Culture failures were at the heart of the global financial crisis.  But this should not have come as a surprise as eye wateringly huge failures of care were evident everywhere in every sector and well before the Lehman Brothers’ trigger in 2008.

When the people at the top of the organisation are very much like the people at the top, the only voices to be heard will be similar thinkers honed from largely similar backgrounds. Their interpretations of opportunity and risk will be largely the same. The collective mind and its dominant logic stops those very same people thinking or asking disagreeable questions of themselves.

Experience also, especially of similar kinds can be a huge trap. While it may add depth, it adds nothing new and limited breadth to the interpretive or judgment skills at the top. Hence a dominant culture emerges that no one challenges. Until industry leaders recognise how quickly a homogenous culture at the top can kill a company and even an economy, not a lot will change.

To change the culture at the top you need to bring in voices that will ask awkward and disagreeable questions.  That will only come from those from different backgrounds and different experiences. Those different voices will also need to be legitimised and actively sponsored so they can ‘rock the boat’ because that is what they are paid to do.  Instead a change resistant or unskilled board, fearful of divergent views can inadvertently gift this ‘rock the boat’ function to whistle-blowers.  It does not have to be this way.

Boards should be preoccupied with questions such as:

  • What flaws in our logic are we not seeing?
  • What questions we are not asking?
  • What voices we are not listening to?
  • What lessons are we failing to learn?
  • And so on

However, these questions are unlikely to receive genuinely fresh or new answers if asked by a homogenous top team who are similar in every way and who have developed a dominant logic and a culture of operating that fossilises its thinking.  It’s more than gender Boards should worry about.

And for those who say there is diversity coming through the pipeline, it will just take time, think again. This is not likely until the men at the top, usually in their 50s and white, strongly advocate for the use of a broader lens through which executive success, experience or readiness is measured, we will continue as we are.

So start thinking about the new voices we need around the table……NOW!

Written by Meena Thuraisingham,

Author of The Secret Life of Decisions, 2013, Gower Publishing UK

Written by Meena Thuraisingham
Director and Principal, Talent Invest

Meena Thuraisingham is a consultant, author, executive coach and thought leader in the area of People and Culture. An organisational psychologist by training, she founded TalentInvest, a niche consulting practice, advising global clients in the UK, Asia and Australia in Capability and Culture. Meena is also a regular speaker internationally on leadership effectiveness and culture change.

Her published books are The Secret Life of Decisions, Careers Unplugged and Derailed!. Get Your Copy Today