A focus on culture

Rabobank’s 520-plus New Zealand employees work from 27 locations – places like Ashburton, Pukekohe and Feilding and from a purpose-built head office in Hamilton. Its employees are proud of the communities in which they live and work. Rabobank was the recipient of the Culture Te Puawaitanga Award in Human Synergistics Leadership & Culture awards. Management asked the leadership team about its focus on its culture.

Rabobank is New Zealand’s only specialist food and agribusiness bank. It was set up in the Netherlands 125 years ago as a cooperative – by farmers, for farmers and today operates in 36 countries and is among the world’s 30 largest financial institutions.  Rabobank employees 49,000 people worldwide. Here in Aotearoa New Zealand, it has a single focus on food and agribusiness.

 Q: What led the company to focus on its culture?

 Rose Ford, General Manager HR at Rabobank: We feel there is always more we can continue doing in this area. We used the Organisational Culture Inventory and Organisational Effectiveness Inventory tools from Human Synergistics to measure our culture in June 2020 and again in October 2022.

This showed us that we had a pretty solid culture to start from, but that we had opportunities to make it even better. Across our organisation, we identified opportunities to continue building our constructive styles and reducing the less effective defensive styles. At Rabobank we did this though a focus on four key pillars though playbooks and people leader learning on:

  1. Building trust and psychological safety.
  2. Welcoming constructive challenge.
  3. Giving and receiving feedback.
  4. Sharing insights and open dialogue.

Our cooperative origins help to form the basis of our approach. We are continuing to develop our culture, towards a learning and results-driven cooperative, and through this we will be able to achieve our goals and ambitions. With a ‘One Rabo Culture’ we set this movement in motion. This allows us to deliver the quality and speed that our customers expect from us.

To become a learning and result-oriented cooperative, we are focusing on strengthening the following points:

  1. Unambiguous ownership and accountability: Strengthening ownership and clarity on roles and responsibilities.
  2. Reflection, feedback and follow up: By taking time to reflect, we learn from mistakes on our way to mastery.
  3. Prioritisation and focus: Prioritising better, by making decisions based on the right information and thus ensuring focus on the right things.

Our values and behaviours form the foundation. Finally, a good balance between people- and result-oriented leadership is a precondition.

Bruce Weir, General Manager Country Banking New Zealand: “Rabobank’s mission, purpose, values give you a real sense of belonging. It’s all about growing a better world together, and we do that through food and agri to grow vibrant, rural communities.”

Rabobank’s Rose Ford and Bruce Weir.

Q: Sometimes, it seems, a company’s culture can be a quite a nebulous thing and hard to pin down, rather than something very concrete. What are the specific moves Rabobank has made?

Rose Ford:

  • Each business unit now has a Culture Coach who supports this focus on culture alongside people leaders. The Culture Coaches support culture action planning and culture change initiatives within the local environment.
  • Rabobank has a strong client-focused culture built on our mission of Growing a better world together. We continue to grow and strengthen our culture by recruiting employees whose values are aligned with ours and have the right skill set.
  • Through initiatives like the Employee Council and our regular employee webcast RaboLive, and culture playbooks on giving and receiving feedback and constructive challenge, communication both to and from employees has improved and is now a core strength for employees.
  • Our flexible and hybrid way of working for our people.
  • We focus on building great leaders, role-modelling the Rabobank skills, values and behaviours we want to see, through our People Leader Masterclasses and our leadership pathways.
  • Lots of opportunities for our people to be involved in their teams’ Culture Action Plans with Team Playbooks – including constructive challenge, trust and psychological safety, giving and receiving feedback and open and balanced conversations.
  • We encourage our people to recognise their peers’ good conduct through a quarterly Make A Difference (MAD) Award and a peer-to-peer platform Cheers for Peers.
  • One Rabo leadership focuses on our intentions around personal leadership, team, cooperative and the one Rabo culture, leading through Rabobank values and behaviours.
  • We support our leaders to demonstrate One Rabo leadership and our cooperative mindset to build inclusion, accelerate transformation and contribute to a better society.
  • We embrace inclusion, equity and belonging in teams not only doing the right thing for society, but also improving our business results and better serving our clients. In 2022 we were proud to receive our Rainbow Tick accreditation and in 2024 we achieved our advanced Gendertick accreditation.
  • We encourage wellbeing through our wellbeing programme and involvement in the community through our Rabobank community day and Rabobank Foundation. This could be through partnering with Good Yarns providing mental health support to our people and our clients, or surfing for farmers encouraging our farmers to spend a few hours off the farm.

Q: What do you feel has changed within the organisation – are there specific improvements you can point to?

 Rose Ford: A greater focus on trust and psychological safety, giving and receiving feedback, constructive challenge and open and balanced conversations. Our engagement score has significantly improved over the last three years and is currently 89%.

Rabobank achieved significant change in the culture results between 2020 and 2022. The results from our Human Synergistics culture surveys showed we increased our constructive behaviours. There were strong outcomes, showing our people are committed to the bank and their colleagues. At the same time the passive and defensive styles were significantly reduced. [Our] results are leading when compared to the most constructive financial sector results.

Ashad Langdana, Specialist Process Documentation and Culture Coach: “I see it making a difference to the culture due to the more intangible elements it entails. While the role does mean we are presenting our culture survey results back to our teams, to me the difference is made in day-to-day interactions ensuring our people are enjoying their work environment. The difference is also in…raising any issues … so that our people can come to work each day and feel like they can be themselves.

Q: In what sort of scenario do they come to the fore?

 Rose Ford: Giving each other feedback, having challenging conversations, holding people accountable, encouraging constructive challenge, building trust across teams so optimum results are delivered to our clients.

People who join Rabobank often comment on how accessible the leadership team are and how collaborative the work environment is compared to other organisations.

Moving our head office to Hamilton to be closer to our clients has helped bring our purpose alive.

Bruce Weir: “It’s all about daring to make a difference. Creating an environment where our people feel safe to have a go, without fear of failure.”

 Q: Of the changes made at Rabobank, what do you feel has made the most difference?

 Rose Ford: Involving our people in the change. We have done this through asking our people what they think and what needs to change through the culture survey, engagement scans, and RaboLive and Townhalls. But we also opened up other channels to allow our people to get involved, like the Employee Council and Rainbow Group.

The establishment of the Culture Coach network has made a difference with people leaders, in engaging and listening to our people across the bank and getting our people involved in driving the culture changes. This, along with the support from the New Zealand leadership team and our people leaders role modelling the Rabo behaviours and values we want to see, have made a significant impact.

The Award

Q: Rabobank was the recipient of the Culture Te Puawaitanga Award in the Human Synergistics Leadership & Culture awards. Was there something particular that made Rabobank stand out for the award?

Carina Hull, Senior Consultant Human Synergistics NZ and client lead with Rabobank: The team at Rabobank are focused on making a difference across New Zealand. The executive team has taken part in the High-Performance teams’ and Culture Coach sessions role-modelling their commitment to building a constructive culture.

In Rabobank’s case they identified two key opportunities for change which really made them stand out for the award.

The first is that a leader’s role is to create the environment (culture) that encourages team members to be their best. So, they focused on developing effective leadership. Rather than a competency/capability based managerial skills approach to leadership, they focused on a behavioural approach, where leaders became very cognisant of the impact their behaviours have on the environment and team members.

In many cases this required leaders to challenge their assumptions about how organisations and the people in them actually work. If leaders think effectively, they can start to behave and respond constructively in situations.

The second key was that they recognised that teams make up organisations – so they proactively focused on developing High Performance Teams. Each team was invited to participate in discussions around the Human Synergistics’ HPT Framework that consists of nine building blocks and to make decisions for themselves about how they as a team would like to address each area.

Again, it’s not a paint by numbers approach. The HPT Framework allows each unique team to address their opportunities in the way they decide. “Effective solutions = Quality x Acceptance” and so by doing it for themselves there was not only a good quality solution but huge buy-in to what needed to happen next for each team to be their most effective.

Carina Hull.

A note about the awards

Neil McGregor, Lead Consultant Human Synergistics NZ: The Human Synergistics Leadership & Culture awards are not actually a competition. The awards are recognition for an organisation reaching a specific standard. If three organisations meet the standard, then three organisations will receive an award. But make no mistake, the standards are high, and no one should confuse this is a participation award.

This approach is somewhat unique. There are other awards processes that pit organisations against each other, which is actually the antithesis of what we are trying to achieve. Competition is not what it’s made out to be.

You are competitive in a marketplace because you are excellent at what you do, AND how you do it. You don’t beat your competition directly; you serve your customers better than they do.

It’s about playing the infinite game, where the aim is to keep the game going, rather than the finite game which is about ‘winning’ each interaction. Long-term versus short-term thinking and action.

 

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A focus on culture

Rabobank’s 520-plus New Zealand employees work from 27 locations – places like Ashburton, Pukekohe and Feilding and from a purpose-built head office in Hamilton. Its employees are proud of the

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