Workplace culture: complicity vs speaking out


Does your organisation have a workplace culture of complicity? The Banking Royal Commission shows the importance of implementing a “speak up” culture in the workplace.

News on the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industries has felt relentless since hearings began on 12 February 2018. The Commission has already led to the high-profile resignations of AMP’s chairman, CEO, and chief legal counsel, as well as several of its directors.  

However, AMP has not been the only financial institution under pressure. Each of Australia’s ‘Big 4’ banks (ANZ, CBA, NAB and Westpac) have been accused of, and admitted to, varying forms of misconduct. The media scrutiny placed on those involved has been swift, regardless of whether their connection was implicit or explicit.

A common thread through each of these banks’ testimonies, has been a “culture of complicity“; an environment in which individuals were expected to turn a blind eye to misconduct or malpractice, or perhaps even encouraged to engage in unlawful activities in the pursuit of financial gain.

Kylie Rixon, a banking executive, went so far as to inform the Royal Commission that ANZ had cultivated a culture where profit and growth trumped customer interests. Rixon indicated that although ANZ has since changed its incentive structure to prioritise client satisfaction and wellbeing, the process of changing culture was a work in progress.

Speaking up

The counterpoint to a culture of complicity is a “speak-up culture”, where people are trained and encouraged to recognise misconduct or undesirable behaviour, and to call it out.  In a speak-up culture, everyone understands what is expected of them, as individuals and as a collective. The ultimate goal of a speak-up culture, is to make “normal practice” synonymous with “best practice”, and for everyone involved to contribute to making it a reality.

 What are the foundations of a business’s culture? In our experience, it comes down to the three Vs:

  1. Vision – what does your business want to be?
  2. Values – what are the priorities for your business?
  3. Validation – what are people rewarded for within your business?

In a world where money rules, it would be easy to simply answer the first two questions with “earning cold hard cash”, and to answer the third question with “refer to questions 1 and 2”. We’re already witnessing the impact associated with cultures of complicity; where every ounce of energy is focussed on the almighty dollar, no matter the cost to the business’s ethical or lawful standards.

This can lead to trouble down the road (poor retention, low company loyalty etc.), and while it might not always end in a royal commission, it can be extraordinarily counter-productive if your business becomes embroiled in legal trouble which might have otherwise been easily prevented.

Creating a healthy and productive speak-up culture requires a slightly more nuanced examination of these questions, which we will focus on in more depth over the next few weeks.  But for now, ask yourself this – are you confident that wrongdoing would be identified and responded to within your business? If not, why not?

This is the first in a series of articles from legal experts on workplace culture.

Aaron Goonrey is a Partner and Luke Scandrett is a Senior Associate in Lander & Rogers’ Workplace Relations & Safety practice.  Aaron can be contacted at agoonrey@landers.com.au.


Increase your team’s understanding of their responsibilities for workplace conduct, with AHRI’s elearning modules on ethics and conduct.

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SpeakerofMyhouse
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SpeakerofMyhouse

I have always spoken up about complicity in my organisation. However, I have damaged my career because of it. Executives, Directors, Ministers, CEO’s are oblivious/conscious of it and simply award it: in government anyway.

Carmel Ross
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Carmel Ross

One of the things about a culture of complicity is that if it’s been in place for a number of years, it can be perceived by staff as ‘normal’. Younger staff, who have little or no workplace experience elsewhere, may come to the view that this is simply how things happen at work. If all of the significant adults around them at work are focussed on exploitation in the interest of profit, young staff have no point of comparison to realise things can and should be different. This means that in addition to the wrongs being done to customers, harm… Read more »

More on HRM

Workplace culture: complicity vs speaking out


Does your organisation have a workplace culture of complicity? The Banking Royal Commission shows the importance of implementing a “speak up” culture in the workplace.

News on the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industries has felt relentless since hearings began on 12 February 2018. The Commission has already led to the high-profile resignations of AMP’s chairman, CEO, and chief legal counsel, as well as several of its directors.  

However, AMP has not been the only financial institution under pressure. Each of Australia’s ‘Big 4’ banks (ANZ, CBA, NAB and Westpac) have been accused of, and admitted to, varying forms of misconduct. The media scrutiny placed on those involved has been swift, regardless of whether their connection was implicit or explicit.

A common thread through each of these banks’ testimonies, has been a “culture of complicity“; an environment in which individuals were expected to turn a blind eye to misconduct or malpractice, or perhaps even encouraged to engage in unlawful activities in the pursuit of financial gain.

Kylie Rixon, a banking executive, went so far as to inform the Royal Commission that ANZ had cultivated a culture where profit and growth trumped customer interests. Rixon indicated that although ANZ has since changed its incentive structure to prioritise client satisfaction and wellbeing, the process of changing culture was a work in progress.

Speaking up

The counterpoint to a culture of complicity is a “speak-up culture”, where people are trained and encouraged to recognise misconduct or undesirable behaviour, and to call it out.  In a speak-up culture, everyone understands what is expected of them, as individuals and as a collective. The ultimate goal of a speak-up culture, is to make “normal practice” synonymous with “best practice”, and for everyone involved to contribute to making it a reality.

 What are the foundations of a business’s culture? In our experience, it comes down to the three Vs:

  1. Vision – what does your business want to be?
  2. Values – what are the priorities for your business?
  3. Validation – what are people rewarded for within your business?

In a world where money rules, it would be easy to simply answer the first two questions with “earning cold hard cash”, and to answer the third question with “refer to questions 1 and 2”. We’re already witnessing the impact associated with cultures of complicity; where every ounce of energy is focussed on the almighty dollar, no matter the cost to the business’s ethical or lawful standards.

This can lead to trouble down the road (poor retention, low company loyalty etc.), and while it might not always end in a royal commission, it can be extraordinarily counter-productive if your business becomes embroiled in legal trouble which might have otherwise been easily prevented.

Creating a healthy and productive speak-up culture requires a slightly more nuanced examination of these questions, which we will focus on in more depth over the next few weeks.  But for now, ask yourself this – are you confident that wrongdoing would be identified and responded to within your business? If not, why not?

This is the first in a series of articles from legal experts on workplace culture.

Aaron Goonrey is a Partner and Luke Scandrett is a Senior Associate in Lander & Rogers’ Workplace Relations & Safety practice.  Aaron can be contacted at agoonrey@landers.com.au.


Increase your team’s understanding of their responsibilities for workplace conduct, with AHRI’s elearning modules on ethics and conduct.

2
Leave a reply

avatar
100000
  Subscribe to receive comments  
Notify me of
SpeakerofMyhouse
Guest
SpeakerofMyhouse

I have always spoken up about complicity in my organisation. However, I have damaged my career because of it. Executives, Directors, Ministers, CEO’s are oblivious/conscious of it and simply award it: in government anyway.

Carmel Ross
Guest
Carmel Ross

One of the things about a culture of complicity is that if it’s been in place for a number of years, it can be perceived by staff as ‘normal’. Younger staff, who have little or no workplace experience elsewhere, may come to the view that this is simply how things happen at work. If all of the significant adults around them at work are focussed on exploitation in the interest of profit, young staff have no point of comparison to realise things can and should be different. This means that in addition to the wrongs being done to customers, harm… Read more »

More on HRM