Can CPA Australia honestly answer yes to these 5 questions?

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Back in March 2016 I wrote about the leadership and cultural issues that had befallen some within the Banking industry. Since that time much has been written in the hope that learning has been captured and is being applied.

Blow me down if I don’t pick up the Australian Financial Review yesterday to find this quote in the Rear Window column[1] “Understanding culture in an entity allows for early intervention so bad behaviours don’t grow to become systemic, pervasive problems. When business fails to operate at an appropriate standard, the board cannot escape accountability.” I cannot disagree with one word contained in this quote; my concern is the person who wrote this is the embattled CPA Australia CEO Alex Malley.

A reasonable hypothesis can be drawn, yet again, that given the behaviour of those on the Board of CPA Australia and within the leadership group there is a systemic cultural problem that will ultimately require attention. This situation led me to think about the wider issues of culture within any organisation as there is now overwhelming research by Cooke et al that one of the single biggest determinants of a constructive culture is the organisation’s leaders, particularly those at the top.

Bill Taylor writing in the Harvard Business Review[2] provides “five hard questions about the soft side of business” every leader should ponder and be able to answer irrespective of whether you lead an AXS Top 200 company or a family business.

Bill’s five questions are:

Is your talent strategy rooted in your business strategy? Culture can’t just be an assortment of well-meaning HR practices; it has to grow out of distinctive business practices.

Does your company work as distinctively as it competes? Yes, the most successful companies think differently from everyone else — that’s what separates them from the competition in the marketplace. But they also care more than everyone else — that’s what holds people together as colleagues in the workplace.

Can you capture what it means to be a member of your organisation? At its core, the role of culture is to reinforce a sense of belonging, a shared commitment among colleagues about how they solve problems, share information, serve customers, and deliver experiences.

Is your culture built for learning as well as performance? High-output cultures are all about fierce competition, crisp execution, and a relentless commitment to service. But truly enduring cultures are also about change and renewal.

Can your culture maintain its zest for change and renewal, even when the company stumbles? It’s a lot easier to maintain high levels of energy and morale at a company when sales are booming and the stock price is soaring. But the reality of competition today is that long-term success is virtually impossible without short-term stumbles.

Challenging as it may be if, as a leader of your organisation, you cannot answer these questions with a ‘yes’ then it is worth investing time in understanding where you fall short and why, and determine what actions or changes need to be made so all five questions are answered in the positive.

Viventé Australia enables leaders and managers to create the conditions that allow their people to do their best work every day thus creating a powerful advantage: the synergy between people, leadership, management, and culture, produces performance that allows your business to achieve its outcomes.


[1] Australian Financial Review Tuesday June 6th Rear Window Page 37

[2] 5 Questions to Ask About Corporate Culture to Get Beyond the Usual Meaningless Blather, Bill Taylor.