Originally published on CUES Skybox.
The financial industry is dominated by logical thinking, tight adherence to processes, and extensive regulatory oversight. By comparison, the task of creating a world-class company culture is often misperceived as a squishy, lovey-dovey, emotional thing. That perception is flat-out incorrect.
Building a great culture requires every bit as much structure, measurement and refinement as any operational process. As a result, a culture can literally be “engineered” and executed in a predictable, high-quality way. Note that because you are working to craft a sense of shared purpose and values, engineering a company culture does take longer than most other organizational changes.
Here are four key steps to take:
1. Start at the top.
Before you even begin with questions about mission, vision, and values, you need to be certain that you have senior executive team buy-in. Employees look to senior leadership for cues on what is valued. If there is any lack of stamina at the leadership level for sustaining the cultural change you seek to accomplish, you will fail.
2. Find your “why.”
Kasasa’s mission is to help community financial institutions win the war against their (largely megabank) competitors. That’s a simple mission statement, but it doesn’t answer why it matters. Our “why” is based on the notion that the trillions of dollars in the U.S. banking system represent tremendous power. And that power is being held in fewer and fewer hands as the megabanks grow larger and larger. We believe people who live in and love their communities (as community financial institutions do) will utilize that “power” for the betterment of consumers more effectively than a huge, bureaucratic, centralized, too-big-to-fail institution. The “why” is what gives the mission meaning and the employees purpose. (Simon Sinek does a great job of explaining this idea here.) When you are able to help your employees understand why your institution needs to exist and why it makes a positive impact on the community, you begin to tap the “self-actualization” component of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. And that transforms their jobs into a way for them to make a positive impact on the world around them–-a much more deeply fulfilling relationship between employee and employer.
3. Define your values.
Some consultants suggest that every employee should be involved in a collaborative process for creating values, which is a great way to get buy-in. Alternatively, you could only involve certain layers of leadership in the process. The process of creating values is not as important as ensuring that the final product of your process is good values that are instantly understandable and aligned with your mission. I suggest developing no more than five values, so you can set a realistic goal of having every single employee fully understand every single value.
4. Operationalize the culture.
The first company I ran had a very solid culture. However, after I left the organization, the culture evaporated in about six months. I realized that, as Jim Collins said in Built to Last, I had been a “time teller” not a “clockmaker.” I had succeeded in creating a company culture, but I had failed in ensuring its longevity outside of my personal efforts to sustain it. A tactic we use at Kasasa is a visual representation of our values that we call our “patch.” Representing the company culture symbolically gives us so many fun ways to inject the topic of culture into employee interactions. We do two patch T-shirts a year, have a bronze patch statue in the lobby, and almost 10 percent of our employees have a patch tattoo.
It may feel counterintuitive to implement culture proactively throughout your organization, as opposed to allowing it to evolve naturally. But trust me, the more purposefully you make your institution’s culture everyone’s responsibility, the more natural it will feel. Better yet, it will be a company culture that lasts.