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Last week Ampersand International hosted a Cultural Reform breakfast with guest speaker Dr. Corinne Manning at O Bar and Dining in Sydney. 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.
To set the framework Lloyd reflected on the key disruptors’ Australian business and the corporate landscape has undergone over the last two decades.
1994 – The triple bottom line social economic and environmental impact
1995 – The.com
2000 – Y2K
2005 – The emergence of digital
2006 – The emergence of PMO
2007 – EVP (employee value proposition)
2009 – Culture change and transformation
Today – Cultural reform?
Corinne began with her own background which included a love of history, people and storytelling. Corinne studied oral history and worked as an academic in this field for over eight years with key groups such as the indigenous, people with disabilities, migration, refugees and other vulnerable communities discovering what it was like for them living in Australia in different contexts. Corinne extended this onto her other passion which is military history. In particular, the impact of Australians working overseas and contributing to world peace. Also the personal impact of what it is like to go overseas as someone who works for The Australian Defence Force or The Federal and State police and to work in other countries to help them build more peaceful societies. Corinne was interested in what type of personal impact this had on the individuals who were going into war torn countries and societies that are still in the process of civil war doing a job for which they haven’t necessarily been trained to do.
Culture is comprised of individual drivers, organisational drivers and national drivers. Culture is the bedrock of everything that Corinne has done and pointed out that historically we have always had culture programs within business. Using Cadbury as an example from back in the 1800’s in England set up a village called Bournville. The reason they set up this village was to create a healthy environment for their employees to live in to ensure they were a more productive workforce. This ended up being a key business driver for success.
Corinne clarified the difference between a change project and a transformation project. An example of a change project is increasing the amount of women in leadership roles within an organisation. In comparison a transformation project is looking at the ways we do business and is a much broader project often informed by external factors and is often a long term project that requires constant evolution and evaluation. When it comes to cultural transformation it has that element of business transformation but aligned with that is also a sense of behavior transformation, which is the most challenging part. We need cultural reform because people have finally made the connection between behaviour and the way businesses operate. It is also critical to an organisations reputation, brand management and defining who they are in the market. A body of evidence over the past decade has highlighted the importance in business performance. This gives us a foundation on which to finally claim stake in the business environment in terms of cultural reform.
Just prior to Corrine entering into the defence force in 2012 they created The Pathways To Change. In that same year a male student in the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) filmed himself having sex with a female student, without her knowledge it was being live streamed into the rooms of his fellow male cadets. In 2013, what was known as the Jedi Council which was run by a dozen officers was circulating pornographic images from within the defence force. This was all against the backdrop of the Pathways To Change Review.
Corinne established that The ADFA is a highly capable highly intelligent workforce and the public perception is so far from the truth. When reported to the Chief of Staff at the time her recommendation was to educate the Australian public on what The Australian Army actually looks like. When commencing her work with the army she was given the task of creating a communications strategy for use internally and externally. For Corinne, communications is one of the biggest key drivers of cultural reform, particularly internal communications and doing so sensitively and smartly. Corinne completely re developed the narrative of The Army. The Army faced challenges based on how they were going to attract people to work for them when what was involved was considered highly unattractive in terms of working overseas away from family and rolling in the mud. The Army was forced to establish how they were going to compete with other employers that would be considered far more attractive. The demographic from which the Army drew on was quite narrow, it really is Anglo-Saxon and Celtic males. This resulted in a shrinking pool of people who were going to be drawn upon so The Army needed to address how they were going to engage with women and multicultural demographics and how do we make army something that people aspire and connect with. Corinne managed to change the narrative simply by using the term – our. Using this term in all contexts such as Our Army, Our story ensured that everyone had a sense of ownership.
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.
In order to successfully establish and resolve the problems it was imperative that they took ownership of the problems in order to move forward. 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:
- The willingness to want to do it
- The intent to do it
- The knowledge and expertise to do it
- The right person to come in and do the job
Her recommendations looked at an inter-sectional approach. Intersectionality is looking at individuals have a variety of identities and a variety of factors lead to those identifies. When looking at cultural reform projects we need to actually look at the inter-sectional factors that impact the way we do business.
Corinne recommends that when working on a cultural reform project its imperative to get the right people in that understand your business and take the time to understand the unique individuals and factors that influence your business culture. This takes time and is not something that can be understood on day one. Cultural reform doesn’t happen overnight, it takes time to gain equity for certain areas to ensure people have equal opportunity to apply for roles and to be treated fairly within the workplace.
Lieutenant General David Morrison AO is a retired senior officer of the Australian Army. He served as Chief of Army from June 2011 until his retirement in May 2015. He was named Australian of the Year for 2016. David Morrison has said “Corinne helped to shape the modern Australian Army through her leadership in changing our culture to be more diversely appealing for people with different backgrounds and experiences, Corinne seamlessly worked across all levels, building trust, understanding and commitment to create sustainable change. She was a trusted adviser, respected colleague and pragmatic driver for positive change and improvement capability.”
Commendable metrics that have taken place since Corinne’s cultural reform agenda has been put in place have included:
- Female engagement went from 9%-13%
- The Army became an employer of choice
- David Morrison became The Australian of The Year
- Marise Payne was appointed the first female defence minister
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.
Do you have any advice on how to break through someones very large ego?
Corinne: Egos are actually very interesting to deal with. The behaviour that is coming out as ego, is usually caused by insecurity and fear. Most of the time we are referring to people that have been in these positions for decades to all of a sudden change the way they do business. So you need to go in and actually have a conversation about some of their ideas that you might also know of but let them do all of the talking. My approach has normally been, go in let them do most of the talking, you engage with value, but make it all about them. Then go back and look at some of the issues they have raised and understand their business a lot better. Start to work through some of the scenarios in order to build a level of trust. Often there are some people where the ego is still there but they will let you into their world in a way they would not have done so previously. Then there are people with egos that just have to go. They are blockers, they are toxic and they just have to go. You will normally come across those people when after a second of third conversation you are still being treated the way you were the first time. The collateral damage they do is not worth them staying around for much longer. You need to ask yourself if this person is actually causing you to lose money in other ways.
We know that leadership is a big driver of culture how explicit has the army made the role of the leader and whats the definition of leadership ?
Leadership is from day one when you walk through the door as a student. Leadership is a fundamental basic of army life. It is something that is well understood, well respected and that chain of command is organic. It is in their DNA. The way this is understood is basically, you do what you are ordered to do. But there is also space for you to contribute to making the organisation better. So there is a culture of questioning certain things, decisions or pathways. There are forums for contributing, work-groups, academic groups but leadership is key.
How do you make change when there is no shared view of what a problem is or why change is needed?
I have been working on a major violence project at LA Trobe University in terms of all forms of violence in the university community from aggressive communication styles in emails, in meetings to rape. One of the key things we did was ensure people understand what the problem is. Last year I spent a lot of time gathering statistical data and running a stream of qualitative research that not only looks at the prevalence of violence but looks at peoples experience and perceptions. People often say they don’t believe it is actually happening. If you can find enough evidence to show it is happening and actually presenting it to them.
What are some of the symbols you have used that helped to demonstrate what the culture is ?
The best thing is role modelling, in particular the little details. You need to call these out and make this obvious to the whole community. Also leveraging some of the traditional things within the organisation you hold valuable. Sometimes your best weapon is not talking about it as being culture. But talking about them in a way that resonates with people in a particular way. Being stealth and coming in with your cultural change in a way that resonates with particular people. Leverage of the things that are meaningful in an organisation and be clever about bringing your cultural reform.