It’s always exciting for me to see an organisation investing seriously in changing their culture. To tackle it on multiple fronts, with a realistic understanding of what it'll take. Barclays Transform programme was, and is still, a good example of such an attempt.
We worked with Barclays some years ago when they were in the process of acquiring Absa, the first foreign bank to reinvest in South Africa after apartheid. Without disclosing any confidences, I can say that what we found in their culture assessment wasn't entirely different from the results we find in many organisations.
There are three Core Qualities we identified as being essential to building competitive advantage through culture. Most organisations need to improve on all three of these:
Without responsibility, change isn't possible. A word that comes up a lot in the organisations we assess is blame. Blaming others for the culture. Feeling helpless to change it. Once responsibility is taken, every leader sees that there are choices they can make.
Principled organisations build a culture where employees are encouraged to do the right thing, even if it's not the easiest thing. This may mean jeopardising short-term performance. Principled leaders hold the tension to find a solution that is values-led and performance-oriented, rather than succumbing to pressure to put one ahead of the other.
Perhaps hubris was the downfall of Barclays' former CEO, but any culture that allows a closing off to feedback, change, and public opinion, risks a tumble at some point. A lack of defensiveness and genuine openness to feedback is essential for building the best culture.
Barclays program includes putting 160,000 people through a half-day training program on their values. The process has led them to take some bold values-led decisions, such as last week’s step to include behavioural evaluation as part of their advisor bonus criteria. The work has all the signs of a complete overhall of the behaviours, symbols and systems that have underpinned their culture to date.
Meanwhile, the press are still baying for blue Barclays blood. It's going to take some time before they can win back our trust. But what a satisfying leadership challenge that would be if they can stick with it. Antony Jenkins says 5-10 years.
I wish them every success.
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