it does not bode well for the levels of co-operation and cohesion that will be required amongst the UK's new financial authorities.

I'm not advocating a culture of disrespect, impoliteness or disobedience - the opposite of deference. I'm against undue deference - the kind that amounts to acquiescence, capitulation, complaisance, condescension, docility and submission. If organisations are going to adapt to facilitate solutions to our problems rather than their own, they should welcome thoughtful contributions from every angle, not allow their management to hide behind phoney rules. 

In short, like Australian troops during the 'Great War', we should only salute officers who earn our respect.

Image from The Philosopher's Magazine.

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