As the blame for corporate scandal begins to point to the CEO, Louisa Moreton discusses how nurturing the right culture and engaging with employees is vital to deliver new strategies.
It's been scandal after scandal for as long as I can remember, with the latest being money-laundering at HSBC. We seem to be in a permanent state of outrage, and rightly so.
But what's interesting and different to the business scandals of the past, is where the blame is being focused. Today it's no longer acceptable for leaders to say that it was "rogue elements" conducting underhand dealings that the leaders were unaware of. Because it's no longer about actions, but the culture that drives those actions. Leaders are being accused of "presiding over a culture" where illegal, immoral or doubtful behaviour flourishes, even if that's only in pockets. The buck is stopping at the CEO, regardless of who actually did the deed. I've been struck by just how often the word "culture" is being used in the news reports, statements and analysis of these scandals, and not as a passing comment but as central to what went wrong.
For those of us who believe that engagement as well as culture and the behaviours that form and drive it, are key to delivering strategy and objectives, this is music to our ears. But if commentators are recognising that culture and behaviour are key, do those running businesses know how to define, drive and reward the right culture? Culture isn't something cooked up in a Board room and announced to staff; it's woven into the organisational DNA and needs to be unpicked, understood and set on the right course. I fear a reactionary move that will see internal statements about culture and expectations, but without the substance to articulate what it means, what it looks like and what needs to change on a team, Group and individual basis. Culture is driven by the crowd so recruiting, retaining and rewarding the right behaviours is key to embedding a new culture.
Can the top teams take on the challenge? We've all no doubt talked before about "being the change you want to see", and it strikes me that there needs to be some honest introspection from those at the helm of organisations, whether public or private, before statements are issued about causes and remedies. For those who want to get this right there's a three step process: audit and understand the current culture; set our your business goals and the culture and behaviour you need to achieve those; then do a gap analysis between the two and focus effort on what most needs to change. Some immediate actions will help, but there's a longer term win that only a thought-through process can achieve.
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