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Investment industry leaders acknowledge the power of culture

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November 9, 2020

ARLINGTON, VA, November 9, 2020 — According to a poll of C-suite investment leaders, an overwhelming majority (89%) believe that organizational culture is more important than business strategy in influencing good organizational outcomes. The survey,* which involved representatives from 15 investment organizations around the world with total assets under management of over US$8.5 trillion, was conducted as part of the Thinking Ahead Institute’s Power of Culture leadership study and white paper, which is being released publicly today.

“This is tremendous validation of our thesis that a strong emphasis on culture, when synchronized with purpose, is a prerequisite for organizational success,” said Roger Urwin, co-founder of the Thinking Ahead Institute. “The importance of effective organizational purpose and actively managed culture has grown in recognition considerably of late, especially among leading investment organizations whose leaders acknowledge their key role in enhancing differentiation and resilience.”

The poll also shows how topical this subject has become recently; more than three-quarters of the group (80%) believe that more attention has been focused on organizational culture during the COVID-19 crisis. The cultural areas identified by this group as requiring the most work are inclusion and diversity (92%), people and teamwork ethos (79%), and innovation (62%).

The institute’s white paper highlights leadership commitment to elevating and actively shaping culture in an organization as the most important factor for building a competitive edge and generating sustainable business performance. It also points to the cultural considerations leaders rely on when building their value proposition, including:

  • Paying sufficient regard to organizational purpose, beyond a focus on short-term business results
  • Understanding and respecting the assessment of so-called soft or intangible factors
  • Developing the language, facts and tools necessary to communicate culture

“Now is a very difficult period for industry leaders, perhaps the most challenging in a generation,” said Urwin. “Notwithstanding, we believe that organizations that invest proportionately more time and attention in cultural progression will be more resilient as a result, particularly if they work with a dashboard to check in on progress. Beyond that, the biggest return on time invested in culture seems to be through engaging employees at all levels on how culture works for them, followed by increasing the weighting of culture in performance management reviews and in incentive compensation. Lastly, senior leaders have the ability to guide culture by personal example.”

The white paper also contains best practice models of purpose and culture as well as best practices that are critical to improving industry resilience, sustainability and outcomes for all stakeholders.

The Thinking Ahead Institute will continue its culture research with particular focus on three areas: extending the coverage to investment organizations that have previously not recognized the benefit of actively managed culture, particularly asset owners; investigating the links between new business models, innovation and culture; and developing a deeper understanding of the nexus between culture, purpose, inclusion and diversity, and sustainability.

“This list is a tough ask of investment leaders and reflects the fact that the soft stuff — such as culture management — is really the hard stuff,” said Urwin.

Notes to editor:

*The Thinking Ahead Institute surveyed 27 decision makers from 15 investment organizations around the world on September 22, 2020.

About the Thinking Ahead Institute

The Thinking Ahead Institute was established in January 2015 and is a global not-for-profit investment research and innovation member group made up of engaged institutional asset owners and service providers committed to mobilizing capital for a sustainable future. It has 45 members around the world and is an outgrowth of the Thinking Ahead Group, which was set up in 2002. Learn more at www.thinkingaheadinstitute.org.

About Willis Towers Watson

Willis Towers Watson (NASDAQ: WLTW) is a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company that helps clients around the world turn risk into a path for growth. With roots dating to 1828, Willis Towers Watson has 45,000 employees serving more than 140 countries and markets. We design and deliver solutions that manage risk, optimize benefits, cultivate talent, and expand the power of capital to protect and strengthen institutions and individuals. Our unique perspective allows us to see the critical intersections between talent, assets and ideas — the dynamic formula that drives business performance. Together, we unlock potential.

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