Superannuation leaders: Own your culture as a force for good

By Michelle Kam and Shad Ngam, Strategy&, PwC

Superannuation leaders risk allowing their culture to hold their organisations back. It’s now time leaders convert their culture into a strategic asset that fuels their strategic agenda. 

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Lately, there has been plenty of publicity about how organisational culture influences behaviour in financial services. But amidst the alarm bells and media headlines, an important truth is being drowned out.

Culture is more than just a remedial issue. It’s also an opportunity. 

That was the message we shared with superannuation leaders at the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia conference in November. Here are five thought starters that might help you see your culture in a fresh light.

1. Culture can’t wait

‘Culture’ refers to the self-sustaining patterns of behaving, feeling, thinking, and believing that determine ‘how we do things around here’. It is the driving force behind who you are as an organisation that underpins how you act and how you are perceived. 

For superannuation leaders, culture is the key that can unlock several urgent challenges:

  • Increasing expectations for member centricity requires grass roots culture shift through the organisation
  • Growing complexity and competition drives the need for a stronger culture of productivity and efficiency
  • Closing the trust gap requires demonstrating meaningful and demonstrable behaviour change
  • Ongoing consolidation and growth of funds presents an opportunity to build culture as you are building the organisation. 

2. Own your culture – or it will own you

We think of organisational culture as being much like a personality – it doesn’t change very much or very fast. And just as every personality has strengths and flaws depending on the context, so does culture. If you focus only on your weaknesses then a poor culture can become self-fulfilling. It will own you. The organisations who own their cultures have discovered that the real value comes through understanding and then harnessing the inherent positives in their culture.

3. Culture can enable (or sink) your strategy

Culture is every bit as critical to success as your strategy and operating model – and all three must be in sync. For example, if your strategy is focused on achieving productivity, a critical path to achieving this may be through a fast-paced, collaborative culture across your organisational structures.

4. Use formal and informal levers of culture

Leaders can enforce rational compliance through a range of formal levers such as remuneration, governance, org structure, KPIs, training, and accountability statements. But even with those in place, your people won’t necessarily commit emotionally and behaviours certainly won’t be spread. To ensure that, you need to tap into informal levers. That means tapping into the deep forces - sometimes psychological - that drive adoption and compulsion to behave in certain ways.  For example, it involves identifying the authentically influential leaders within your organisation. Find out who is talking to who, who trusts who, and who people seek advice from, particularly those who are not in formal positions of power. (We take a scientific approach to this because these informal leaders may not, in fact, be the obvious high-performing all-stars you expect.) In the hands of these informal leaders, the critical behaviours can spread through your organisation.

5. Cultural progress can (and must) be measured

Too often, organisations start with good intent to ground culture in strategic outcomes but then become distracted by competing everyday initiatives. That’s a recipe for lots of cultural activity but not much cultural impact. Instead, it’s vital to remain focused on all three simultaneously: 

  • Progress against the tactical cultural activity planned
  • The adoption of your critical few behaviours
  • The business outcomes you want to achieve through behavioural adoption. 

Measuring and reporting on these is not only possible, but also essential, if want to turn your culture into a strategic asset.

Stay tuned

In a forthcoming PwC publication, we’ll provide additional insights and a set of useful frameworks that can help superannuation leaders channel their culture to achieve their strategic outcomes. Register to receive a copy of this upcoming report.

Contact us

Michelle Kam

Partner, Strategy& Australia

Tel: +61 (2) 8266 1299

Shad Ngam

Partner, Strategy& Australia

Tel: +61 (2) 8603 0540

Craig Cummins

Partner, Superannuation, Asset and Wealth Management Leader, PwC Australia

Tel: +61 (2) 8266 7937

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