Make your culture the hero not the villain

Alderbrooke & Medius February Breakfast Briefing: Key Takeaways

Medius and Alderbrooke had the pleasure of hosting a breakfast briefing on the 6th February – Accountability for Culture under the Senior Managers and Certification Regime: Challenges & Opportunities. Over 26 financial service organisations joined our speaker line up which included three experts in this space; Andrew Williams, ex-Global Head of Compliance at UBS; Vaughan Edwards, Director at Medius; and Hani Nabeel, Head of People Analytics at Alderbrooke.

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Andrew introduced the session by sharing his experience and set the context on how the last ten years have shown beyond doubt the problems that arise when organisations have a misaligned or toxic culture. While the temptation is always to claim it is just a few bad apples, as Minouche Shafik said when she was deputy Governor of the Bank of England, sometimes it is more than this and you need to fix the barrel. The difficulty lies in knowing where to start. If the right culture is key, assessing that culture and managing the improvement is critical.

Vaughan then considered the implications of individual accountability for culture and how the UK regulators have communicated the importance of culture since they identified it as one of the key contributors to the banking crisis.  However, it was only with the introduction of the Senior Managers regime in 2016 that they acquired effective tools for supervision and enforcement activity in this space – “the Accountability Regime is directly targeted at the culture of firms” (Jonathan Davidson, FCA, 2017).  Most specifically, firms subject to the existing regime and ‘enhanced’ firms under the proposed new regime need to allocate (usually to the CEO and Chair) two culture-specific prescribed responsibilities.

The challenge for those Senior Managers charged with the responsibility of overseeing the development and adoption of culture is how to evidence ‘reasonable steps’ in relation to the discharge of those responsibilities.  Culture-related contents of meeting minutes along with relevant (‘tone from the top’) speeches and articles are all helpful in this respect.  However, the key challenge is how culture can be measured – how can a CEO or executive team get hold of credible cultural metrics?

FCA has talked about measuring culture with reference to outcomes e.g. demonstrating that conduct & culture factors considered in remuneration decisions.  These measures are useful but have the obvious limitations of being inherently retrospective.  In an attempt to produce better cultural metrics, firms have collated ‘proxy’ metrics by gathering data from areas such as HR and Compliance (training attendance, PAD and other breaches etc.), however there is clearly scope for more precise and sophisticated measures.

A failure to evidence reasonable steps can have very severe consequences for individual senior managers.  Those tasked with the responsibility for the firm’s culture should consider significantly enhancing any proxy and outcomes-based measures in ways that (a) enhance cultural oversight and (b) provide very tangible evidence of the discharge their duty of responsibility.

Firms and senior individuals in the Financial Services industry have the opportunity to enhance both compliance and competitiveness through adopting a fundamental change in their approach to culture and leadership. Transforming the shared values, beliefs and hidden assumptions that shape how the individual and organisation behave, will enable firms to truly unlock their full potential and minimise risk.

So how do we achieve this? Hani shared his expertise and findings from the seven-year research study he conducted with over 51,000 participants, in 61 countries across 60 organisations and supported by 3 business schools, which identified 15 critical behavioural dimensions to measure culture.

Using an innovative and scientifically validated diagnostic, like CultureScope, organisations can address a range of business challenges from innovation and digital transformation to inclusion and customer satisfaction. In terms of reducing risk, Hani flagged 8 behavioural factors that impact an organisations ability to manage risk effectively and most importantly how to measure if the behaviours are present, absent or conflicting.

For those unfamiliar with CultureScope, it enables organisations to decode their culture and deliver actionable insights to drive their businesses forward. These insights, combined with the business strategy and KPIs, provides a data-driven measurement to culture aligned to business outcomes.

In summary, corporate culture is one of the most critical levers for keeping organisations out of trouble IF the right individual and organisational behaviours are present to manage risk. This means we can no longer say we don’t know how to create a culture fit for purpose – if we can measure it, we can manage it!


Vaughan Edwards – Director, Medius Consulting

Hani Nabeel – Head of People Analytics, Alderbrooke


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What’s the elephant still in the room?   Maybe it’s real commitment to D&I programmes!

2018 has started with a wave of news items that begs the questions are organisations making real progress with their D&I programmes and how do they know?

The continuing wash through from revelations of exploitation and abuse in the entertainment industry (and, yes, the title of this piece is a borrow from the recent Golden Globes event), to a BBC journalist resigning her senior role over pay differences with male colleagues, a government reshuffle in the UK intended to make the government look more like the country it serves, to significant gender pay differences being reported by major firms across Europe – all suggest that we have a way to go yet to achieving a truly inclusive workplace.

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Exploring the flipside of D&I
Challenging though it might be, imagine a workplace that espouses the flipside of D&I – one that espouses uniformity and exclusion.   What would such a workplace feel like and what would the impact of that be on the commitment and performance of employees?

Hard to imagine? Well, data suggest that is exactly what many members of today’s workforce are experiencing and the impact on human capital and organisational performance is substantial.  If the emotional cost on employees is not compelling enough, research conducted at the University of California at Berkeley found that participants who hid their sexual preferences performed 17% worse than those who did not.  Moreover, this is a truly “inclusive” issue with nearly half of white straight male employees reporting that they suppress their true identities while at work.

Getting “under the skin” of D&I metrics
The ultimate test for any D&I programme and for any organisation claiming to promote D&I is how employees behave – do they embrace difference, even divergence, and see the value in doing so, and do they encourage the sharing of opinions of others when making decisions and acting on those decisions?

So, here are two propositions for you, the reader, to consider:

  1. Real traction for D&I programmes lies in how employees behave and in whether they see their workplace as encouraging or discouraging behaviours that are inclusive
  2. To gain insight in promoting D&I, organisations need to understand those behaviours which, in turn, means that organisations need to know whether their culture is D&I friendly or not

Seven markers of a D&I friendly culture
How do you know if the culture of your organisation is D&I friendly?   Work by Alderbrooke with over 60 organisations across 7 years points to seven markers of a D&I friendly culture:

  1. Shared obligations are clear – goals are set and agreed within the organisation and with external stakeholders in a spirit of partnership and through alliances
  2. Decision making is a cascade not a directive – they are effective at delegating decisions to lower levels within the organisation and provide supportive guidance on how those lower down should exercise judgment
  3. The rules for dealing with differences are clear – employees are encouraged to resolve issues based on clear expectations for interpersonal behaviour and mutual obligations
  4. They want to know what employees really think and feel – employees are encouraged to share and express their opinions and concerns
  5. Accountability is based on contribution made – people are valued for the contribution they make irrespective of the status they hold in the organisation
  6. Teamwork is valued as much individual contributions – managers recognise that goals are achieved through collaborative effort
  7. They ask the question “How are people growing through the work they do?” – employee growth through their jobs and their work is actively recognised in reward and in career progression

A case in point
Let’s take an organisation that had invested substantially in D&I but was seeing evidence that this investment was not having the impact expected.   This organisation used the seven markers to get to a clearer understanding of where they needed to focus to strengthen D&I in their organisation.

How did they do that?   They looked at the seven markers through two lenses:

  • The place and whether employees saw the workplace as encouraging or discouraging behaviours aligned with D&I objectives
  • The people and whether employees, especially those holding leadership positions, had what it takes to walk the D&I talk

What they found was that the issue wasn’t with the potential of the people to embrace D&I. The issue, and most significantly for customer facing staff, lay in the place with female staff reporting a much lower opportunity to express their opinions and with ethnic groups reporting a significantly lower opportunity to grow and progress in the organisation.

This insight gave the organisation the clarity to focus on two D&I interventions:

  • HR was charged with monitoring and sustaining efforts to demonstrate the organisation’s commitment to fairness and inclusion of its female employees (i.e. encouraging employee voice)
  • A new programme was initiated for employee personal development to demonstrate a more inclusive and fairer commitment to future talent irrespective of ethnicity (this programme also included greater access to external programmes)

What the seven markers also showed was the business value that these D&I interventions would deliver.   Where traction on D&I was weakest was in customer facing roles and this posed a clear threat to delivering a consistent and positive customer experience.   Here, then, is a case where getting under the skin of D&I issues also makes good business sense in addressing internal issues that ultimately impact on the organisation’s customers.

A final thought on the business case for D&I
Stating a commitment to D&I is one thing.   Getting value from D&I is clearly another.    Yet, here lies an opportunity for organisations and for the analytics community.   Identifying and addressing barriers to D&I should also be about removing barriers to developing human capital, building employee commitment and, ultimately, barriers to achieving organisational goals.

Peter Drucker the management guru is quoted as saying that culture eats strategy for breakfast (lunch and dinner too).   That suggests that the failure to gain real traction and tangible benefits from D&I programmes probably points to underlying issues of organisational culture.  Addressing these issues not only builds the foundation for successful D&I programmes, they also point to where the day-to-day behaviour of employees are aligned or not with the aims and objectives of the organisation.

And, from that perspective, getting under the skin of D&I and understanding whether an organisation’s culture is D&I friendly makes for very good business sense.

About the author
Eugene Burke is a Senior Advisor to Alderbrooke.   Formerly Chief Science Officer at the talent assessment firm SHL and Chief Science and Analytics Officer at the insights and best practices firm CEB (now Gartner). Eugene is an advisor to HR technology and assessment firms, is an analytics advisor to the UK’s Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) and consults on talent management, assessment and analytics.

Learn more about CultureScope
CultureScope has helped clients to address a number of businesses challenges and opportunities by identifying the hidden barriers that prevent customer-centricity, inhibit performance, hinder digital transformation, hamper collaboration and agile working and block inclusive behaviours – contact the team on +44 (0) 203 713 7555 to organise a demo.

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Alderbrooke welcomes Jodie Evans to the team

The Alderbrooke team continues to grow, with Jodie Evans joining us as Marketing Director. Jodie will be working across our executive search and behavioural analytics offerings, with a responsibility for developing and implementing our marketing and brand strategy.

Jodie has 11 years’ experience in Human Capital Management (HCM) marketing and joins Alderbrooke from IBM Europe where she led their go-to-market strategy for talent management and cognitive solutions.

We’re excited to have Jodie onboard and we remain on the lookout for the brightest talent in the industry as we continue to grow the company.

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If you’re interested in finding out what it’s like working at Alderbrooke, check out our career portal, or drop us a line at

If you would like to learn more about our executive search and award-winning behavioural diagnostic solutions, please get in touch –

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Why innovation needs the letter C

Day in, day out, we read, hear and see breakthroughs that are changing the way we live and work. The Apple iPhone X, the internet of things and treatments that have dramatically increased the survival rates from disease, not to mention the ubiquitous impact of big data and AI. So, we may think that innovation is alive and well. But is it?

Companies are still spending heavily on R&D with PwC reporting that the 1,000 largest corporate R&D spenders globally increased their R&D spend by 3.2 percent in 2017 to $702 billion (over £500 billion). As that article states, there is still a shared belief among executives that “… innovation today is a key driver of organic growth for all companies – regardless of sector or geography.”

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Is innovation getting harder or are we just getting worse at innovation?
The question posed in a recent Harvard Business Review article is whether those investments in innovation are seeing a sustainable return? The data suggest not with returns to companies’ R&D spending declining by 65% since the late 1980s, a decline that mirrors the worrying decline in productivity that continues to vex economists.

Is it simply that innovation has become harder as scientists, engineers and those engaged in R&D struggle to find evermore incremental ways to add value to the processes and technologies already in place? Or is it that some companies are better at innovation than others and, if that is the case, what is it about those companies that enables them to be better than others at innovation?

A deeper dive into the data indicates that the decline in returns from R&D spend is not necessarily true of all companies. The not so good news is that many companies are making it harder for themselves to achieve a return from the spend on R&D. They are just not very good at innovation.

Why this isn’t just about smarts and process, and why the letter C is important
While returns from R&D spend have been declining, organisations, private and public, have expended enormous efforts in processes for managing R&D not least in change management. The problem with these efforts is that all too often they have ignored one fundamental factor in successful change – culture. And, yes, that’s where the letter C comes in and why that letter C is not about yet another change management programme.

This became clear at a recent meeting of 100 CEO’s organised by IBM’s Ginni Romerty. Representing 17 different industries and some $2 trillion (£1.5 trillion) in revenues, the meeting was upbeat that technology was about to see a new wave of disruption by helping companies leverage their core expertise through more effective management of data. Upbeat though this meeting was, Time magazine found a challenge shared among CEO’s in realising this opportunity: “…the biggest problem they face is not technology, but rather creating a culture that can embrace and adapt to technological change”.

This isn’t surprising when you consider that innovation is principally about new futures – new products, new services and new ways of doing things. It is about future states. While those charged with innovation are pursuing those future states, their colleagues are focused on business as usual, the current state they have been trained and socialised to understand and work with. Bridging these two states – current and future – is the crux of the problem recognised by those CEOs attending the IBM event.

A tale of two companies
Consider two companies in the same sector (banking and financial services) with very different histories in implementing new customer technologies. One applauded by industry peers for their new mobile customer apps and receiving continuous positive feedback from their customers for enabling a more frictionless customer experience. One in the media for yet more platform problems, outages and customer woes.

Both companies have mature processes for managing their R&D investments and for managing the internal change necessary for adopting new customer service technologies. What is more, from the projects we conducted for them, both have the talents in place to support effective innovation teams. They both have the innovators.

The difference that our data showed was that the company receiving industry peer and customer plaudits had much stronger alignment between those innovation talents and the wider company. In other words, the wider company was much more likely to be receptive to new innovations and to be able to diffuse innovation effectively as it continuously evolved business as usual. This company is wired behaviourally to bridge that gap between current and future states.

Does that mean the other company is doomed in its attempts to innovate? The short answer is no and, after all, it doesn’t have the choice of not innovating if it wants to compete. This company has realised that more investment in innovation and change management in themselves is not the answer. To borrow from Einstein, just doing the same thing and expecting an improvement is, to quote from them, corporate insanity.

They have recognised that they need to address three key sets of questions:

  • What do we mean by innovation? Is the way we think about innovation today what we really aspire to? What are the tangible behaviours we need to promote to realise our aspirations for innovation?
  • Do we have the talents we need among our innovators? Can they provide the behavioural platform to drive the innovation we need? If they can, what is getting in their way?
  • Where are the specific gaps between our innovation teams and the rest of the company? What do those gaps mean in terms of the behaviours we need to encourage for diffusion of innovation to be more effective?

Addressing the cultural barriers to innovation is about focusing on behaviours
Just as culture can seem intangible, so change can seem intractable. The insight for the second of our two companies is that these dual challenges can be addressed by focusing on behaviours – what their people do and are less likely to do to support a return on their investment in innovation.

With a clearer and tangible definition of what innovation means for them, that company is now focusing on the behaviours they need to sustain among their innovators, on enabling those innovators to better understand the behaviours they need to influence in the wider company, and on how to promote behaviours across the wider company to open it up to more effective adoption of innovation.

The second of our two companies now has a route map that is driving progress from a better understanding at board level about why innovation went wrong in the past and what the company needs to focus on to get a better return from innovation going forward, to streamlining the approval processes that their innovators work with, to where in the company the beachheads are for them to start to get the traction they need when they roll out new innovative products, services and ways of working.

The letter C is more than just change
Is innovation getting harder? It would seem that it is for many organisations. Our experience suggests that many organisations are making it harder for themselves by either ignoring the importance of culture or because they lack the insight they need on whether their culture is enabling or disabling their efforts to innovate.

That’s why we believe that effective innovation needs the letter C and why the letter C is for culture.

About the author
Eugene Burke is a Senior Advisor to Alderbrooke.   Formerly Chief Science Officer at the talent assessment firm SHL and Chief Science and Analytics Officer at the insights and best practices firm CEB (now Gartner). Eugene is an advisor to HR technology and assessment firms, is an analytics advisor to the UK’s Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) and consults on talent management, assessment and analytics.

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What is the difference between Engagement and Culture?

‘Engagement’ and ‘culture’ are the corporate buzzwords of the day, and not only within Human Resources. Executives across all departments have realised that engaged employees are more productive, and that organisational culture plays a huge part in issues of hiring, performance, retention and corruption.

In addition, company leaders know that culture is established from the top down, so it is crucial that they be aware of their organisation’s culture in order to nurture or change it.

The leadership often think culture can be identified and managed through engagement surveys, as though ‘engagement’ and ‘culture’ are interchangeable terms.

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Culture vs. Engagement

Engagement concerns how employees feel about the way things are done. This can be evaluated in various ways – surveys, focus groups, interviews, observation, etc. The focus is more on the individual employee’s values, commitment and satisfaction.

Culture refers to the more unspoken, deep-rooted social norms – the beliefs, values and assumptions held by employees and by the organisation as a whole. These values are enacted through behaviours in the corporate environment, thus driving the unique culture of each organisation.

Engagement Surveys

These concepts require different forms of measurement and statistical analysis. Most assessments today are engagement surveys. Many tests are very subjective and one-dimensional; they do not identify why something is happening. Therefore, they reveal only one piece of the puzzle of organisational culture and can’t be used to tackle retention or financial crime.

For example, perhaps a firm selectively hired only highly ambitious employees, but they later lacked devotion and drive. An engagement survey could confirm very entrepreneurial employees. However, an organisational culture assessment could further reveal that those employees felt stifled by a corporate structure of hierarchy or bureaucracy.

Measuring Culture

Culture is more difficult to empirically measure, but it is possible using quantitative methods grounded in behavioural science. For example, cultural assessments can reveal the behaviours underlying outperforming versus under-performing teams, or why turnover is high.

CultureScope is an analytic tool developed from academic research in organisational psychology. It uses two online assessments to quantifiably identify personal behaviours against the perceived organisational behaviours, revealing where and why there are differences between the two.

Given that organisations are always evolving, leaders and managers must consistently measure the culture in order to manage it. They must recognise the influential relationship between employees’ intrinsic behaviours and corporate culture. Only then can they exemplify and establish a culture that nurtures integrity, collaboration, innovation and performance.

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2016: The Year of Organisational Culture and People Analytics

Only a cursory glance at daily business news and corporate social media feeds confirms this as the year of “organisational culture” and “people analytics”. These days, job hunters consider online reviews of office cultures, while a firm’s executive leadership know that their corporate culture influences company value and performance.

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In a Duke Fuqua School of Business survey of 1,400 CEOs and CFOs, 92% believed improving their firm’s corporate culture would improve the value of the company. And more than 50% said that culture influences productivity, creativity and profitability.

Another indication of the importance of organisational culture is the proliferation of conference talks and workshops focusing on the issue. Sir Win Bischoff, chairman of the Financial Reporting Council, gave a speech during the annual FNC conference that focused on the importance of corporate culture. “When there is a healthy culture, the systems, the procedures, and the overall functioning and mutual support of an organisation exist in harmony,” he said. “This will lead to enhanced integrity, confidence, long-term success and ultimately trust.”

Though “corporate culture” or “organisational culture” have become universal buzzwords, they’re still difficult to define. Essentially, culture is the behavioural manifestation of underlying values and beliefs specific to an organisation – such as patterns of thinking, communicating and decision-making. Though the leadership set the overall company values, culture also becomes office-specific and team-specific, as influenced by employees’ personal values.

The central principle of culture holds that values and behaviours are inter-related, so gauging personal or organisational values and behaviours in the right way identifies current culture and even predicts future behaviour patterns.

Methods of measuring and interpreting workforce data have spawned another trendy phrase: “people analytics”. This refers to taking assessments and algorithms a step beyond job-fit results to better design teams and predict business performance.

As Bischoff noted, “Corporate culture is intangible, it is true. But culture can be measured and much information is already available to do so… It is what you choose to measure and how you analyse and interpret it that is important… The indicators selected for assessment should be tailored to each company’s circumstances.”

The area of people analytics is at a crucial turning point, in which companies (both large and small) seek highly customisable HR analytics platforms that not only identify unique organisational culture but also provide further insight into which behaviours affect team dynamics, productivity, innovation and therefore company success.

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