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E110 | How To Change Your Company Culture with Siobhán McHale

If your company culture could do with an overhaul, then who better to impart advice on this very topic than the culture transformer guru with a track record of making workplaces better, Siobhán McHale?

“We’ve got to move beyond the framing of culture purely in employee experience terms. It’s about how to create more agile, innovative, and commercial cultures that can be sustainable over time.”

Siobhán has worked across 4 continents helping thousands of leaders create more agile and productive workplaces. One such example of her work in action was the radical 7 year change initiative at Australia and New Zealand Bank Ltd (ANZ). 

In her time with ANZ she transformed the bank from being the lowest performing bank in the country into one of the highest performing and most admired banks in the world – a recognised paragon of customer service.

This work forms the backbone of her book The Insider’s Guide To Culture Change which she talks about in this episode. She also discusses her four step approach to driving culture and what needs to happen inside an organisation to make that happen, how to test for EQ when recruiting and how to hire for customer-centricity. 

One thing that is apparent during this conversation with Siobhán is that she is adamant that culture is in service of strategy and that it follows on from strategy. Culture isn’t about staff engagement. It’s about where your business is trying to go and what culture does your business need to put in place to enable its strategy to be successful?

A truly insightful conversation, we hope you enjoy it as much as we did. 

On today’s podcast:

  • How Siobhán defines culture
  • How she turned ANZ culture around
  • Rewriting values
  • Changing the way you hire
  • Running a ‘day in the life’ programme
  • Culture is about you deliver your strategy


“I think culture is always in service of strategy and culture-enabled strategy. I say culture has to be hand in glove with strategy.”

Siobhán McHale is Executive General Manager of People, Culture & Change at DuluxGroup, but she earned her stripes turning around the culture of ANZ Bank. Siobhán has worked across 4 continents helping thousands of leaders create more agile and productive workplaces. 

But in her time at ANZ she transformed the bank from being the lowest performing bank in the country into one of the highest performing and most admired banks in the world – a recognised paragon of customer service.


How to define culture

Siobhán defines culture as ‘how things operate within an organisation’. It’s about how things happen, it doesn’t simply start and end with employee engagement. 

“I think that’s one of the big myths that happy people are engaged people. And of course, that’s really important and an important aspect of culture, but culture is much more than that.”

Culture, says Siobhán, relates to all aspects of how your organisation functions. From how you design your products to how you manufacture, sell and service your goods. Culture is imbued in the whole gamut – it’s how things happen within the organisation. 

Which makes measuring culture hard. You can observe culture and see the patterns relating to it within an organisation. You can see the hidden agreements at play, but measuring them and putting a metric on culture itself is really hard to do. 

“It’s hard to actually put a metric on the culture itself, but you can certainly measure, for example, how you’re tracking in terms of creating a customer oriented culture, or a performance driven culture, or a more commercial culture.”

The example Siobhán cites in her book, The Insider’s Guide To Culture Change, is the 7 years it took to turn the culture at ANZ around. 

Turning ANZ culture around

When Siobhán started with ANZ, they had the worst customer satisfaction at any bank in the country. By the time she had finished, they were number one for customer satisfaction and the number one bank globally in terms of the Dow Jones Sustainability Index and she’d doubled its profit, and tripled its share price.

Simply sending all the staff on a customer service skills training course wouldn’t have worked, she knew that culture change had to come from within. 

First of all they redefined the role of the branches from being the order taker to being the service provider to the customers. After that, everything they did was about providing great customer service. 

They put 32,000 people across the whole bank into a programme called ‘Break Off’, which was about breaking their old patterns and ways of thinking. 

“That required a mammoth effort over seven years, but 32,000 people attended this programme, which was really about giving them the tools to step into this new role.”

The next thing they had to do was educate the head office. 

“We found that most people in head office had no idea what it was like to work in a branch. So what we did was everybody in head office had to spend a day every six months at a branch. You had to go in, you had to serve customers and that was pivotal.”

Siobhán’s team had to reframe everybody’s role in the organisation, they had a mantra with one of their five values – lead and inspire each other. 

“So rather than looking to [CEO] John McFarlane or to the executive team for leadership, we said to everybody, ‘you are a leader and your role is to lead and inspire each other, don’t look up for leadership, look to your colleagues’.”

That was critical for enabling people to step up and take responsibility for their actions. 

Re-writing values

Siobhán had to rewrite ANZ values and to ensure everybody remembered them they wrote them down and put them on a little lanyard that they carried around with them. 

“One of the things I’ve noticed in my work with culture is that many organisations spend an inordinate amount of time workshopping the values, rolling out the new values, and then nothing else happens. And that’s where the work really begins.”

Rethinking the hiring process

Another critical element to changing the culture at ANZ was to change their approach to hiring. There had been a toxic environment at the bank for so long, that they needed to radically rethink how they recruited. 

With customer service as their priority, they began to hire people with a hospitality background who obviously enjoyed working with customers. 

“We looked for people who had the aspiration to create this type of culture, who wanted to truly work in an organisation that was customer centric, and also that had high EQ, so that they could get along well with their colleagues.”

Recognising a need for change

Siobhán says one of the key things as captain of your ship is to step back. 

“If you spend all your time as the captain of the ship on the deck, you’re going to miss something. You’ve got to get up on the bridge and in the bridge position, what can you see?”

If you can’t see what needs to change, perhaps you need to bring in an outsider to help you. 

“It’s a bit like a dysfunctional family. When you’re in a dysfunctional family you can’t really see that it’s dysfunctional. You just think, ‘Oh, this is pretty normal’, whereas your neighbours go ‘gosh, that is a dysfunctional family.”

Getting buy in from executives

How do you get buy in from the leadership team? 

“You don’t start with the culture conversation, you start with what are your goals? Where are you taking the company, and what are the enablers? And one of the enablers is this type of culture. So if you want to create faster growth, you need a growth culture. If you want to create more innovation, you need an innovative culture. So how do you create an innovative culture? You don’t do it with an engagement survey.”

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