Composure | What the Banking Royal Commission tells us about Culture – Unearthing What Lies Beneath..
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What the Banking Royal Commission tells us about Culture – Unearthing What Lies Beneath..

“That word ‘culture’ was mentioned 471 times over those 10 days, as Hayne and his team tried to get to the heart of how these companies actually operate”

AFR 2-3 Feb 2019 Article: ‘Can Hayne solve the culture conundrum’ – by James Thomson.

Reading James Thomson’s article in the AFR, and being involved in culture development for over 25 years, got me thinking – do leaders really know what shapes, shifts and strengthens culture or is it easier to just use the word ‘culture’ as a catch-all phrase to subconsciously avoid having to face real behaviour change?

Leaders need to get beyond the label and understand what is really inside to drive culture change. Culture change is not necessarily easy, but there are pathways to make it far more effective and sustainable.

The reason culture is harder than first thought is that it is complex, confusing and confronting. Culture is about changing often well ingrained patterns of behaviour, and as human beings this means challenging the way we think, feel and act. This can be very confronting for anyone and is particularly difficult for senior leaders. Often these leaders have been promoted, and have achieved great success and rewards via a set of behaviours that are counter to what is considered acceptable today. This is clearly evident in the Hayne report.

I wonder then whether the leaders in our Banks, Insurance and Financial Services companies understand change must begin with them. For instance:

  • Do leaders understand what it takes to build a culture that fundamentally changes the mindsets and behaviours of people in their organisations?
  • Are they prepared to invest the necessary money, effort, resources and time to create a new way of working and prioritise culture change over other ‘important’ initiatives?
  • Do they see the Hayne’s report and recommendations as something they have to comply with, rather than being genuinely committed to working to a different set of standards?
  • Are they able to look at themselves and lead differently given how they have been rewarded and promoted in the past?

Culture is challenging as we are dealing with a set of human conditions such as emotions, fears, drivers and motivations. Often these are working at a sub-conscious level so we don’t always know why we act and react in a certain way. Going deeper and beyond what is clear and known can feel exposing and uncomfortable. Ironically this is what the leaders of these institutions have avoided over the years, but have had to face in the Royal Commission itself. This type of exposure is raw and confronting in a negative way. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Which comes back to unearthing what lies beneath the word culture and how we get leaders to put in time, effort, resources and money to genuinely make a culture shift. It is much easier to talk about culture (471 times in fact), and much harder to look beneath the real drivers and limiters of behaviour change.

The intelligent organisations and leaders will go way beyond the broad recommendations of a culture review suggested in the Haynes report. Each organisation will have different challenges in their culture transformation however they need to stop, pause and understand what is really going on. Leaders need to identify what are the messages people have picked up over the years that have guided the poor standards of behaviours we see today? These messages come from a range of factors such as leaders, reward systems, structures, symbols, talent to name a few.

If we know the factors that influence a culture, then we can systematically and deliberately change these factors to align to a new way of working to create lasting change.

Leaders need to get beyond the culture label, stop using it as an excuse for not changing and discover what are the drivers behind the prevailing culture. Not doing anything is not an option. Doing it properly can get you way beyond just complying with a set of recommendations. It can set you up for sustained and substantial success, and set a new standard for the way work is delivered to customers and communities. We should expect nothing less from our financial institutions given their wide ranging impact on society.

To learn more about moving your culture from good to great, and get it working for you not against you, I’ve written a field manual “The Power of Culture”. Head to

This piece was written by Jeremy Nichols, Founder and MD of Composure, a leading consulting firm specialising in behaviour change and helping leaders and organisations perform through the power of people and culture

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