Some years ago, I resigned from a summer job in a bar. I did it by pouring a pint of London Pride over the landlord’s head. To be fair, he’d spat racist remarks in my face first and my reaction seemed less troublesome than calling an employment lawyer. But whenever someone very high profile resigns, voluntarily or with the benefit of ‘encouragement,’ and with or without somewhere else to go, they’re usually trying to deliver a message.
The message might be something like: “I can no longer support the way things are done here,” or “I’ve outgrown this company.” In other cases, the message is “mea culpa.” The mea culpas usually follow some ‘encouragement’ from others – the Board – for example, and a suggestion that they acquaint their shoe leather with the plank of public shame.
It’s been a week for resignations. When Marcus Agius, chairman of Barclays Bank, resigned on the morning of Monday, 2nd July after Liborgate became public, the message the bank wanted to get out was: “A senior person has paid with his job, there’s nothing more to see here. Can we all move along now, please?”
Unfortunately, that message didn’t meet universal approval in the court of public opinion. The next day, the bank tried a different message. “Marcus Agius has un-resigned. Bob Diamond has resigned. So too has Jerry del Missier (who? - ed).
The bank’s new message was “two senior people have now paid with their jobs. Honestly, there really is nothing more to see here, so can we all please move along now?” Bob Diamond’s high profile and televised appearance at the Treasury Select Committee yesterday afternoon begged to differ with the bank’s preference for an end to the story.
“The club and I don’t see eye to eye so I won’t be signing a new contract,” he sort of said. His message was either: “come and get me,” to a new club, or possibly: “if you start to see things my way, than maybe we can talk again,” to his current employers.
Either way, resigning for the most senior executives is a serious business and not something that should be approached lightly. The very least that will happen is the whispered debate about whether they jumped or were pushed.
Many executives use the threat of resignation as a tactic to get something that isn’t otherwise coming their way. Sometimes the tactic works and they get what they want; other times, they get the opportunity to resign.
A good communications counsel who’s plugged into the various corridors of influence can advise the best route to take and how a resignation action is likely to play out. They can also advise if staying put is realistic.
Had Bob Diamond taken the communications advice, for example, he may have resigned earlier that he did. This would have saved Mr Agius the ignominy of resigning with a detailed mea culpa statement only to withdraw it 24 hours later, and creating a nightmare situation for Barclayl’s comms department to manage when the executives finally agreed on who was going.