All Staff Must be Risk Managers: A CEO Explains

For a man heading a bank plagued by a series of scandals, Deutsche Bank CEO John Cryan appears to be avoiding a common mistake made by leaders of companies stung by poor workplace cultures or rogue employees. He hasn't fallen into the micromanagement trap.

In a letter just sent to the German institution’s staff, Cryan very notably urges them to reject hierarchy and think like entrepreneurs.

“Too often, I see in my own daily routine that too many different people are busy doing the same work as each other,” writes Cryan, who took the reins in July, 2015.

“Sometimes there are valid reasons for this. But often, a particularly cautious approach or a hierarchical mindset gets in our way instead of making us better and safer.”

Since 2008, Deutsche Bank has paid more than $9 billion in fines and settlements for improprieties such as manipulating interest rates and commodity prices, defrauding mortgage companies and violating U.S. sanctions by trading in countries such as Syria and Iran, the New Yorker reported last month.

It may therefore be tempting for Cryan, who was tasked with overhauling the bank, to discourage maverick staff behavior, either to prevent disaster or perhaps give regulators a positive impression the company was introducing more stringent checks and balances.

“Often, a particularly cautious approach or a hierarchical mindset gets in our way instead of making us better and safer.”

To the contrary, Cryan says allowing staff to act unilaterally can actually stop indiscretions from occurring.

“As our Chief Risk Officer Stuart Lewis said recently, every one of us must be a risk manager,” Cryan wrote to staff. “Trust yourself to make decisions instead of waiting for an instruction from above.”

Such a mindset is also necessary if Deutsche Bank wants to become a technology company, Cryan said, while adding: “We should be more daring and think a bit more like entrepreneurs.”

As the Harvard Business Review reports, micromanagement can sap employee morale by establishing a tone of mistrust, while preventing staff from learning how to do their jobs independently. It also can hamper the ability of CEOs to focus on bigger-picture issues of greater importance.

And, as Deutsche Bank’s Cryan suggests, it could indicate to some individuals that they’re not entirely responsible for their own, potentially scandalous, behavior.


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