Psychological safety is a pre-requisite to a healthy culture. 

Not all your people experience your culture equally. 

You can’t expect employees to do the work if you haven’t started it.  

In the wake of recent industry scandals, asset managers are reconsidering both their formal governance frameworks and their less formal social contracts in an attempt to reduce risk factors and engender employee and investor trust.  

This shift towards more rigorous scrutiny of corporate culture builds on initiatives within the industry to promote inclusivity and address systemic issues, underscored by the Diversity Project's Safe Space initiative and the Treasury Committee's inquiry into sexism. 

For some time now, White Marble has been thinking about how we can help our clients reflect on and, if necessary, improve upon their cultures. We firmly believe to take action on culture, firms first need to be able to assess and quantify it. This is why we have built a culture auditing capability. Recently, to further our thinking in this space, we attended a retreat to delve deeper into some of the key tenets of a strong and generative culture.1 

We wanted to share some of our learnings, as we think knowledge around this topic will be vital in turning misperceptions about culture on their head and could equip asset managers to pursue cultures where employees, clients (and the company’s bottom line) thrive. 

1. Psychological safety2 is a pre-requisite to a healthy culture   

The statistics vary depending on the research and its scope, but consensus is clear – keeping quiet or staying silent is endemic in businesses both inside and outside financial services. Employees often do not speak out at work because they don’t feel safe, they feel they will not be listened to, or they fear the consequences of their candour.  

At the more extreme end of this spectrum, such concerns could prevent whistleblowers from drawing attention to morally, ethically or even legally questionable conduct. But a more proximate day-to-day concern is that staff will feel unable to contribute their ideas and energy, which in turn stifles innovation and growth. To understand the state of psychological safety in your business you first have to measure its current levels, which is something White Marble can help with. Get in touch to learn more. 

2. Not all your people experience your culture equally   

It is common for leadership to think that all is well in their business because one vocal and prominent group tells them so. That is not to say the people in this group are spinning yarns or telling tall tales. But the experience of different demographics, functions and departments can vary widely. Additionally, factors such as when you joined a firm can have a big impact.  

It is vital for leadership to canvass broader opinions and to do so in a way that means those outside their core circle will feel more comfortable contributing honestly. Employee engagement surveys are one way of trying to garner this information. Unfortunately, all too often they are seen as the sole preserve of HR teams, dutifully conducted and then fading into the ether. Surveys may also be an approach that has been taken for some time, with staff unconvinced of their efficacy, given that nothing much seems to change in their wake.  

For this reason, a fresh approach taken by a third party may serve to provide clarity and cut-through –unshackling employee engagement from its HR silo and getting a full cross-section of the business, and crucially the leadership, involved. 

3. You can’t expect employees to do the work if you haven’t started it  

Most likely, fragmentation in your company culture is indicative of wider uncertainty within or about your business. Without a commonality of values and a clear understanding of the firm’s larger purpose it can be difficult for teams to feel motivated, or for clients to feel convinced.  

Staff that feel rudderless and those who have weathered a lot of change are more likely to describe your culture in a non-generative fashion, which creates challenges in retaining and attracting talent. Meanwhile, clients or prospects who experience ‘sub-cultures’ in their dealings with you may see it as a glitch in your authenticity and question if you are genuine.  

This is why we see culture and brand as natural bed fellows. Authentic brand articulation will have an audit of your firm’s culture as a key component, since only when your employee and client experience start to mirror one another will your reputation in the market (and your growth trajectory) start to sing. 

To find out more about generative and non-generative cultures and how you might go about measuring and improving yours, do get in touch for a chat.

1 A generative culture is one that fosters an environment of creativity, collaboration and continuous innovation. 

2 Psychological safety is the ability to express thoughts and feelings without fear of social sanction.