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All Blacks, that's what the New Zealanders call their national rugby team. It is a name that is worn with pride, a title that stands for decades of performance at world level. The All Blacks are distinguished by a strong and united culture. Every match, including the World Cup finals won, is discussed in the dressing room. What went well and, above all, what could be improved. Because things can always be better. Learning and improving is the common thread in everything the team does and an attitude of modesty is part of this. So the team members scrub the floor of their locker room themselves after every game, to remember that you are not too good for anything.

The culture of the All Blacks was a source of inspiration for one of the most successful cycling teams in the world, Jumbo-Visma. The team management made culture and mindset the driving force behind their many victories, realizing that there was hardly any gain to be made on a technical and physical level. So continuous learning and development became the common thread at Jumbo-Visma, whereby one's own performance was fully put at the service of the team and the team objective. This change in mindset should not be underestimated, because every individual cyclist wants nothing more in his or her heart than to win.

Such a change in mindset requires permanent training, emphasizes the acclaimed UK women’s football coach Sarina Wiegman. "So much happens in your brain. It controls everything. You can train this, just like you train a shot on goal. Mental training should always be part of every education."

What applies to athletes also applies to accountants. Firstly, an inspiring culture is an important recruitment factor. According to a recent survey, 39% of employers thought their corporate culture was the reason new employees wanted to sign a contract. Secondly, culture and behavior are a root cause of success and failure. It is the prerequisite for successful teams that communicate effectively with colleagues, managers and clients. On the other hand, root cause analyses of major accounting affairs show that a lack of attention to reflection and feedback, as well asoverestimation of individual performance are the root causes of failure and abuses.

It is precisely for that reason that the Netherlands Institute for Chartered Accountants (Royal NBA) has designated culture and behavior as a strategic program. Technical knowledge and skills remain important, but are no longer the determining factors for the attractiveness and relevance of our profession.

Does this mean that the professional body will prescribe what a firms’ culture should look like? Certainly not. At Jumbo-Visma too, the cyclists determine their own goals; they have to believe in them in order to realize them. "We don't force anything on them, every choice is voluntary," said team leader Merijn Zeeman. The key then lies in the how, the interaction, evaluating, reflecting and analyzing together. The word 'control' does not appear in the Jumbo-Visma dictionary.

This may sound strange to many audit firms. Yet the accountancy sector also seems ready for an approach in which more space is given to professionals and the way they interact. Recent research among almost 2,000 Dutch accountants showed a strong need for more social relevance (the goals), more attention to learning and development and fewer regulations and protocols. At the same time, an important 'but' emerges from the same research. Accountants appear to be less able to indicate how they want to achieve their goals. Exactly at the crucial point of interaction with their environments, the answers sound vague and uncertain. The respondents cannot clearly and unequivocally indicate how they would achieve effective behavior. This is not surprising for a rational and results-oriented profession, but an obstacle in achieving greater social relevance. Because anyone who cannot have a good conversation will not be heard and will not hear what the other person says.

It would make sense if professional accountancy bodies think about how they can help their members to better implement the process of learning and development, collaboration and interaction. Firms’ leadership also have an important role to guide the development of their employees, to ensure clear and consistent management, and a safe environment where everyone can put dilemmas on the table and discuss them. This also requires attention and reflection from managers and directors on their own growth process.

Berry Wammes
Berry Wammes

Berry Wammes became a member of the IFAC PAO Development & Advisory Group in January 2024. He was nominated by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of the Netherlands (Royal NBA). He currently serves as program director after fourteen years in leadership positions with the NBA, including serving as CEO from 2020 to September 2023.

Mr. Wammes was trained as a marketing and communications professional and worked for small and large commercial organizations in the Netherlands. From 1997 to 2003 he was Chief Marketing Officer of KPMG Netherlands and in that capacity from 1998 to 2001 he was also responsible for the EMA area. Mr. Wammes held various leadership positions in the NBA, being responsible for professional standards, policy development and international affairs since 2009.

Since 2014, Berry Wammes has been intensively involved in audit reform in the Netherlands after a period of persistent accounting issues and social criticism. He was responsible for an extensive change program in the areas of fraud, business continuity, transparency, and culture and behavior.

From 2011 to 2023, Berry Wammes was a board member of the Limperg Institute, a research and post-academic education institute, and from 2013 to 2023 he was deputy secretary of the Foundation of the Dutch Accounting Standards Board.