Multinationals Need A Culture Shock

Several recent financial and corruption scandals have forced multinationals to develop comprehensive corporate conduct and compliance programs.

The the idea of corporate culture, long perceived as a soft aspect of human resources, is becoming an increasing focus of companies as some, with a strong and distinctive corporate culture, like Siemens, have found themselves in civil and criminal investigations.

There is a growing understanding that corporate culture should be better institutionalized, given its operational importance and direct link to corporate performance and profits. Corporate culture—broadly, what a company believes in and how employees work together to get things done—can be used as a proactive corporate tool to ensure profitability while companies develop and implement human resources initiatives.

A 2015 report by Deloitte University Press showed that 87% of organizations cite “culture” and “engagement” as one of their top challenges and 50% call corporate culture “very important.”

Although corporate culture is often associated with branded consumer goods companies, the banking sector has been increasingly proactive in exploring the concept as well, with several chief culture officer appointments. Societe Generale, for example, has just named Nancy Harrington Jones, a former human resources director for the Americas, as its first chief culture and conduct officer for the Americas.

The focus on Latin America should not surprise. Leading corporations there, such as Brazil’s Petrobas, are in the midst of financial scandals as local business culture often involves maintaining close ties to the political elite and questionable accounting practices.

A positive culture “creates employee engagement and builds trust internally and externally, which again leads to better business performance,” says Annicken Day, CEO and culture strategist at Corporate Spring consultancy. “When more leaders realize that investing in their culture is good for their business, I think we will see many more chief cultural officers around.”

Bank mergers since the financial crisis have also highlighted the challenges of merging cultures and the importance of the role of culture officers.