What is the Culture at Wells Fargo?

The headline in section A of Wednesdays Wall Street Journal says; ?Wells Boss Says Staff At Fault For Scams?. The first sentence in the article says, ?As public and congressional pressure mounted on Wells Faro & Co. executives, it?s two top bankers had an explanation Tuesday for allegedly illegal sales practices: It was employees fault.

The article went on to say that on Monday afternoon Wells Fargo was the country?s larges bank by market capitalization. By Monday evening word had spread about planned congressional hearings and by the end of the day Tuesday Wells Fargo stock had declined by 3.3% moving Wells Fargo to number two in the country.

The article went on with many statements about the incidents and the what and why and what is being done about the practices at Wells Fargo that led to the $185 million fine paid. Mention was made that these violations were by just 5,300 employees out of a total workforce of 270,000. An open question might be; what made these 5,300 employees break the rules? The article also explains that there were meaningful financial incentives stimulating employees to sell current customers more services. These violations happened over a period of five years, according to the article and the violators including bankers? managers and bosses of those managers were terminated.

Would a strong culture based on integrity allow 5,300 employees to be fired over a five-year period without strong corrective action when serious violations were first noticed? Or is it possible that the culture was strongly revenue based and practices were allowed to continue as long as the cross selling process no matter how it was articulated, was generating the financial results anticipated?

I have recently interviewed organizations where this could not happen. Granted the people I have interviewed were not heads of organizations with a market cap of nearly $240 billion but they had built cultures so strong that violations of core values are not tolerated by the organization. All of these companies are growing rapidly, providing service excellence, treating their employees very well and reaping the benefits of a strong culture.

Is it possible to have a culture strong enough to repel bad practices when they happen, at the source? Can core values and beliefs about people be that strong. Even when you have a workforce of 270,000 people spread around the globe doesn?t it really come down to a boss and a few direct reports who either have or have not bought in to a strong positive culture? Of course it?s challenging and so is the rest of the responsibility of leading an organization of any size.

A culture exists in every organization. What that culture is and how it is supported is a function of leadership at every level. It?s not easy to establish and maintain a great culture but it is possible and many organizations manage to pull it off. Amazingly enough a great culture generates great results through great people.

Creating a great organizational culture is simple to talk about by not easy to create and maintain.

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