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BlogGames at Work: Too Big To Fail

Games at Work: Too Big To Fail

Too_big_to_failBy Phil Read

One of the institutional games that has come into the spotlight over the last year or more is the game of "too big to fail". This is the game where a large financial institution takes on excessive risk.

The payoff is that if that risk taking yields high rewards that profit will be privately held (and distributed partly to shareholders, partly in the form of bonuses to senior staff); if it yields large losses which might threaten the viability of the institution the government will intervene to prevent this and so the losses will be publicly guaranteed through loans, financial injections etc. This is also called "moral hazard". The Treasury Secretary has been struggling with how to mitigate against this game through regulation (eg. requiring higher capital holdings for institutions that might be tempted to play this game).

In addition to these considerations, what is important I believe in minimising the likelihood of this game being played is:
- understanding whether allowing the size and market share of these larger financial institutions themselves is something which should be challenged
- understanding the web of incentivation for excessive risk taking versus the downsides for risk failure - not just at an institutional level, but also at an individual level (especially for senior management and the traders making the big bets)

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Token Involvement

To play Token Involvement, a manager conducts opinion surveys, focus group, or involvement meetings to communicate that "your opinion matters", but these activities are done only to make people feel involved rather than actually to involve them. The real intention is just to get rid of the complaints and for managers to show their management that they´re doing the "right" thing-involving their people in the decision-making process. The same game is played when leaders involve their direct reports supercially, soliciting their views on department strategy but relying exclusively on their views on department strategy but relying exclusively on thei own view. Cynicism becomes employees´ultimate response to this game, and they lose respect for management. Perhaps evens worse, when management really needs employees to be committed and contribuing to a major project, they have great difficulty securing this involvement.


Praise for Games at Work

jacopoA terrific read not only for senior leaders and executives but also for employees seeking growth in complex organizations. Goldstein and Read dissect the interpersonal dynamics that affect a company’s performance, provide a framework to understand the games that are commonly played in businesses around the world, and offer practical tools to correct these behaviors and improve the organization’s effectiveness.

Jacopo Bracco Executive Vice President DIRECTV Latin America

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