Diversity and coaching will rid the banking sector of its toxic culture problem

Career coach, mentor and inSpur founder Hema Kangeson. Source: supplied.

Australian financial institutions have faced intense scrutiny over the past year, with over 10,000 submissions received and reviewed as part of the royal commission.

Findings from the final report released earlier this month have revealed that leading banks not only treated their customers poorly, often driven by greed, but employees themselves were subjected to a toxic culture.

As someone who worked within the banking sector for 10 years, these findings didn’t come as a surprise. With systemic behaviours often promoted within the banking system, after a while, it became the norm.

The results from the commission merely highlighted the fact large financial services companies are not taking proper steps to assess culture, are not able to clearly identify problems, and if problems are identified, they aren’t dealt with effectively.

The poor culture stems from a hierarchy system where only those in senior positions are viewed as having a voice. Leaders would often enforce their authority, rather than influence it, as career progression, title and salary would come first and foremost.

Those who don’t want to play within the norms of the system are either penalised, forced to leave, or remain but are disengaged. But this could all be prevented, and the only way to move forward successfully is to implement a host of changes that trickle through all layers and levels, because at the end of the day, everyone deserves to be in a positive work environment.

A diverse leadership team that embraces input

Findings from the commission addressed that effectively managing culture is a continuous and ongoing effort that must be integrated into day-to-day business operations.

Employees within a business, no matter the size, should feel supported and valued within their current role and see a clear path for progression. Whether employees feel like they have the ability to progress is a clear reflection of the culture within the workplace.

Too often, incompetence, lack of experience and accountability were regularly rewarded and only those who moulded into the systemic culture would be promoted or rewarded — it was a culture fit, not add. This, in turn, promotes a passive-aggressive culture, with a complete lack of transparency.

Looking ahead, this can be prevented but we need leaders and senior management that are diverse at all layers, who at the same time, are competent at leading and influencing, have empathy and are willing to partner and encourage input. It doesn’t matter if you are a junior staff member or the general manager — you have a voice.

A better coaching and mentoring model

‘It’s not what you know, but who you know’ is a mentality that is rife in the banking sector, with individuals promoted to leadership positions who do not have the training, support, experience or skill set to be in such a role. This negative behaviour is known as the exemplar, with future employees believing this to be the benchmark that should be followed.

So, how do we prevent this? With a better coaching and mentoring model. Coaches that do not put their self-interest first, but rather offer support and assistance to those he or she is coaching, to help them implement change and achieve desired goals aligned to the organisation’s values. This coaching needs to occur at both an individual level and a team level in order to create a sustainable environment. It also must be ongoing. Too many companies think they can do a once-off coaching lesson and everything is perfect but this isn’t the case — it’s an ongoing commitment.

Step up and speak up

If you’re in a leadership position and currently working in a toxic culture, step up — this is your time to do it. By not calling out bad behaviour, you are just as much to blame as you are encouraging individuals to act this way. In some instances, bad behaviour is rewarded because no one said, or did anything.

But more broadly speaking, everyone within a company is in a position to weed out ineffective people who are not the right fit. This comes down to having a strong leadership team that create a safe, open and honest environment, where individuals are encouraged and feel supported to provide input.

Following the royal commission, banks will soon be a for-profit, for-purpose business, meaning they are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment — not just profits.

Only time will tell how we move forward post such findings.

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