As we watch the ANZ story play out, we learn the difference between bad company culture and company culture with a few bad people.

The ANZ Story

I feel somewhere between a sense of sadness and a sense of déjà vu. It also makes me ponder corporate branding and EVPs as we call them – that’s Employee Value Propositions for those unfamiliar with the jargon.

If you’ve missed the beginning, the ANZ story that’s making the front pages at the moment, is one of about bankers, lap dancing clubs, corporate credit cards abuse, ‘white powder’ in toilets, millions of dollars and a debate over whether individuals are responsible or whether the ‘culture made them do it’.

Over the next few days, this story will peter out and gradually over the ensuing months, there will be a court appearance or two and some type of financial arrangement made to end the story – either in the courts or behind closed doors. Like most people, I have no interest in any of it. These people live in a world I have never lived, nor would I want to.

So, what does interest me? What makes for deja-vu and what makes for sadness.

Well, the deja-vu is because we’ve seen it all before. Every few months, we get a front page story of some person, or people, who behaved abominably and the details are as salacious and sordid as they are unbelievable. Then starts the argument of whether they were actually behaving badly, or whether this type of behaviour was ‘normal’ or even ‘expected’. Well, as one of the many ‘normal’ people who read it, I can assure, it’s not ‘normal’ where we live.

And that’s where the sadness comes in.

ANZ is the owner of this latest scandal, but they’re not the first, nor will they be the last. It could have been any one of a thousand big companies and it will be another company logo on the front page of the next story.  Certainly banking seems to have more than their share of these events, but it’s not exclusively banking. And every time there’s an issue, the newspapers find an unrelated photo of the CEO and Chairman laughing, which creates a feeling of ‘they don’t care, they just laugh”.

Of course, though we all know the photo is completely unrelated to the incident. In truth the CEO and Chairman would be horrified by the incident – Not just for the bad PR, but equally for the impact it has on the internal morale. It’s probably the one thing that keeps the CEO and Chairman up at night, because ‘people behaving badly’ is the one thing they have so little control over.

So, who is ANZ?

ANZ is 50,000 employees globally and 400,00 investors. And that’s what’s sad.

You see, of that 50,000 only a couple went to the lap dancing club, or paid for $37,000 of personal expenses on their credit card, or had to have a debate around “the culture made me do it” because they simply didn’t do it.

In every big company there are host of people trying to make sure you employ good people who do the right thing.

There are volumes of analytics trying to predict who might behave badly and weed them out before they make the team. There are policies and practices to make it difficult (and attempting to make it impossible) to do the wrong thing. Yet, when the front page news goes up, every one of those 50,000 gets tarred with the same public judgement. In this case “all bankers are bad”.

But, they’re not. In fact, I’m guessing (having never worked for ANZ) that 49,500 of the ANZ team are good honest hardworking people. Most of them probably don’t even have a corporate credit card, and if they do, they would think of it as a privilege to be respected. That’s 99% good people. That makes ANZ as good, and as bad, as all their competitors and most of their peer companies in all industries.

It’s sad that a very small number of people behaving badly drags a company, and the community of people who work with them, through the mud. It’s equally inappropriate that any company ‘brands’ themselves as perfect, beyond bad behaviour and better than any other.

It brands the company with ‘Bad Company Culture’, when that is not the case. The case is that we have a few bad guys that tarnish the good work of the rest.

The truth 

The truth is, despite the millions of dollars spent on company branding, and designing the most perfect EVP, most big companies are mostly good and a bit of bad. Companies will continue to spend millions on sponsorship and marketing and PR to show their world their carefully crafted brand, but the actual experience for every employee may well be different.

You see, all companies have values, and ethics, and training to make sure people know them. They have policies and consequences, and they make appropriately serious decisions when things go wrong. They have teams of people working on selecting ‘only good’ and they have other teams of people working on finding bad guy before they have a chance to behave badly.

The reality 

The reality is, despite the brand, and the values, each employee’s experience will be down the people around them – the person who leads them and the people who work next to them. And in every big company in Australia, and around the globe, today there will be employees having the best experience at work they’ve ever had, and others having the worst.

And the EVP can be as bright and shiny as you like, but what really matters is two things:- i) how hard you work to make sure it matches the actual experience of every single employee, and ii)  how you deal with the bad guys as soon as you find them. Maybe some of the “branding” dollars should be spent making sure every leader, is talking to people, across multiple levels, in and out of line, and asking two simple questions – “Are you comfortable with everything you see around you at work?” and “if anything was making you uncomfortable would you tell anyone?”. And the second question is the most important one.

In real life, in work and outside on society, prevention and policies and rules can only do so much. 

The only real control over the bad guys in a big corporation is the good guys.

The Good Guys

The good guys need a voice and they need a listener that they trust and can get to without fear or favour. The money a corporation spends on that is worth much more than any brand.

In the next few weeks the ANZ logo and that unfair photo of the laughing CEO, will be replaced with another. The details will be equally salacious and dramatic, and we’ll ponder the culture and how ‘normal’ it is. However, in the end, we’d be more interested in a little honesty – We have bad guys,  but most of us are good. When we find the bad guys, we make serious decisions quickly.

You see, we’ve all worked in good places and bad places, often under the same logo. We know this stuff goes on even if a company is lucky enough to avoid the front page of the paper.