How to change a Culture

I once had a holiday job with Mercedes Benz in their International and Diplomatic sales show room in Green Park just opposite the Ritz in London. My job was to escort the guy who took the deposits to the bank. No big deal you might think but when the Ambassador of King Gotalotadosh from a little known foreign dictatorship buys five top of the range Mercedes with all extras including bullet proofing and pays a 15% deposit in cash you can understand that the main criteria for my employment was (1) being willing to put my life in danger for Mercedes Benz and (2) an ability to run fast. And so it was that every afternoon at about the same time I would escort Sid “Nobby” Stiles the accounts manager from Green Park tube, down Piccadilly to the Mayfair Branch of Lloyds Bank. The plan, if accosted, was for Sid, a rather diminutive bandy legged old codger, to feign collapse whilst I was to sprint off in any direction as fast as my Rugby inside centre legs would carry me. “Run for Germany” Sid would tell me with a wry smile. Anyone who has seen Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and the scene in Bolivia when they turn from ‘Bandidos Yankee’ to payroll guards will know how I felt. Never quite sure who was behind the next red telephone box. Never quite sure when the London mafia was going to slap a black plastic bag over my head, a zip tie round my wrists and drag me into a passing white transit van to be found days later upside down on a meat hook with the Ace of Spades wedged into one of my crevices. (Name that film) We were sitting ducks. Same time every day. Same route. I suggested we change it around but Nobby insisted on walking boldly down Piccadilly. That I could handle. What I couldn’t handle was that whilst our very lives were in danger, with speed an imperative, Sid would irritatingly delay us by picking up litter en route, litter he would carry for long distances until he eventually and ceremoniously dumped it into one of the infrequently available London Metropolitan bins. And so it was one wet London afternoon on Piccadilly, on a big day of Diplomatic sales, with the rain beating down, with kreugerrands bulging in my bum bag, that I cracked it with him as he bent over to pick up some discarded McDonalds wrapper.  “What the F@#$ are you doing Sid!” I attacked “We’re about to get ourselves killed here and you’re picking up someone else’s crap”. He finished what he was doing before turning quietly to me and saying "One day Marcus, long after I’m gone, you’re going to be walking down a spotless Piccadilly, through a spotless London, and you’ll see someone picking up litter and you’ll be able to say “I know the guy that started all that”’. Culture is a subtle thing, it develops by stealth. One of my Saturday running group picked up some Friday beer cans on the beach path the other day. Carried them for a couple of kilometres, dripping sticky beer dregs, before finding a recycling bin. I have been picking up cans ever since. My nine year older daughter turns the shower off whilst she puts shampoo in her hair and never runs the tap to brush her teeth. Doesn’t want to waste water. Her siblings now do the same. From acorns mighty oaks. From one drop a waterfall. And because of that the power to direct culture, to change culture is in all of our hands given the opportunity. Influence one person to change their behaviour and they will influence others and before you know it, everyone’s doing it, or not doing it. The board of David Jones once sacked their very profitable CEO for sexual harassment at work. Very public. Very shocking. That’s how you change a culture. The board of Amcor once called for the resignation of their CEO and top line managers over cartel behaviour. That culture change continues to reverberate. It takes guts to change culture. If it was easy someone would have stood up at Barings, Enron, WorldCom, in the Sub-Prime securitisation industry, at HIH, Bre-X (remember them), Storm Financial, OPES Prime, Sonray or in the Oval Office in the last four years, and said “You can’t do that”. But it isn’t easy. It’s difficult to stand up against accepted practice. Sid cleaned up London single handedly. What can you do?

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