Culture: what drives it and the role of L&D?


Let’s get the elephant on the table: you can’t TRAIN your way to a good culture. That statement gives you the immediate option not to read any further if you think I am so wrong you can’t be bothered to read on. But think on that … you are so certain you are right you won’t listen to another POV!

And there lies the problem, particularly in the big banks. From the outside looking in, these huge firms are rich and an employer of choice for many ambitious, young (and not so young) folk. Land a job with one and – if past performance IS a measure of future success – you are onto a winner and an income, often many times over, Joe Average.

They set the standard and have the reserves to weather almost any storm. And right now, a storm is brewing. The regulator – the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) – in its wisdom has, through its recent legislation: SM&CR, sought to make Senior Managers personally responsible for failures and malpractice that occurs “on their watch” so to speak.

This has been designed undoubtedly to encourage firms to do right by the customer. Treating customers fairly should be a default culture in every bank and financial institution. And if it doesn’t happen, then the SM&CR gives the regulator the ability to “track and trace” (to use a vogue expression) the perpetrator and punish them.

The trouble is that since it became law there has only been one successful prosecution under SM&CR, and many in the industry believe that whilst the intent was right, the execution is flawed. One could of course conclude that prosecution data is evidence that the legislation has achieved its objective. One might be in a minority?

What drives the culture in any group is leadership. Say what you will, if the exec doesn’t want to change it, then change rarely happens. Or it happens at a pace that would embarrass a racing snail!

Case in point: training. Who believes that subjecting employees to mindless one-size-fits-all, annual, tick-box compliance training is going to achieve anything positive in terms of cultural change? It isn’t.

And whilst training cannot in itself change the culture of an organisation, the methods adopted and deployed by firms in relation to regulatory training speak loudly as to actual intent.

Paying lip service to important Training & Competency (T&C) of employees by way of largely useless and ineffective methods, designed to deliver a tick in the box for the lowest possible cost, speaks volumes as to the real culture of the business. We know to what I refer. Annual refresher training of the same old stuff, taking no account of actual individual knowledge or competency in any subject. Everyone in a given function or job family gets the same. A short-term memory test concludes competence; job done; box ticked.

Anthony Seldon in his book ‘The Fourth Education Revolution: Will Artificial Intelligence Liberate or Infantilise Humanity’ explores the role of AI in the true education of the populace. What AI enables us to do is to treat employees, every single one of them, with respect and guarantee they at least know what they SHOULD be doing.

Leadership however determines whether in fact this knowledge and competency is allowed to be exercised. In this regard the shadow of the leader is everything.

Shadow of the leader

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Shadow of the leader

Does an employee with high engagement and competency perform better in their role than an employee with low engagement and competency?

As the ex-managing director of a c.4,500 employee workforce, I quickly learned that whilst (metaphorically speaking) it was my hands on the steering wheel that guided the organisation, I could swing my hands left and right and see no discernible change of direction! That is unless I had engaged the line management and they were also steering in the same direction.

You see, it was my belief that the individual who inevitably has the greatest impact over the performance of the employee is their direct line manager, not the CEO/Board/MD. With c.85% of your workforce reporting through a Team Leader or Supervisor, it is often this junior management cohort, that has the greatest influence on your workforce behaviour and their performance.

Conduct Rules bite from the end of March and these are aimed at ensuring good and appropriate behaviour in our financial services sector.  At some point the FCA is going to point to systemic poor L&D practice as a rationale for deeper investigation of a firm.  In poker I am told they call it a “tell”, where a player inadvertently discloses the value of her/his hand through some sort of physical manifestation or tick.

In the FinServ sector the “tick” maybe really obvious!

Adrian Harvey

Elephants Don’t Forget

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