Why Improving Culture Is A Bottom-Up Proposition

Most every financial institution has been engaged in some type of improvement initiative over the past few years to improve operational performance and profitability.

Many have focused on revenue generation, adding wealth management and insurance capabilities, introducing new products and services and expanding their ability to better sell. Most have addressed their expense structure by rationalizing capacity, re-engineering processes and implementing new technologies.

Although progress has been made on virtually all fronts, the degree of progress has, for the most part, been incremental. Certainly one reason for this outcome was that the fundamental operating culture of many credit unions did not change in a meaningful, long-term and sustainable manner.

Fundamentally changing the operating culture of any organization in a meaningful, long-term and sustainable fashion is a bottom-up proposition. It is more a function of changing how/why we do things and not as much what or where we do them. It is a people-centric activity that minimally includes the following elements:

Five Key Elements

Create the Need for Change at All Levels. People need to know why this time counts. While people will entertain your conclusions, they will only act on their own conclusions. You must help people draw their own conclusions in order to take action across the life of the change initiative and beyond.

Mobilize People to Take Action. People need to see the plan and how to get there. The goal is to help people take action by seeing the roadmap and how they can participate including the tools, metrics and milestones along the way.

Help People Across the Finish Line. People need continued support in terms of coaching and leadership. Continuously let people know where they are and where they still need to go. Provide ongoing encouragement with an appropriate sense of urgency to drive the desired results. Don't forget to celebrate when they get there.

Provide Active Supervision on an Ongoing Basis. On average, a typical workforce is actively managed less than 25% of the day. Team leaders need to routinely and competently engage in the seven active management behaviors. They should be "on the floor" 80% of the day making assignments, giving direction, following up, providing feedback, coaching, solving problems and reporting.

Develop Manageable Operational Metrics. You can't manage what you can't measure. It is important to differentiate between data (too much) and actionable information (not enough). It is critical to develop a management operating system that provides actionable information on a real time basis and allows team leaders to organize; plan, schedule and monitor work on a daily basis.

Even in cases where companies have gone through a series of performance improvement initiatives, there is a persistent failure to institutionalize the improvements at the workforce level and provide the tools and coaching necessary to manage and maintain the improvements.

Optimizing human capital is a strategic imperative that is available to all, but under-executed by most. Executed correctly, it can provide a significant competitive advantage for many years to come.


John Bogush leads the Banking and Financial Services industry verticals in North America for Alexander Proudfoot Co. He can be reached at JBogush@AlexanderProudfoot.com.