Earlier this week Citigroup chief executive Vikram Pandit summoned 60 executives to the megabank's private country club in Armonk, N.Y. to present his plan to restore Citi's lost luster.
We won't bore you with the details of the plan. (But Eric Dash of the New York Times will do so, if you insist.) It's mostly platitudes that seem unlikely to restore the lost morale of executives who've seen their fortunes plummet with Citi's share price. The real problems with this plan begin before the details. They begin, in fact, with the title Pandit gave his plan--"The Rules Of The Road."
What could be wrong with that?
It's a clichéd and hackneyed phrase, first of all. But more importantly, it sends the wrong message. The rules of the road--we mean the real rules of the kind of roads you drive on--are stupid and frequently ignored. If you want to establish a dynamic and responsible corporate culture aimed at growth, the rules of the road are the last thing you should use as a model.
Road rules are a great example of errant and arbitrary regulations. Stop signs proliferate across America without rhyme or reason--usually because someone requests one and there's no effective anti-stop sign lobby. Individuals are penalized for virtually riskless behavior like not waiting for lights to turn green at empty intersections. Government officials frequently flout the rules, parking where they want to and ignoring traffic rules. Cops probably run stop signs more frequently than they stop at them. Many towns and cities use the rules as a way of raising revenue without regard to actual safety. Most people understand the rules of the road are stupid and ignore them when they can get away with it.
What's more, road rules make roads less safe, as British writer John Staddon explains in the latest issue of the Atlantic. Stop signs, for instance, waste gas and lead to more traffic accidents. When traffic signs are reduced, accidents decrease and fewer people are injured. "The more you look for signs, for police, and at your speedometer, the less attentive you will be to traffic conditions," Staddon explains.
Citi needs a culture closely attuned to market conditions, the safe navigation through dangerous intersections (like a credit crunch) and reaching the destination of profitability safely. "Rules of the Road" should be kicked to the curb.