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On Tuesday morning, Ampersand International hosted a Cultural Reform breakfast with guest speaker Dr. Corinne Manning at Melbourne’s iconic Vue De Monde. Corinne is a globally recognised leader in cultural reform, with a unique blend of public sector and corporate expertise. She has a proven track record of delivering cultural reform strategies resulting in organisations being cited as leading employers of choice in Australia and the Asia-Pacific.
Corinne is renowned for delivering complex projects requiring engagement with a broad range of stakeholders, often requiring support from diverse and challenging client groups. This includes extensive experience in the defence industry, Federal and state governments, and corporations. She has led organisational change components of major capital projects with budgets of up to $790 million.
Lloyd Lazaro, Managing Partner – Search & Asia Pacific, interviewed Corinne (with a pronounced focus of her time consulting to the Chief of Staff at the Australian Army – 2016’s Australian of the Year, David Morrison), on the reform mandate she was tasked with; the challenges she encountered; experiences; learnings and; how these strategies could be transferred and embedded into corporate Australia.
Corinne spoke of the importance of not only addressing individuals’ behaviours and attitudes but also the company’s values, visions and operational expectations. She highlighted the importance of a feedback loop being a critical component of a successful organisation – ensuring employees feel comfortable in keeping the business accountable for staying true to their cultural narrative.
Corinne discussed some of the triggers for cultural reform in organisations. She cited an example that occurred at the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) whereby a male student was engaged in having sex with a female student (although consensual), however it was being live streamed into the rooms of his fellow male cadets (without the female student’s knowledge, or consent). Corinne argued that while media scandals targeted corporate and public sectors, organisations such as the military and police were prone to greater media scrutiny due to a high level of public interest in these institutions and society’s expectation that service personnel meet a higher standard of moral and ethical behaviour. She believes that this intense public lens is a key in placing pressure on organisations such as defence and the police to implement widespread cultural reform in a way that other organisations simply do not face.
Corinne identified that whilst many would view this public scrutiny as a negative, she regards it as a positive step in terms of cultural reform as it creates an avenue for poor behaviour to be publicly outed and therefore dealt with. The ADFA scandal led to seven immediate reviews across the defence force including the treatment of women, social media, alcohol and personal conduct.
Whether a company faces cultural issues relating to women, bullying or aggressive behaviour, there is often a systemic tolerance allowing counter-cultural and destructive behaviours to occur – often not necessarily intentional, but through a range of drivers including a fear of not knowing how to deal with these problems. Consequently these behaviours embed themselves into the fabric of an organisation.
Corinne addressed the difficulty that corporations faced in becoming aware of such issues and how their challenges differed from the public sector. She highlighted key requirements for ensuring successful cultural reform:
Her recommendations included:
- The willingness to want to do it
- The intent to do it
- The knowledge and the expertise to do it
- The right person to come in and do the job
Corinne discussed four particular cultural reform agenda items:
- Transparent Reporting
Corinne highlighted the importance of genuine and transparent reporting within a business and how critical it is for people to stand up and own their mistakes and address it in order for people to believe the change you are trying to evoke is authentic. Conversely, if you have a culture whereby things are hidden, tension arises and the company can be seen as disingenuous – which leads to disengagement. Dealing with issues/matters with a genuine approach, is a key to success.
Another key challenge Corinne faced was the ‘legacy of tradition’ and the engrained ideals about what a good Army person looked like. This tended to focus on the Anzac legend – white Anglo Saxon males who ironically were “heavy drinkers and anti-authoritarian lads” – which is the complete opposite of what you would want in your business.
Keeping in mind at this time Australia was at war in Afghanistan (2014) so what Corinne had to do was to make sure that cultural change wasn’t perceived to be threatening battlefield performance or the security of the service personnel . Corinne decided to leverage the stereotype of the Anzac legend and looked at the things that were meaningful and positive such as strength, nationalism, the idea of equity, values, courage and respect.
At the time the army’s core values were:
Corinne noticed that the term respect was a common theme within the Pathway to Change strategy that the ADF had created based on the cultural reviews. Upon her recommendation, the Army added ‘Respect’ as the Army’s fourth value. As a result, personnel started to not only respect one another but also respect themselves and the organisation they were representing.
Most senior leaders rarely see people on the frontline and if we want to address culture its imperative we address people at the lower levels – not just the senior leadership groups. Whilst it’s important for senior leaders to role model, act out values, philosophies and their vision, you also need to look at who your key influencers are and ensure they are supporting the behaviours.
Corinne also noted it’s important to acknowledge key influencers that are not necessarily official leaders. Encouraging these influencers to be on board will help share a consistent message throughout all the ranks (levels) within an organisation, especially if they feel like they can take ownership in leading change amongst their peers.
Corinne addressed understanding as a key influence to shift mindsets. Assuming that all people naturally understand culture is unrealistic, it needs to be explained specifically in line with the challenges, problems and solutions relevant to the individual. Educating the organisation about what culture looks like is critical. This thinking needs to be applied to why your organisation exists and what are the outcomes you’re aiming to achieve. You also need to consider the ways you currently do business that may be causing some of these cultural problems – look at how we can improve what we are doing, change what is harming the organisation and keep what we are doing effectively so that we can maintain productivity.
Corinne was adamant about the importance of communicating key messages with your target audience in mind. Tailor messages based on varied contexts and levels of understanding within an organisation to ensure your message resonates with everyone.
Corinne also shared one story when she asked a young male soldier why he thought it was dangerous to have women on the frontline to which he responded with: “just say you’re in a trench, it’s just you and three other people, she’s going to need to take a pee and we’re all going to be looking at her instead of looking at the advancing enemy.”
As pathetic as this sounds, it helped bring out conversations that challenged pre conceived ideas that were evident within the organisation. Conversations about culture were held in groups across Army – safe places forums/environments were established where people could openly discuss issues and concerns. The benefit of these forums was to enable localised groups to get together in a guided discussion empowering them to drive the cultural agenda and regulate behaviours of peers whose ideas and behaviours were not aligned with Army values. Corinne sees this as a key to success – helping people feel like they are involved within the process of creating a solution. To simplify:
- Acknowledge the key issues;
- Translate these issues in a way everybody can understand it clearly;
- Encourage them to work with each other to find a solution;
- Ultimately what they originally perceived as a completely unreasonable scenario becomes questioned and viewed with an open mind.
Leadership grows from within, rather than being dictated down. Corinne touched on the conscience decision to avoid becoming controlling or creating a ‘nanny state’ environment in any way to avoid people feeling regulated or babied.
In summary Corinne noted three key learnings:
- Where you place your cultural expertise is critical. Nowadays there is a trend towards equating cultural reform with diversity and inclusion. However it’s imperative to view these as two completely separate streams of work within cultural reform. It’s important not only to look at a cultural reform project, but culture as a key lever for business performance. Examples such as Google and Netflix have Chief Cultural Officers as part of their C-Suite. The ability to recognise this as an invaluable function and to give that person the ability to work throughout the organisation unfettered by functional gatekeepers is the most efficient way to enhance performance.
- Working throughout the organisation. Having access to all levels of the organisation and relevant environments is imperative to hold an overall understanding of what is good and bad about the organisation which can be translated back to the leadership teams and acted upon. ‘Good’ cultural outcomes are not generic and they are not the same everywhere. To that end, you need to be very specific and define what is in the best interests of an individual organisation to deliver meaningful and sustainable cultural performance.
- The value of contributing your specific knowledge. Successful cultural reform requires specialist expertise to enhance existing knowledge and business practice. With no team and no budget, Corinne was able to create sustainable change by partnering with the business rather than creating a separate project and team. Working within personnel areas, training institutions, leadership teams, communications and marketing is imperative to making the changes sustainable.
Corinne finished with mentioning that the Army has undergone significant cultural reform and it’s going to be sustainable because of the transparent reporting and ongoing commitment and engagement that has been introduced to ensure that momentum and continuity forges ahead.
Culture is not the ‘new black’, it is not a trend or buzz word. Culture has always existed but it has only recently been seen as a critical driver for business performance rather than simply a social justice issue or a ‘nice thing to do’.