In my previous post, The Illusion of Corporate Culture, I put forth a heretical point of view:
There is no one corporate culture. Organizations are really a collection of subcultures. If the subcultures are aligned with the overall business needs and strategy, then we call this a high-performance culture. On the other hand, dysfunctional and toxic cultures exist when the various subcultures are significantly out of alignment with the strategy and needs of the business.
Continuing my learning from over 30+ years of research and consulting with CEOs and senior teams on corporate culture and culture change, not only are organizations a collection of subcultures, but often within the same company subcultures can be very different. And different subcultures have different levers and needs. And when it comes to culture change, there is no one size fits all approach, contrary to the popular cascading “sheep dip” culture change workshop approaches.
A good example can be seen in the global banking industry, where the typical global bank is a collection of very different subcultures; investment bank and trading floors, back office functions, and retail and customer-centric banking. To try to develop a culture change program to bring about one single corporate culture in these highly differentiated business environments would be ludicrous.
Investment banking and trading desk subcultures are characterised by speed of decision-making, a total reliance on data and information systems, persuasion skills are required, as is an appetite for risk the ability to spot discrepancies in the market and move quickly. Individual performance is values and recognized and the focus is on profit and return, not on relationships or necessarily customer needs. It’s a subculture of opportunism and speed blended with competitiveness and a dash of aggression and the need to be better than the person at the next desk.
Still within the same global bank, the subcultures of back office, technology and support functions tend to eschew risk for quality and sustainability. Teamwork and open sharing of information is a requirement for success. Long term planning, continuous improvement and dedicated investments in systems and capabilities are critical. The hero or superstar is discounted in favour of the ability to help and support others. Speed is important, but not at the expense of quality or sustainability.
Customer-centric subcultures are found in wealth management functions, corporate banking and retail banking. Listening skills, empathy, customer problem solving and building long-term relationships are strong in these subcultures. Working together with other functions and departments to put together compelling customer propositions and solutions is the normal behaviour required. Risk taking and bending the rules and regulations is not a welcomed part of this subculture.
So, with all these various subcultures and their various requirements, behaviours and attitudes, why do consultants keep trying to describe your “bank culture” with a single chart? Or worse yet, try to engineer a top-down sheep-dip culture change program?
Should there be the common denominator across all subcultures within a given bank? If so, what would tie all these very different subcultures together? Good question.
Most culture experts would quickly answer with “Corporate Values, of course”. I tend to think this is an over simplistic view of corporate culture and one which, based on current events, doesn’t seem to work in big global banks, or other large organizations.
In my next post we look to the world of International Rugby for a possible answer to what could tie subcultures together.
John R Childress
See the review of LEVERAGE in The Economist (January 9, 2014.