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Do your employees feel connected to your bank’s purpose?


If a bank’s vision describes what they want to accomplish, a bank’s purpose reveals why they want to accomplish it.

Because they are so intrinsically people-centric, community bank leaders often believe their financial institution’s purpose is clear – to its clients, to its community and to it employees. Yet, that is not always the case. Unless well-articulated, intentionally lived out and continuously supported, a bank’s purpose can be a bit fuzzy in the minds of team members. If there was ever a time to make it clear, it’s now. 

Ambiguity around purpose is exacerbated by several trends within the modern workplace environment:

  • An “always on” corporate culture that means employees are busier than ever, leaving little time to contemplate the why of their work.
  • Increased consolidation creates an environment of merging (and sometimes clashing) why’s, making it difficult for employees to feel an enduring purpose.
  • The work-from-home flexibility enjoyed by many a digital nomad reduces the experiences so good at revealing the deeper meaning of an individual’s work.

Purpose is more important today than ever before

While feeling connected to something bigger than themselves has always been a strong motivator for employees, it’s even more so today. Close to half of Millennials, who make up more than a third of the U.S. workforce, say they actively seek out organizations with a strong purpose – one that they can personally connect to.

In a rapidly shifting financial services environment that threatens to commoditize traditional banking products, a community bank’s differentiation hinges on client experience. Delivering exceptional experiences begins and ends with happy employees who feel empowered to do what it takes to make that happen.

About a year ago, our family-owned bank’s leadership team wanted to learn more about our own team members’ connection to the why of our business. Did they find meaning in their work, or did we have a fuzzy-purpose problem? We investigated by asking them – using a simple, anonymous survey – if they felt connected to the bank’s purpose. The majority reported they were either unware of the bank’s why or they felt disconnected to it. Clearly, there was an opportunity for us to make a real change for our people.

Connecting the what, why and how in three statements

We began by crystalizing our purpose through formally articulating it in three what, why and how statements: a crystal-clear vision statement would set out our what; a succinct purpose statement would describe our why; and a set of actionable values statements would guide team members through the how.

Putting words to the bank’s reason for being and how it intends to live out that reason was actually easier than we anticipated. While there were certainly a number of opinions around the actual language that should be used, the message was generally the same across different functions, departments and managerial levels. This was pretty encouraging, considering we serve clients from 26 locations in 23 different Iowa communities.

Once we completed the pen-to-paper portion of our project, we set about the fun part – communicating our purpose, vision and values to the 270+ team members who devote their talents to empowering people, inspiring success and fostering growth.

Team members have to feel leadership’s commitment

Rather than talking at our team members, we wanted to captivate them. It was really important to every member of our leadership team, including our board members, that the bank convey how seriously we were taking what they’d told us in the survey. We did this in a few innovative ways.

First, the marketing team created a direct mail piece that played a video on a small, digital screen when opened. The video explained how each individual can live out the bank’s purpose within the workplace, as well as in their communities. Instead of mailing it to the office or plopping it on a desk chair, we sent screens directly to our team members’ homes. Getting the video into our team member’s homes had the added benefit of allowing family members a chance to appreciate the reason their loved one goes to work every day.

Then, our president and CEO visited nearly all of our branch locations to hand-deliver to every team member a gift box whose theme was our purpose, vision and values. Inside was a journal, an overview booklet,  a 5 x 7 print-out for desk display, and values cards. It was a small way to say thank you to the people charged with bringing the bank’s what, why and how to life.

The values cards in the gift box encouraged team members to tell the everyday stories that make up their work experience. It provided everyone at the bank an opportunity to brag up a colleague, share an anecdote that made them feel connected to the why of their work or just write a note of support for the values we collectively hold in high esteem.

While the challenging work of articulating our purpose, vision and values is complete, the engagement initiative is ongoing. We know that the banking environment is changing, as is the expectation of clients and employees. That calls on us as leaders to commit to continual check-ins with the people we serve.

Josh Fleming is vice president of marketing for Bank Iowa, a family-owned bank operating in the greater Des Moines area.