THE BLOG
05/31/2016 04:25 pm ET Updated Jun 01, 2017

Culture Is the Elephant in the Room?

I had time to pause and reflect a week's working retreat at Gaia House on the reasons for why I have got to where I am over the past five years or so. But first, let me wax lyrical about Gaia House a hidden gem on the cusp of Dartmoor's higher ground with sweeping views to Hay Tor; the crumbling granite remains of a prehistoric mountain range.

The location would be a grandiloquent feast for the eyes, except it is an area of outstanding natural beauty and a balm for the soul. The panorama on walking to slightly higher ground is a visual metaphor for life's ever present and ever changing weather. Before me lay a whole weather system, a bank of tumble-up tumble-down clouds filling that green fielded and wooded basin of land travelling to the tips of a blue horizon.

If anything could remind me of life's vicissitudes, its continual flow, erosion, recycling and reforming in to a different guise, it was seeing that distant mantle of blue sky holding the tumults of grey cloud. Right now, I am in a pretty good position one interview away from an offer with, what I consider to be, one of the most interesting sustainable fund managers in the UK, the WHEB Group; with the development of perhaps the UK's first mutual sustainable wealth manager in process and the continual development of a fledgling consultancy on climate risk.

What really strikes me though is that it took a lot of tumbling around to get to this higher ground and to find some perspective. When I look back at my CV, especially though the eyes of an employer, the last few years look a bit chaotic as I moved through a series of jobs with no apparent direction. But then it became blindingly obvious. The elephant in the room, which no one could call out at these different companies, was their culture. Culture comes from leadership. You cannot call out the culture of the company without calling out the leadership. When leadership supports a degenerative culture it becomes the elephant in the room.

What is more, when I reflect back to my first ten years in business I have many fond memories and don't get me wrong I have a lot of respect and have made friends with many of the people at many different companies and in any case it is all grist to the mill of experience. But what is very subtle is that even in a top notch and well managed organization if the purpose of the company is not consciously positive then it is easy to become seduced by the apparent smoothness and rewards of success. And if the purpose of a company is not to be positive then what is the point of it - to be negative or to be casually neutral in the face of much needed action?

Looking back again, I remember a friend telling me that changing worldview and developing some moral responsibility is rather like getting out of a bad marriage. It is fraught at the time but worth it at the end. In fact it was a little like divorcing one's self; as the new you emerges from the chrysalis of the old you. But at the time not really know what is going on because you can only change through experience and reflect after the event.

In the end gaining higher ground and perspective it is rather like being endowed with responsibility for your own culture. It is formed through good intentions and skillful action. All it takes is good company, good conversation and a sense of purpose.