It’d be nice to live and work in a world where guides for ‘better corporate culture’ aren’t actually needed, leaders just make it happen.
But in 2017, we’ve seen plenty of examples of crappy workplace cultures that have resulted in everything from systemic discrimination to bullying, unethical behaviour, and bad conduct affecting consumers, staff and other stakeholders.
There are high-profile examples of such companies (consider the many, many headlines Uber’s managed to garner in 2017). We’ve also heard major examples locally where former senior leaders will imply that, “Everyone knew what was going on!'”, but at same time indicate they never thought to actually do anything about it.
But there are also no doubt plenty of companies with terrible cultures that simply go undetected. This affects everyone from shareholders to clients and consumers. It also affects employees.
That’s why the launch of a free new practice guide for managing culture, coming in the final weeks of 2017, is so welcome.
Moving past the conversation of ‘why’ corporate culture matters, it instead offers practical guidance on ‘how’ to good culture happen.
And it may just set a new tone for companies looking to do and be better in 2018.
The guide comes as a result of a collaboration between The Ethics Centre, the Institute for Internal Auditors – Australia (IIA-A), the Governance Institute of Australia and Chartered Accountants Australia New Zealand.
They say it stems from a number of research studies that finds companies that have a good culture, perform better than companies that don’t.
I attended the launch of the guide on Tuesday, featuring a panel discussion moderating by The Ethics Centre’s Simon Longstaff, and including ASIC Commissioner John Price, Regnan CEO Pauline Vamos and ASX Corporate Governance Council chair Elizabeth Johnstone.
I was particularly struck by some of the comments Elizabeth Johnstone made, when she said that what can really matter in an organisation is who is “calling out” the bad culture and bad conduct, and who is not.
She pointed out (although didn’t name) high profile examples where, “We see people falling over themselves to say how much they knew, and people are saying well why weren’t you speaking out then?”
“One of the things I’ve learnt over and over as a legal practitioner and company director is the impact of that failure to call out very early in the story what is not right.”
Meanwhile, John Price noted the links between good culture driving business and generating shareholder value. “It bolsters brand loyalty and reputation,” he said. “Organisational culture can either support or damage the reputation between a company and its customers.”
So who owns culture? Price said the board, senior executives and management all provide a critical role. “In short, it’s about trying to make sure that tone from the top makes its way to the middle,” he said.
“At the heart of responsibility at the top is the need to understand, the need to check, and the need to change course, all with the view of the customer, the business services.”
Businesses can request the culture guide at the Governance Institute of Australia.