Banks, cultures, values and behaviours

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Before continuing I feel obliged to say that I worked for a bank (HSBC) for 11 years.  I left in 2001.

Last night I was listening to a previous executive of Barclays discussing the failure of culture, values and behaviour within his old company – and I suspect in particular within Barclays Capital.  I'm not qualified to comment on quite what went on; I join the rest of us in observing a relatively small number of people acting in a way that disappoints us but no longer surprises us and leaves a very sour taste in the mouth.

I am though very interested in culture, values and behaviours and a little bit more qualified having spent the last 10 years working with 360 degree feedback and working with organisations to design values and competency frameworks.

When I look at the lack of integrity and sheer greed involved in the current banking issues I don't think a competency framework and 360 feedback session are going to stop them!  However, over time, banks changed.  When I joined Midland Bank it was a generally dull organisation making some mistakes but its ethos was one of safety and security.  I suspect if we go back 40 years banks would be even more strongly associated with conservative values and behaviours.

And this is where having values expressed and  talked about each year matters.  Cultures build and change over long periods of time.  There is no short term magic bullet to move culture.  Instead, you have to make it a long term priority; checking it (surveys), talking about it (360 feedback) and making it part of everyone's responsibility (performance appraisal).   The public are not complaining that the banks were short of rules or regulations they are complaining that they lack the values we expected.

We can only suspect whether the CEO and board of the banks were complicit in the wrongdoing.  What I would be confident of is they were casual about ensuring that the culture, values and behaviours of all those within the organisation were aligned to those expected of companies we all trust with our savings and investments.  I don't know where Bob Diamond's values lie but I do know he ran an organisation where part of it lost track of its values.



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