Culture wars to move to the boardroom in 2019


There are two analyses to Charles Foster (Citizen) Kane’s final utterance ‘Rosebud’.

One is that the oligarch was pining for the lost innocence of his youth. The other, is that Kane believed all responsibility for his destiny (and ultimate downfall) lay with the ward who came and took him away from his childhood innocence and put him on his path to wealth and power.

2018 could go down as the year when many of Australia’s corporate and political elite had their Rosebud moment.

Too many tried to dismiss or play down bad decisions and behaviours – either made or overseen by them – which were contrary to the social and ethical expectations of the people and communities they are meant to serve. In doing this, they failed to acknowledge the larger cultural problems of their own creation.

NAB Chairman Dr Ken Henry’s ‘capitalism made us do it’ excuse to the banking and finance Royal Commission was instructive, albeit tough to reconcile given the NAB board did not grasp its own contribution to excessive capitalism when it approved executive bonuses, despite the bank suffering significant reputational damage as a result of the Royal Commission.

The Board of Cricket Australia (CA) published a bumper off a long run with its A Matter of Balance report which concluded the CA leadership failed to apply “appropriate sanctions, including the absence of ‘call out culture’, … [which] allowed behaviour by players and coaches to diverge from community standards.”

Whilst the main administrative protagonists in that saga are now back in the pavilion, there has been little acknowledgement from any of cricket’s administrators on their role in permitting and amplifying the ‘win-at-all-costs’ culture that has been growing in Australian cricket for decades.

Australian politics fared no better, continuing its fall of man re-enactment, felling another prime minister and shining a light on a culture of power, privilege and discrimination in state and national politics that has spread across the political divide.

Senior figures in our judiciary, the commentariat, the affected and the disempowered, are all pointing to the need for our corporate and political leaders to create and protect operating cultures that meet community expectations.

Reimagining the cultures of our largest and most storied institutions in the corporate, political and sporting world will be the raison d’etre for many corporate affairs leaders in 2019. Implementing these reimagined cultures will be a tour de force that could take years.

It will require courage from leaders who are prepared to challenge existing systemic and operational norms, calling out unethical or unprincipled behaviour, recognising what can and what ought to be responsibly done by the organisation.

At SenateSHJ we apply effective frameworks necessary to identify and define corporate purpose, values and principles that are used to guide organisational decision-making.

The purpose explains why an organisation exists in relation to its place in society and its importance to all stakeholders. The corporate values define and order the organisation’s priorities, and the principles (sometimes covenants) regulate the means employed by the organisation to deliver its priorities.

A year of corporate and organisational introspection resulting in a newly created culture that meets the expectations of society is long overdue. Let’s hope 2019 brings the changes that are so sorely needed.