At its most basic, organisational culture is about the values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviours that employees share and use on a daily basis at work. It is what drives decisions and actions, affects customer experience, and ultimately the overall performance of an organisation.
Many factors are involved in establishing the culture of an organisation, not least the approach and behaviours of the Board and executive team, coupled with the relevant regulatory and governance framework. We believe that the ownership structure of a business is also fundamental.
Along with a number of other mutuals, building societies are owned by their customers; specifically those who save with or borrow from them; these people become members of their society as a result. Societies also have a broader social purpose, bound up in the provision of a safe place offering value to savers and helping individuals and families own their own home.
Exploring culture in building societies, we wanted to find out more about the impact that the ownership structure has on culture as seen through the eyes of employees. Do building society employees know and understand what working in a customer-owned organisation means? What difference does it make to their working environment, behaviour and approach to customers and the broader range of stakeholders who benefit from the business? And how does this differ when compared with other sectors?
We surveyed over 2,400 building society employees and comissioned YouGov to survey employees from other sectors. The findings help to explain how and why the ownership structure of building societies shapes the organisational culture of the 44 diverse societies in the sector. It leads to employees putting the interests of their customers, who are also their members, first. In many ways, building societies are fortunate that there is no conflict of interest between customers and owners given they are generally the same.
As a result, member-ownership and the organisational culture it drives can lead to significant differences in consumer outcomes. These often include higher standards of service and conduct, more sustainable, lower risk approaches to doing business, and often better value in relation to interest rates.