For obvious reasons every single one of my banking clients is currently involved in serious culture change work. It’s interesting to see the differences in approach, just as it is to see the similarities. Also to hear from some of those tasked with bringing about change, the MDs fresh from the Town Hall in which they have typically been:

  • shown examples of costly cultural failure;
  • reminded of the regulators’ particular focus on the area and of the organisation’s objectives/principles/values;
  • given some tools to use; and
  • exhorted to adapt their behaviour, lead by example and effect cultural change.

What I have heard most frequently from these people can probably be captured as a mixture of:

  • benign intent – of wanting to do the right thing;
  • confusion or ignorance about actually what they should be doing; and
  • the sense that they have a great deal to do in addition to this cultural role.

I think that the leaders may need help. And ideally, of course, most being people who don’t see themselves as natural leaders or people managers, they want it in the form of a manual or checklist:‘Effecting cultural change’.

But the manual doesn’t exist. In June, in New York an ethics class that I was running for junior bankers was introduced by a wonderfully charismatic, hugely experienced and (I judged) wise senior banker who said, in relation to ethics: “there is no playbook.” Ingenious human beings will generate hundreds of thousands of different situations and we can’t have a rule or a ‘play’ for each one. Indeed Mark Carney among others has recently commented that the fatter the rule book becomes, the less ethical and more focused on the letter of the regulation the industry’s players become. We must encourage each individual to act as a custodian of the organisation, to adopt a mindset that complements the organisation’s values and aspirations.

The first time that I was asked the question that Sir Richard Lambert subsequently posed in his report in the late spring/early summer: “how best do you introduce ethical decision making to an organisation?” I was talking about a working population the size of a small(ish) city. Crunching the numbers in my head, thinking of sessions for perhaps 20 people, I realised we were talking about many thousands, not hundreds of sessions. Not being that sort of consultant, my mind did not alight on ‘job for life’. It immediately threw back ‘that will take too long’ and ‘I’m not sure it would be effective anyway.’

Back in my hotel room I mused: “Who did I know with experience of genuinely changing the mindset, the approach to work (or indeed life) of thousands of people?” I was lucky, someone came to mind almost immediately. Kathryn Perera was one of our associates in 2010/11 conducting fantastically detailed and forensically thorough workplace investigations. As you would expect with a barrister from a (the?) top employment law chambers. But Kathryn had what for me at the time was an annoying part-time job in politics, at the Movement for Change (‘MfC’). Which she subsequently left us for on becoming their CEO (full-time). She has been hugely successful in changing the attitudes and approaches of many thousands of people. People who saw things like being in hock to pay day loan companies as completely normal. People who, once they were helped to see that there was something wrong with their perceived ‘normal’ and that they had the power (and permission) to change that normal, have done absolutely extraordinary things together.

Kathryn and I became hugely excited when we decided that exactly the same principles that MfC uses to (re-)engage people with public life could be used to (re)connect others to the principles of (for example) good banking. In the same way that MfC had engaged the single mothers in Cardiff on the subject of pay day loans, we could be engaging groups of people who, from reading the email trails, seem to have come to view something like LIBOR rigging or misselling as ‘normal’.‘Social organising in the workplace’ was born.

Without giving too much away, the process does not rely on traditional ‘sessions’. Nor does it rely on cascades of any type. One of the first things I learnt from Kathryn was that ‘telling people to do something never brings about change, they have to understand how they individually are going to benefit and that must be done one-to-one.’Hence the unclear MDs mentioned above.

Culture change is brought about by a series of one-to-one, relational conversations conducted by ‘culture carriers’ from within the organisation. Those people need to be engaged and supported in the process. But our job is as a catalyst. Helping leaders to set clear, achievable objectives and to set up the communication channels needed to share change as it happens.

We’d love to come and talk to you about this, so please do get in touch.

You can read more about our partnership on MfC’s websitehttp://www.movementforchange.org.uk/social_organising_in_the_workplace.