A disease in the banking industry is threatening the survival of financial institutions.
This illness is known as Broken Culture Syndrome, and it spreads at a rapid and debilitating rate. A dysfunctional culture can ruin an organization by severely stagnating growth and accomplishment. Management teams must take heed so their banks will not fall victim to problems that could harm their long-term viability and share value growth.
There is good news, however: banks can identify signs of the disease at its onset so that they can make a full recovery to a thriving, productive culture.
Banks need to be on the lookout for a wide-ranging list of symptoms, from a lack of accountability to a workforce that is not empowered to make decisions to managerial reluctance to invest in employee development and appreciation. Banks may also suffer from complacency, viewing change as an event rather than as an endless evolution, and from the mindset that sales are a numbers game rather than a relationship-building process. Internal dealings also often break down, resulting in widespread gossip and quarreling among disgruntled workers.
The first step to BCS recovery or prevention is ensuring that leadership is committed to acting as shining examples of the behavior they wish to see in their organization. After all, cultural soundness starts at the top and works its way down. Executives must be hyper-aware of the culture they are manifesting and continually work to instill healthy values, beliefs, and behaviors. That means creating a "do as I do" and not a "do as I say" atmosphere.
A lack of accountability also causes great harm to community banks. Accountability is the driver of success: it's the push behind sales and the door to increased profitability. Without accountability, the job doesn't get done.
Accountability will naturally occur if leaders can ensure that their employees wholly comprehend how their individual roles are critical to the bank's overall success. It simply must be communicated that each employee's success is the company's success, and the company's success is the employees' success. Regularly sharing the big picture and being completely transparent creates cohesion, inclusion, and widespread purpose.
Banks would be well served to take notice of the transparency practice at Live Oak Bank, a $630 million institution based in Wilmington, N.C. Every Live Oak team member is well informed on how the company is performing (and is regularly briefed on it by upper management), as well as on how each individual business unit is contributing, according to J.C. Smith, the bank's chief of human capital.
Employees even have a dashboard at their disposal that allows them to access corporate performance metrics at any time. This information is surely useful to them, since their incentive bonuses rely on employees' cumulative hard work. Instead of commissions, all staff members are rewarded with a quarterly bonus based on how the bank's balance sheet turned out. Smith explained that wiping out internal office competition has fostered an atmosphere in which everyone is working together for a common goal: the company's success. That's what accountability is all about.
Another destructive indicator of BCS is an absence of employee empowerment. Employees that are terrified of making decisions wind up crippling banks. If every action requires "approval," it's safe to say that not much will get done. A lack of employee empowerment is also a customer-service nightmare.
It's time for leaders to relinquish (some) power to let employees have more control of their work. Customer service levels will soar if employees feel empowered to make decisions on the flyeven if it challenges standard protocol. Of course, making such decisions requires discretion, but that should be a non-issue as long as banks are on-boarding qualified, trustworthy members.
Empowered employees are also apt to share ideas because they know their input is valued. The benefits of a "sharing" environment accrue to both employees and the company. It manifests an atmosphere of innovation and challenging the status quo. If leadership actively asks team members for their opinions and improvement ideas, then employees will constantly be searching for a better way. Their confidence will soar, the workplace will be happier, and productivity will be unbelievable.
While banks should always expect top-notch performance out of employees, they should also make treating their employees exceptionally well a top priority. Live Oak's executive team, for example, understands that the bank performs best when its employees are put at the forefront of company strategy. This goes against conventional wisdom, since banks often place the highest importance on their shareholders or customers.
When Live Oak focuses on showing maximum appreciation to its staff, its shareholders receive the highest returns, according to Smith. From a complimentary on-campus gym staffed with personal trainers, catered lunches on Fridays, and access to Live Oak University, a continuing education resource for all employees, Live Oak Bank spares nothing to keep its employees happy and well taken care of. They have created a small-scale, Google-like culture.
While all this may seem costly to some, the money is proving to be extremely well-spent. Live Oak's employees are thriving, their customers are happy, and the bank's financial statements classify it as a "high performer." Simply put, management's investment in its people is delivering returns ten-fold.
While the Live Oak example may seem unattainable at this point for many banks, the reality is this: Banks that work to align their purpose, mission, values, and strategies with their organization and deployment of resources will achieve a culture that drives sustained high performance. Increased profitability, growth, content employees, and pleased customers will all fall into place when a healthy culture is secured.
Natalie Brooke is vice president of client relationships for Resurgent Performance, a community bank advisory group.