A new year of resolutions brought together an illustrious panel of leaders from the financial and legal industries, the naval force and a university to discuss "Decision Making in the Crucible: a culture that learns from experience".

The panelists shared their professional experience and stories on the topic to an enraptured audience. A healthy culture of transparency, trust and bravery is really valued within Applied Solutions. Below are five of my favourite takeaways which I have shared with my colleagues.

From left to right : Matthew Newick, Partner and Global Head of Litigation and Dispute Resolution at Clifford Chance, Commodore Ellie Ablett MBE at the Royal Navy, Stuart Levey, Chief Legal Officer at HSBC Holdings plc, Vice Admiral Jerry Kyd, Fleet Commander at the Royal Navy, Professor Allyson MacVean, Professor Policing and Criminology at Bath Spa University (moderator) and Koral Anderson, Group Chief Security Officer, Deutsche Bank.

Continuous reinforcement

Conduct and culture typically fall under risk management and we are each an actor init. In the case of Deutsche Bank, the firm is present in 50 different countries, and thus face a multicultural challenge; how can it make sure that its 90,000 employees can apply themselves to one idea?

For culture change to happen, it needs to be tackled from both top and bottom, with  commitment from the top, reaching all levels in the organisation, explained Koral Anderson.

"Get feedback regularly on whether staff understand the changes, see them in practice and see their leaders exercise them."

To be assimilated, a culture requires continuous reinforcement. "Lessons learnt" and performance evaluations are some of the tool supporting a 'speak-up' culture, necessary to share and develop the group values.

Stated Core Values 

Unity is fundamental to lead to success. The Navy has this well embedded in its culture through a simple but impactful message of five key words to define the values as a whole but also individually: "Courage, integrity loyalty, honor and honesty."

When she was entrusted with a leadership role, Commodore Ellie Ablett, quickly realised she had "to up her game" and bring her own command approach. She shared a few of those key values :

  • Mutual respect - treat people the way you would like to be treated.
  • Respect difference
  • Effective communication - listen to understand not to respond, and be absolutely clear about the message.
  • Consistency of approach - take a deep breath before shooting the messenger. At the end of the day, the only things we can control are our actions and reactions.

Culture of Winning

Winning is the absolute outcome in the army, as lives are at stake! The expectations are very high. Excellence and success have to be delivered every day.

With this in mind, Vice Admiral Jerry Kyd stressed the importance of having a healthy organisation for people to achieve extraordinary things. To illustrate this point, he brilliantly narrated on his experience which came with a hard choice to make: what to do when a ship is on an almost inextinguishable fire with a 250 people crew on it? Have two people give their life for the safety of their crew, or wait for another solution to come and risk the lives of the whole crew?

He concluded with "Leadership is fundamentally based on intuition and respect. Our personal experiences are where ethics and values come from."

Spot the "Jerk"

High Performance with Low Trust individuals are the most toxic for a group and a firm. Matthew Newick from Clifford Chance highlighted how poisonous those individuals can be, as they damage projects and relationships, and have an unhealthy impact on culture and ethics.

From his experience, it is essential to make sure a team is "jerk" free on a long term basis, measuring both Performance and Trust per individual.

Let's not reward toxicity !

"We are in this together"

Introducing initiatives to change people's behaviour, such as sharing information which make individuals belong to the group. Stuart Levey shared with us an example which happened at the beginning of his career at Credit Suisse. Shortly after he started at the Swiss bank, he was handed a 700-page document of sanctions to testify in court. Those were "not only a few bad apples" as he said. To raise awareness and minimize risk in the future, the bank's management sent the same document to all the employees. The message was "We are in this together".

Making people knowledgeable and involved, helped Credit Suisse to reduce the risks of sanctions.

Thank you to the panelists and moderator for this inspiring and memorable talk, and to Credit Suisse for organising the event.