Bad culture hurts reputation

Altius bond funds receive ‘Recommended’ ratings
October 18, 2016
Sustainable bond fund wins Lonsec Innovation Award 2016
October 20, 2016

“Culture”, as in “need for culture change”, must be the buzzword of 2016 in financial services.

As I am writing this immediately following the parliamentary inquiry into the banking system hearings in Canberra, it is being bandied about a great deal at the moment.

An organisation’s culture is closely linked with other attributes such as reputation and image. In fact if you apply an adjective to one it can always be applied to the others –an organisation with a good culture will also have a good reputation, whereas it’s virtually impossible for an organisation with a bad culture to have a good reputation.

But how does an organisation with a bad culture change it?

What we see discussed at the moment is how an organisation that has been caught out having bad business practices (usually to the detriment of its customers) admitting that it has happened and vowing to do something about the problem by “changing the culture”.

This promise of change is made easily, but we don’t always see what changes are made and how they work to the benefit of customers and clients.

Communication is key

Communications has a key role to play in effecting cultural change, and in restoring reputation and image.

Clearly the trigger for cultural change must start at the top, and result in an attitude shift all the way through an organisation, led by example. What the new culture is and what it aims to achieve must be entrenched in improved policies and procedures, and the benefits, to customers in particular, identified.

To be fully effective, and for the organisation to gain real benefit from the changes introduced, a Communication Plan is needed to show the shift in attitude and culture, and how the new approaches introduced, will operate.

It has to be more than saying “we recognise the need to change our culture and are doing something about it”.

The benefits of any new approach have to be tangible and explained to both staff and customers at the outset.

Staff  personify an organisation’s culture and if they don’t embrace changes, any new measures are unlikely to be seen as meaningful by customers.

This should only be the starting point and wider communication is needed. For instance, potential employees, customers, as well as numerous other influencers and opinion formers in the industry and community generally, need to understand changes have happened and what they are.

This both reinforces the internal messages and also shows the organisation is a good place to work and do business with. In fact it enhances reputation.

The problem with banks

Banks like to talk about customers being at the centre of everything they do but clearly they’re not.

Take the Wells Fargo story in America – the drive by top management for increased fees resulted in staff taking improper steps to satisfy those needs, and the real or perceived directives to increase income.

An attitude change is needed to move away from profit at all costs, and treating customers as fee generators whether they wanted a particular service or not, to a culture of “clients first” – solving problems in the best way that helps them, and not to simply maximise fees.

At least the bank CEOs in Australia say they recognise there has been an erosion of trust and that they are doing something about it.

But change doesn’t happen just because the CEO makes a public statement that says it will – there needs to be a planned commitment. An organisation will know it’s been successful in changing its culture only when third parties talk about the changes that have been made, not just the senior executives.