Big changes at Barclays need deft handling

As with any change programme, inevitably there will be a lot of personal uncertainty for those involved

The headlines about Barclays screamed ‘14,000 jobs to go this year’. In essence, it is a larger figure than an already large one, as the bank had said it expected to cut 10,000-12,000 jobs in 2014.

And, of course, most importantly, it isn’t just a figure. It is 14,000 people – 14,000 individual stories.

The reaction from those leaving will be everything from ‘thank goodness I get to retire a few years earlier and have more time for the things I enjoy’ to the sick feeling in the pit of the stomach on realising there won’t be a salary. And everything in between.

As with any change programme, inevitably there will be a lot of personal uncertainty for those involved.

Barclays is a big bank, and even after the changes it will be huge. It is also a valuable brand that aspires to be the place people want to work and with which ordinary folk, the rich, companies and governments want to do business.

How do you keep all that going while handling 14,000 people, one at a time, sensitively and correctly?

Make no mistake, Antony Jenkins, Barclays’ chief executive, will want that and will insist on it. He is no stranger to handling change at big companies – many people forget he spent 17 years at Citigroup, which even today employs more than 250,000 people.

The market clearly approves of his job cuts: the bank’s shares rose 8 per cent on the day they were announced.

In his official video he has promised a company that will be stronger and able to deliver “lower volatility, higher returns and growth”.

As Mr Jenkins and all senior managers know, for Barclays to emerge stronger, the people staying will need as much attention as those who are departing.

I have an account at the bank and a mortgage, and I hope my bank manager will be focusing on me and not worrying about his job, or his friends leaving.

Herein lies the biggest challenge every boss faces.

Change is never just words and facts and figures – in this case a commitment to keep the return on capital above the cost of capital – it is always people.

When the 14,000 have left, Mr Jenkins will still be there and so will more than 100,000 others. They will have to work hard to deliver the promised go-to bank, even while the landscape shifts around them.

How the people leaving – a lot of them in fixed-income, currencies and commodities – feel about it is obviously something the headlines will dwell on for a while. And that is understandable.

But spare a thought for the people left behind in retail and even those on the slimmer investment banking side. In many ways, strange as it sounds, it will be harder on them. They will be the ones expected to carry on through the changes, looking after demanding customers like me.

So for the foreseeable future, Mr Jenkins will be leading a big change initiative, and a big bank.

That is a huge job and needs as much attention on one aspect as on the other.

He and his senior team will focus on both, because they know that when they come through this, those who remain will be more critical to the company than they have ever been. Which is why, perversely perhaps, they deserve as much attention as the ones going.

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