Banking culture change: more than ping-pong and pizza

Published at Oct 11, 2016, in Features

The banking inquiry has put the culture of banks into the spotlight and provided unequivocal proof culture drives financial performance – but not how you might think, says Marcus Crow, co-founder at 10,000 Hours.

With the regulator muscling in on the inner workings of banking and financial institutions, it is evident that bad culture drives financial performance down.

Fines, sanctions, enforceable undertakings and many more financial penalties and reputational losses, which take money and business away from banking organisations, would provide proof that culture is inextricably linked to financial performance.

“Regulators have no interest in ping-pong tables, pizza day or height-adjustable desks,” says 10 Hours co-founder Marcus Crow.

“Questions like how well does your institution detect and remove poor behaviour? shows regulators are looking beyond whether there is a positive culture in banks. They want to know how problematic conduct is surfaced and prevented. This is about the disclosure and candour colleagues are able to create between themselves in real time with real issues.

“However, if a middle manager is going to be able to surface a shonky deal or decision to a leader two or three levels higher in the organisation they need the interpersonal muscle to do it. This requires better training and coaching on how to deal with complexity and uncertainty. It’s not something that will be fixed by creating a ‘pleasant working atmosphere’. It’s challenging these leaders and their colleagues everyday on the issues that test moral fibre and leadership mettle. It’s about understanding how to navigate the complexities of these issues, stay with knotty conflict long enough to arrive through to a workable outcome for all stakeholders.

Crow says the lessons from this inquiry for all businesses, not just banks, is: as well as equipping your leaders with yoga classes at lunchtime, consider also building in them the strength and stamina to raise the heat on prickly issues that might save you a ban, a fine, or a nasty front-page story.

“The cause of culture does effect financial performance – just not in the direction we have been looking. And we are witnessing the banks experiencing that right now.”

– Marcus Crow is co-founder at 10,000 Hours, a firm specialising in helping leaders work in uncertainty.

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