What went wrong at Wells Fargo is well documented. But why it went wrong is a lesson we can all learn from. Because at Wells Fargo, a seemingly successful “sales culture” was brewing toxic side effects to the tune a $185 million fine and upwards of $8 billion in revenue loss.
How could this happen to such a well-established financial institution with a culture rooted in strength and trust? Why did Wells Fargo’s employees feel they had the liberty to fabricate millions of unauthorized accounts?
In a Fortune magazine interview, the new Wells Fargo CEO, Tim Sloan, said the company is committed to fixing and remediating everything that is broken and creating a better company culture.
But, to intentionally shape a new culture, it’s critical to understand the current culture and the “unwritten rules of engagement” that created it. And, it’s not that simple. Because, as is often the case, the company’s worst behaviors originated from the same patterns responsible for its overwhelming success.
Wells Fargo’s culture has not been measured by our organizational survey tool, but in the transparency that’s occurred after the scandal, we see evidence of the Hero, Ruler, and Revolutionary patterns. With every strength these Archetypes bring to the table, unintended shadow sides also show up.
At the root of Wells Fargo’s scandal and culture crisis is one prominent segment of the company’s business – the retail banking unit. In this area, we see heavy evidence of the Hero Archetype.
The Hero Archetype worked for them. While the average bank only sold 2.6 products to every customer, Wells Fargo was charging ahead with an unheard-of average of 6.1. This competitive drive transformed the company from the country’s #9 bank in the late ‘90s, operating largely in California, to the top-performing bank in the country by 2015. In many ways, Wells Fargo was the envy of the industry.
But, the shadow side of the Hero Archetype was also at play. Here, we see warning signs of a pending culture implosion.
But there was more at play. They were also acting as a Revolutionary.
There is significant evidence of the Revolutionary Archetype in the culture that led to Wells Fargo’s scandal.
The evidence is compounded by the Revolutionary’s shadow side.
So why did this go unnoticed higher up in the corporation where top leaders under-reacted for years? This is where the Ruler Archetype shows up.
At Wells Fargo, there are many positive aspects to this Ruler that work on many levels – recall, they did rise to the #1 position in their market.
However, in this crisis, the shadow side of the Ruler created a critical a shortcoming through a culture that is top-heavy and slow to move.
In hindsight, it’s easy to see how the culture at Wells Fargo went awry. And, how the very things that make an organization strong can brew glaring problems when you cross from a strength to a shadow side of an Archetypal pattern.
We can’t help but wonder if the leaders at Wells Fargo had Archetypal insight on their culture in advance…would things have turned out differently? With awareness, could they have proactively faced their own shadows?
While Wells Fargo presents a monumental example, the storyline can be similar in companies of any size. Is your company experiencing negative side effects of your Archetypal shadows? Like Wells Fargo, are you excelling, but at the same time burning out your team? Are you breaking the mold…at the cost of ethics? Are you so stuck in a process that you’re unprepared to shift quickly in a crisis?