Investment industry leaders acknowledge the power of culture

Organisational culture more important than business strategy in influencing good outcomes

GLOBAL9 November 2020 – According to a poll of C-suite investment leaders, an overwhelming majority (89%) believe that organisational culture is more important than business strategy in influencing good organisational outcomes. The survey*, which involved representatives from 15 investment organisations 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.

Roger Urwin, co-founder of the Thinking Ahead Institute, said: “This is tremendous validation of our thesis that a strong emphasis on culture, when synchronised with purpose, is a prerequisite for organisational success. The importance of effective organisational purpose and actively managed culture has grown in recognition considerably of late, especially among leading investment organisations whose leaders acknowledge its 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 organisational culture during the Covid crisis. The cultural areas identified by this group as requiring most work are diversity & inclusion (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 organisation as the most important factor for building a competitive edge and generating sustainable business performance. It also points to those cultural considerations leaders rely on when building their value proposition, including: 

  • Paying sufficient regard to organisational 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.

Roger Urwin said: “Now is a very difficult period for industry leaders, perhaps the most challenging in a generation. Notwithstanding, we believe that organisations that invest proportionately more time and attention in cultural progression will be more resilient as a result; particularly if they work to a dashboard checking 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 organisations that have previously not recognised the benefit of actively managed culture, particularly asset owners; investigation into the links between new business models, innovation and culture; and deeper understanding of the nexus between culture, purpose, diversity & inclusion and sustainability.

Roger Urwin said: “This list is a tough ask of investment leaders and reflects the fact that the soft stuff – like culture management – is really the hard stuff.”

*The Thinking Ahead Institute surveyed 27 decision makers from 15 investment organisations around the world on 22 September 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 changing and improving the investment industry for the benefit of the end saver. It has over 40 members around the world and is an outgrowth of Willis Towers Watson Investments’ Thinking Ahead Group, which was set up in 2002.

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. Learn more at