2014, and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) is putting increasing pressure on financial institutions to curve toxic culture in the workforce.

The ANZ Bank responds by cutting ties with seven senior traders found in breach of the organisation’s code of conduct.

Two of these traders disagree with the decision. They feels that any bad behaviour on their part is the fault of the bank itself, which encourages a hostile culture as a means to a profitable end. So they sue.

In April 2016, the suits are dropped, but not before ANZ Chairman David Gonski takes a shot at ASIC’s “culture policing”:

“A board can and must set expectations for its employees … it has to set the tone and walk the talk. However, whilst a board should seek to ensure that there are checks and balances within the system … as a board they cannot be obligated to ensure the conduct is perfect and I think regulatory measures around the world which seek to do that would not only be ineffective, but indeed don’t understand what the board of a big organisation can do and indeed does.”

So here’s the question: just who is responsible for ensuring a business’s culture doesn’t turn sour?

Gonksi makes a fair point about ASIC intervention. Change in a toxic workforce should not come from outside forces.

But to say that those who take on leadership in an organisation – no matter whether they’re a board member, a CEO, or a manager – cannot be help responsible for the attitude and actions of the people in that organisation leaves leaders in a dangerously exposed position.

I’m not talking about the occasional bad seed. They find their way into just about every business at some point.

But when seven senior figures are caught out as in the case here, a business must question whether it has done enough to ensure employees are understand and respect its values.

Such investigations usually start out at the bottom – have junior employees been corrupted by the actions of authority figures? – and they always end at the top – am I, as a leader, doing enough to protect the culture of my business?

If you’re unsure, here are three simple tips for ensuring your company doesn’t rot away from the inside:

Take Responsibility

Walk the talk. It’s as simple as that.

Too many leaders fail to acknowledge the impact they have on their staff. If you make a mistake, or fail to uphold your values, own it.

Make excuses, and so will your employees. Try to hide faults, and so will your employees. Turn a blind eye, and they will see the action you chose to ignore as acceptable.

As a leader, this can be easier said than done, but it is imperative. Find the courage, and you’ll quickly understand how forgiving your staff can be.

Be Open

If your staff see you taking responsibility, they will turn to you for support.

Stop. Listen. Understand their concerns. By helping them, you’re helping your business.

Put the Team First

Don’t hire a jerk just because they’re talented.

Sometimes, leaders get too swept up in qualifications and experience to ask: “are they the right fit?”

If you embrace someone who does not share your values, they will stab you in the back. They might still perform, but the rest of your organisation won’t. It’s never worth the compromise.

Ultimately, every member of an organisation is responsible for their choices.  But as a leader, it is your responsibility to hold them to standard. Culture is what allows a business to thrive. Don’t allow yours to die.

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