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Recently I was fortunate to be invited to a breakfast round table with Anna Bligh. As CEO of the Australian Banking Association, she is tasked with helping the banks to respond appropriately to the findings of the Banking Royal Commission, with its 76 recommendations plus additional comments on the culture in the banking sector.

In the wake of yet more revelations in the sector, you could be forgiven for saying cynically ‘Good luck with that’.

It was refreshing to hear Anna Bligh not making excuses, not shifting blame nor saying ‘it’s happening in all sectors’. Instead, she spoke positively about implementing the changes, changes that will be difficult but will result in much better service and care for customers, and ultimately will restore trust in the banking sector.

It must be so difficult being a customer-facing bank staff member right now. The lack of trust and a bad reputation is not due to many of these staff yet they face the brunt of customers’ feelings and at times, disdain.


The Impact of Culture

We make it sound so complex and indeed it is very difficult to describe exactly what culture is.

However, the truth is we do all know when we’re working in a business with a great culture. We also know when we’re working in a business with a toxic culture, or one where the top and bottom-line results are the only measures that matter, where what you achieve is paramount, but how you achieve it is neither discussed nor valued.

When the emphasis is only on the ‘what’ there is a massive impact on who you attract and retain in your business.

People with a ‘whatever it takes’ attitude (which can be great or dangerous) will be attracted to you and probably stay. They will hit those targets, no matter what, and at times this might mean disregarding ethics and the negative impact their actions have on other people. Because of the one-dimensional metric of ‘what’ or ‘results only,’ they will nevertheless be recognised as high achievers.

Those with strong values or principles will often hit the targets but choose to leave. Their drive for achievement is being satisfied, but they know their values will be severely compromised if they want to continue to achieve the targets.


Accepting is Condoning

What can you do if the culture in your organisation is not positive, where you feel embarrassed by it or uneasy about it rather than proud of it?

Of course, you can choose to do nothing to change the culture and try to hide behind the notion that it is complex, a bit elusive and a bit intangible. If you choose this path, you are, or become, part of this culture. The hard reality is, if you accept it you are, by definition, part of it. For your customer or any outside person observing there is no difference between accepting and condoning.

Ultimately culture is the ‘how’ you do things, the behaviours that are deemed to be acceptable and those that are not.


Tackling Culture Head-On

Rather than choosing to do nothing, you can face culture head-on and use three questions to gain insight and gauge the health and the culture in your organisation.

These three questions amount to looking at behaviour through three different lenses. These lenses are your personal lens, your customer’s lens and your grandparent’s lens.

  1. PERSONAL: The first lens to look through is your personal lens. Start by looking in the mirror, literally, and asking these two questions out loud ‘What do I win, personally, from my work?’ And do you gain this win in a way you would describe as fair, professional and satisfying?
  2. CUSTOMER: The second lens is your customer’s lens. What is the win for your customer? If there’s a loss, particularly a loss which is unfair or a loss they didn’t even know about, then it isn’t right. If there’s no win for them, there will be no longevity in the relationship, there won’t be repeat or referred business. This stands to reason, who wants to continue to do business with a supplier where they lose? They will choose to take their business elsewhere. There may be a short-term gain but there will not be a long-term gain.
  3. GRANDPARENTS: The third lens is your grandparent’s lens. Again, ask yourself the questions out loud. ‘Would my grandparents feel proud or embarrassed by my actions?’ ‘Would I be happy for my grandparents to question me about the way I carry out my work?’ This is a particularly powerful test because, for the vast majority of us, it is important to us that our grandparents think highly of us.


The answers to these very simple, but very powerful, questions are probably a lot more useful in assessing the culture in your organisation than the expensive multi-question surveys many organisations spend very significant amounts of money on. These surveys tend to reduce culture to a number and to identify some areas of concern. There is no real game plan of what to do next, or how to improve the culture. And then the leadership team, legitimately concerned about their culture results, holds town hall meetings to share the results and talk about how culture will become a major focus in the coming year.

While very well-intentioned, this ‘focus on culture’ is often more rhetoric than substance. And the following year the organisation again pays to repeat the expensive cultural survey and hopes that the number is better this year than last.


DIANA’s PRO TIP:  Look at the culture in your team through the three lenses. Are you happy with what you see? If not, what specific steps and actions are you going to undertake to change it? Not sure where to start? Get in touch with us on 1300 085 248 or We’re here to help.