In my presidential address, I said: “Culture matters deeply. In fact, in a world of transformational change, culture is the only thing that really matters.”
Corporate culture underpins our operating assumptions and shapes our attitudes towards authority, risk, assertiveness and group consensus. The US management consultant Peter Druckler memorably said “culture eats strategy for breakfast”, while the McKinsey 7-S framework puts Shared Values (culture) at the heart of the seven elements that determine an organisation’s ability to achieve goals and implement change.
Teams, organisations and countries have their own cultures. We need to be agnostic as to whether one is superior to another. The point is that the values must be fit to address the task at hand. Holistic thinking and self-awareness are necessary.
Strategies, change programmes and national economic policies depend on culture for their efficacy. The issue is often contextual, In 2011, when the Fukushima nuclear disaster happened in Japan, the response was slow – largely due to the Japanese orientation towards high-power distance and group consensus. However, those values were a crucial part of Japan’s cohesiveness and incredible industrial transformation in the 1960s-80s.
A nation’s economic policies and resources do not in themselves determine progress – more often than not, it is human values that do so. Culture at a personal level refers to our personality preferences: preferring safety to risk taking, structure to flexibility, introversion to extroversion and so on. All of us can be healthier versions of ourselves – and be more open to change and developing our capabilities. Nobody is perfect, but we can create a near-perfect team by being conscious of balancing the composition.
It is in this context that our profession can add courage, curiosity and imagination to add to our values of accuracy, cautiousness and consistency. In doing so, we will be a more resilient and sustainable profession, capable of delivering our wider ambitions and social impact goals.
Tan Suee Chieh is the president of the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries