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Company culture

SocGen’s chief culture and conduct officer on cultural transformation & trust

Natalie Runyon  Director & Head of the Talent Platform at Thomson Reuters Legal Executive Institute

Natalie Runyon  Director & Head of the Talent Platform at Thomson Reuters Legal Executive Institute

We speak to Nancy Harrington Jones, the Chief Culture & Conduct Officer at Societe Generale Americas, and the first person to be named to that position.

As Chief Culture & Conduct Officer at Societe Generale (SocGen) Americas, Nancy Harrington Jones became the first person to be named to that role. SocGen created the position after the G30 report, Banking Conduct and Culture: A Call for Sustained and Comprehensive Reform, was published in 2015 following several public discussions at the New York Federal Reserve about how the banking industry needed to lead the way in evolving its culture because cultural change is not something the Fed can regulate.

Harrington Jones, as the Chief Human Resources Officer for Societe Generale in the Americas in 2015, originally intended to craft the job description and hire someone for the role, but after reaching out to peer firms with similar roles, she learned that almost every person in the role at competitors had indicated frustration about aligning the role to their functional head. In some firms, the chief culture role reported into the human resources, risk or compliance functions.

As a result, Harrington Jones and SocGen’s executive committee determined the role needed to report into the CEO of the Americas. At the same time, Harrington Jones also came to identify herself as the best person for the role because of her background and experience in HR, IT, audit,  operations and working in cross-functional environments.

Leveraging governance to collectively drive ownership of culture

Harrington Jones describes her role as leading the charge to fundamentally spur cultural change in how the bank approaches controls, compliance, and risk. She executes her responsibility through a targeting operating model. This model identifies various drivers of culture that are owned across the organization — such as governance, tone, expected behaviors, inclusion, employee and client promoter scores — in order to better affect change.

Each year, Harrington Jones and her team make an annual plan on behalf of the bank’s executive committee that details how the organization wants to move forward and the factors used to measure how the culture has matured and evolved.

Nancy Harrington Jones, the Chief Culture & Conduct Officer at Societe Generale Americas

As the owner of the target operating model, Harrington Jones cannot do her job successfully in a vacuum. Extensive ownership and interaction are required to drive cultural shifts in the right directions, so SocGen has made the executive committee members the sponsors for the Culture & Conduct Program. And with each business head that sits on the executive committee, Harrington Jones can also partner with their direct reports. For example, currently she is working with the risk lead to transform how that function interacts with the business in their second line of defense role to effectively challenge business decisions.

Aligning cultural transformation to the employee lifecycle

Harrington Jones and her team take a holistic approach to ensuring that culture and conduct are present at every stage of the employee life cycle.

Screening & on-boarding — Societe Generale Americas uses a culture and conduct interview during the screening stage. Once employees are hired, they are invited to participate in a “new hire speed networking” event with culture and conduct champions to get to know new colleagues and learn more about the culture of inclusion at SocGen.

Retention — To better promote retention, Harrington Jones maintains a network of 175 people from around the Americas to act as culture and conduct champions and assist in embedding the organization’s values and behaviors from the bottom-up, side-to-side, and top-down.

Harrington Jones and her team craft toolkits and newsletters with interesting content, such as TED Talks, for the champions to use. They also encourage the champions to pass along and host “lunch and learns” with their teams. To reward the champions (and as a thank-you), they get exclusive access to networking opportunities with senior leaders.

Focusing on middle managementMany times, culture change and innovation are difficult with the “frozen middle” — the middle managers who are the links between junior- and mid-level employees and leaders at the top. Often this stratum of professionals is the most conservative layer within the organization.


Each year, Harrington Jones and her team make an annual plan on behalf of the bank’s executive committee that details how the organization wants to move forward and the factors used to measure how the culture has matured and evolved.


Harrington Jones says she relies on manager training to help these professionals understand the critical role they play in cultural transformation and instilling leadership behaviors, such as doing more listening and asking questions than talking. Tactics used with such managers include the “strengths-based” approach to leadership, which is a mechanism that leverages the unique strengths of each manager and encourages enhancing these strengths for higher performance. In addition, Harrington Jones has convened a peer-to-peer network of managers who have specific leadership skill expertise.

Employee performance mechanisms — Behaviors are measured within the assessment and compensation processes, in manager effectiveness surveys, and in career progression discussions. Culture and conduct behaviors also are part of the exit interview process.

KPIs to measure progress — Harrington Jones knows the efforts are working. For example, she says that employee feedback on ratings of their leaders and colleagues’ ethical behavior has jumped 10 points in the Americas over the last three years. Moreover, the Americas region has the largest participation rate in the employee engagement survey.

Trust at the core of cultural evolution

The most critical indicator that Harrington Jones and her team pay attention to are the indicators of trust. She described the critical role that trust plays because it “involves judgement in the gray areas that controls, regulations, and policies often don’t cover,” states Harrington Jones. Two key areas of trust that she focuses on are:

  • “Do we have our environment set up to exhibit the best behaviors?”
  • “Do employees feel comfortable speaking up without fear or penalty when questionable behavior is observed?’

Put simply, Harrington Jones says the biggest indicator of success is when “we find out about events, situations, or decisions before they blow up, regulators discover them, or the auditors come to us.”

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