While the Great Resignation may not be at its peak anymore, industries across the board are still having significant issues with employee turnover, including the financial industry. According to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in April 2022, 249,000 people left their jobs in the financial sector. With so many employees exiting in the financial sector, HR teams in this industry are doing everything they can to attract and retain employees — and that includes overhauling company culture to be more attractive to top talent.
But often these teams face an uphill battle. Many leaders don’t see the value in investing in company culture in the finance sector, and without their support, it can be hard or even impossible for HR to change organizational culture in a meaningful way. If financial companies want to transform culture in a way that drives results, they need to get their leadership teams on board with culture changes.
“Leaders represent the most critical lever for culture change; unless leaders throughout the business embrace and role-model the mindsets and behaviors of the desired culture, it won’t work,” said Edmond Mellina, President and cofounder of organizational change consultancy ORCHANGO. “HR has no choice but to get leaders genuinely on board — and then work with and through them on shifting the culture.”
In a traditional industry like finance that’s notoriously resistant to change, this can be especially challenging. But it is possible — here’s what experts recommend.
Why It’s Essential for Financial Companies to Embrace Culture Change
In today’s labor market, employees have high expectations for the companies they work for. And in order for financial companies to successfully attract top talent, they need to deliver on those expectations — which, for many, means rethinking their approach to company culture.
“As the Great Resignation continues to morph into the Great Reconsideration, top talent — today more than ever — expects more from a job than a paycheck,” said Rachel Cooke, founder of Lead Above Noise, a consultancy that specializes in retaining, engaging, and developing talent. “People want purpose, connection, workplace flexibility, balance, and much more.
“More ‘traditional’ financial cultures didn’t necessarily value or prioritize these things,” continued Cooke. “And now — in an extremely competitive labor market in which talent holds all the leverage — these cultural pillars matter more than ever.”
“By…delivering real culture change, financial institutions can demonstrate their commitment to supporting, empowering, and truly valuing their employees,” said Cooke. “[And] when employees feel trusted, supported, invested in, listened to, [and] empowered…they want to stay and grow with the company that made them feel this way.”
To stay competitive in today’s market, enacting culture changes is a must for many financial companies. Here’s how HR can show their leadership teams just how important these culture changes are — and get the buy-in they need to make them.
5 Tips for Getting Executive Buy-In for Culture Change in the Financial Sector
1. Lead with data.
Leadership teams, particularly in the finance industry, tend to think in terms of numbers, data, and strategy. So if you want to generate executive buy-in for your culture initiative, present it in a way that makes sense to them and “build the business case for change,” advised Mellina.
Instead of talking about how culture changes will make employees happier or more engaged, tie your proposal to the company’s bottom line. “Curate and present hard data to the leadership team around the business risks and costs associated with talent attrition, as well as lost opportunity due to inefficiency and lack of collaboration and innovation — impacts associated with employee disengagement,” Cooke said “This drives executive buy-in.”
Leaders in the financial sector work in that industry for a reason; they’re logical and data-driven and care about the bottom line. So the more you keep your conversations anchored in logic and data — and the more concretely you can tie culture changes to better business outcomes — the easier it will be to generate the buy-in you need to enact meaningful culture change at your organization.
2. Target the right leaders.
When you’re trying to get financial leaders on board with culture changes, how you approach them is important. But so is who you approach.
“Leadership teams are comprised of individuals — each of whom is likely to hold a different view around culture change,” said Cooke. “HR should begin by understanding which leaders are furthest along on the change curve, and harness the power and partnership of those more open in bringing their peers along on the journey.”
Look at your current leadership team and assess how open you think they’d be to discussions about culture changes. For example, has your CEO been with the company for 40 years and spent those years building a reputation for being old-school, traditional, and a bit stuck in their ways? If so, they’re probably not the best person to approach first.
Conversely, if you have a more progressive COO that’s been an enthusiastic supporter of past HR initiatives or comes from a more progressive, non-finance background, they might be a better person to target first; once they’re on board, they can act as an ally in your conversations with other harder-to-sway executives.
3. Take baby steps.
Chances are, you and your HR colleagues have big goals and ideas about how you’d like to change your company culture. But if you’re dealing with a hesitant leadership team, you may not want to bombard them with all of those ideas at once. Instead, start small.
“Culture change can feel overwhelming in its enormity,” Cooke said. “So define an [aspirational] vision, but set small, achievable goals early. Give people the chance to experience victory without too much effort. Then highlight it, celebrate it, and set the next milestone.”
For example, say one of your culture-related goals is to roll out a large-scale wellness program to support your employees’ health. Start with something small, like a weekly yoga class or a corporate walking challenge. Measure results over time and share the results with leadership. For instance, did absenteeism fall? Did employees report feeling more productive or less stressed? Then, use these results as a stepping stone to roll out another wellness-related initiative, and grow the program incrementally over time.
By breaking down large-scale culture changes into small, manageable steps, you can show your leaders in real time how each of these steps drives tangible, measurable results for your organization. As leaders see these results, they’re more likely to support making larger changes.
“Winning begets winning,” said Cooke. “Give leaders a chance to taste it.”
4. Give leaders a sense of ownership.
As an HR professional, you’ll be responsible for implementing a lot of the culture changes within your organization. But if you want leadership to get on board, you’ll need to involve them in your culture changes in significant ways.
“Don’t think about HR as the leader of the culture shift,” Mellina advised. “Instead, HR’s role must be one of stewardship.
“Stewardship means bringing leaders on board and letting them lead, with top business executives overseeing specific aspects of the culture shift, providing effective guidance and support, and ensuring the overall effort is moving in the right direction,” he continued. “In essence, this is a ‘co-creation’ approach. By acting as the steward, HR sets the stage for co-creation with the leadership.”
For example, say one of the culture changes you’re proposing is a hybrid work environment, where employees have the option to work from home. In this situation, you might have your CTO oversee the initiative, co-creating the policies, procedures, and best practices to ensure the shift aligns with their IT strategy.
By partnering with leadership to co-create a new company culture — instead of just getting their approval — you give them a sense of ownership that can keep them more committed to these changes for the long-term. “The culture shift will become the leadership’s baby, so to speak, [instead of] HR’s baby,” Mellina said.
5. Got pushback? Get curious.
Sometimes, no matter how you frame culture changes to leaders, they still might not get on board right away. If you find yourself facing pushback, the best thing you can do is “be curious and willing to pivot,” advised Cooke. “Where you’re experiencing resistance, ask why.”
Get curious about why your leadership team may be so resistant to culture changes. For instance, has a top executive had a negative experience with culture changes at a previous organization? Are they concerned about cost? Or are they having a hard time connecting culture changes to tangible business outcomes?
Once you have a better idea of why you’re getting pushback, you can rethink your strategy and change your approach to directly address your leadership’s concerns, which will increase the likelihood of getting them on board.
“Overcoming resistance is not about trying harder, but stepping back, understanding what’s behind the resistance, and being willing to [adjust] your approach to meet leaders where they are,” Cooke said.
As an HR professional, you know what a positive impact the right culture changes can have on any organization, and the financial sector is no different. But in order for cultural changes to be successful and have staying power, you need buy-in from leadership. Take the time to present your case in a way that speaks to your leadership team, show them the data, highlight the benefits, and take small steps to generate results. In this way, you can get leadership on board and work with them to change the culture at your organization for the better — together.