Strong corporate culture lifts banks into the leadership ranks

Leadership. Ugh. So many consultants, pundits and academics have explored and exploited the subject, you might think it’s the corporate equivalent of the latest miracle diet. But while others discuss and dissect it, global leadership expert Adrian Gostick drives to the heart of it. As co-founder of The Culture Works and one of The Carrot Guys (along with fellow leadership guru Chester Elton), Gostick has the courage to confront the elephant in the room. Companies need to stop talking a good leadership game in public, while practicing draconian rule and quashing creativity when the cameras turn elsewhere.

Robust corporate culture paves the path to true leadership and Gostick, shares his beliefs about how the banking industry has blazed some trails, but needs to embark on others.  

BAI: Does corporate culture have any correlation to the bottom line? Some might say that there’s no data to connect in-house leadership with marketplace leadership.

Adrian Gostick: We truly believe that corporate culture is the last true differentiator. When you look at the banking world the way consumers do, you see so little difference between companies. So what’s the key to standing out? Whatever kind of innovation you’re trying to create it comes through the culture.

BAI: Yet businesses across all sectors—not just banking—use leadership as a talking point, not a tipping point for taking charge.

Gostick: So many banks and financial institutions say, “Our employees come first,” but there is so much dysfunction within where people are afraid to speak up. So leadership has to trickle down from the top—from a group leader who understands what a culture is like when people root for each other. Where people were in high-functioning organizations and outperforming their peers, leaders were better at defining a mission and purpose for their team.

BAI: Ah, but that calls to mind another term employees dread: “mission statement.” How can leaders possibly inject any meaning into the idea of a mission?

Gostick: Mission and values can get a bad rap. But when they are really integrated in the organization, people take notice. They want to buy into something bigger than themselves and they really know who the customer is and how to meet customer needs. We also find very high levels of transparency, where managers share everything—the good and the bad—and partner with their talent: treating them more like partners as opposed to employees.

BAI: What’s the banking industry doing right? And what can it do better?

Gostick: We work with a lot of banks and it’s an industry that’s understood the needs of the consumer sooner than other industries. So many organizations want to steal your good people and many leaders realize the advantage that comes with engaged employees serving their customer:  90 percent of senior leaders recognize the importance the engaging their people. But 24 percent didn’t know how to do it exactly. And you’re really busy; there are demands on your time to do the things you have to do to keep a business running. So employees often fall to the second or third fiddle. Sometimes it just boils down not to a lack of willingness but a lack of time.

BAI: Can you describe for us what the positive process looks like in action?

Gostick: We worked with a big bank that had a big mission of helping people’s financial futures. We went to the IT group—10,000 strong—and we asked, “If this is the bank’s mission, what does this meant to IT?” They decided their purpose was to enable a successful financial future for customers. The word “enable” was important them, and they came up with seven behaviors to reach those goals. But they were still generalities.  They had to figure out what it meant as an action plan.

So they got together and brainstormed all day. It was amazing to watch them come away and say, “Now I know what my purpose is.” They finally felt like they were a nimble organization from within that could help the bank. Then shared services picked up on what the IT group did, because there was such a buzz about it. It’s all about who we are, where we’re going and how we’re going to get there.

BAI: Once we see positive results, what comes next?  

Gostick: It’s also good to use in our home lives. We’ve all got valuable relationships with our kids and significant others and we’ve heard people say, “This is great for work, but it’s also helping me on the home front.” And that’s great to see.

Lou Carlozo is the Managing Editor at BAI. Contact him at [email protected]