Workplace Culture as Competitive Differentiation for Your FI

Workplace Culture as Competitive Differentiation for Your FI

Adrianne Court

There is a groundswell within credit unions and regional banks. Financial institutions (FIs) are determined to remain relevant and competitive against the Megabanks while achieving remarkable and uncommon growth. Additionally, in the shadow of infamous corporate culture failures, a positive and healthy conscious culture is no longer a “nice-to-have.” It is essential to sustainable success, particularly in the age of the court of public opinion and in the context of social media. With all of this in mind, FI leaders are hungry for creating and sustaining meaningful and intentional cultures that connect with and engage employees, customers, and their communities to create a sustainable competitive differentiation.

While many FI’s start with an incredible culture, they may struggle to make it a priority. Others may find that their organizations have grown without much thought about sustaining or scaling their culture. Now that they find themselves at the crossroads of defining who and what they want to be, they discover they are irrelevant within the communities they hoped to serve. Whatever the season of the FI, one thing is common: the requirement to cultivate a conscious culture for a sustainable competitive differentiation.

According to Credit Union Journal, “Credit unions continue to fail each year and that will continue in 2019.” On average, over the last 9 years, 17 credit unions have failed each year. Four out of five executives from the NewVantage Partners 2018 executive survey say cultural challenges are the primary barriers to business adoption. Yet, while many FI’s are failing or struggling to grow, there are many that are outpacing the growth of their peers.

So why do some FIs outpace their apparently similar peers?

I believe the answer is something fundamentally more important than who they choose as their digital banking partner. FI success relies on their cultures. Is it a coincidence that most of the fastest growing FIs are also recognized among the Best Places to Work, the Best of the Best in Customer Experience, Top Healthiest Credit Union, and more? I think not.

In my more than 20 years of human resources and executive leadership experience, I’ve learned culture is not an afterthought, nor is it cultivated by happenstance. Cultivating a conscious culture takes thoughtful planning and consistency. Most importantly, it takes the continuous practice of thinking, acting, and interacting. Some may feel that this can be easier said than done, but it can be done and in a way that is remarkable and uncommon. While there is no single best culture, I’ll briefly walk you through some ideas to define, activate, and sustain your own. But first it is important to understand the definition of culture in the context of the workplace.

What is Workplace Culture?

Culture goes well beyond a commitment to a code of ethics or conduct standards. Culture is how you think, act, and interact within your organization:

Think: How you define in words to verbally express your culture.

At Alkami, we define this as our Essential Culture Compounds: Optimistic-Perseverance, Caring-Collaboration, Transparent-Communication, Courageous-Innovation, Trusted-Accountability and Real-Fun.

We describe in detail what each of these compounds mean to define how we think about our culture. As an example, Courageous-Innovation means: encourages original thinking and ingenuity, seeks to identify emerging technologies or trends, and translates ideas into action.

Act: The behaviors to physically express and reinforce your culture

Interact: How you manifest your culture to your customers and community by your thinking and acting – the experience your customers have interacting with you.

This is important, as 79% of customers rate customer experience as a top three factor in deciding to purchase according to PwC.

Define Your Culture

The first step is defining your conscious culture is what your culture thinking is or what you want it to be in words. You can do this by asking and listening to how your employees and customers express your culture in daily interactions. Use the feedback received in employee engagement surveys and review what clients say about you in satisfaction surveys. Once you have completed your discovery, gather a cross-functional team to review all that you have learned and work through a process to write down your culture thinking.

Actions Speak Louder than Words

With your culture clearly defined, now you can focus on the actions that cultivate and sustain your culture. Keep in mind, words on the break room wall or in the employee handbook are not enough. Your culture must come to life through continuous actions and behaviors. Here is a small sample selection of a few things we do at Alkami to intentionally bring our culture to life in our actions:

Culture Training – A fun, cross-functional team exercise that explores what makes our culture unique and special. This is not just a time to celebrate the culture, but a time to challenge the efficacy of our culture through healthy debate and interactive exploration of what our culture means to everyone participating in the exercise. The result: participants leave the session with ideas and concepts to exemplify our culture internally.

Learning and Development – Part of Trusted-Accountability at Alkami is to share knowledge and learn incessantly. We reinforce this with a minimum of 24 hours of learning annually and a development goal for everyone at Alkami. And, we challenge ourselves to identify new and inspiring ways to learn and share knowledge. The result: cultivate a culture of continuous learning.

Performance Reviews – Our performance reviews are based on our six Culture Compounds. This requires each of us at Alkami to think about our performance, not simply in terms of results, but how we went about achieving our results in the context of our culture. The result: the act of writing and discussing our performance in the framework of our Culture Compounds is a continuous reinforcement of our culture.

Peer to Peer Recognition – Our AMP Awards, a peer to peer recognition tool, provides a way to recognize others and teams internally for results and behaviors aligned to our six Culture Compounds without limits imposed due to organizational or reporting structures. The result: helps to positively reinforce actions that align to our culture.

Employee Survey – We survey our Alkamists (employees) every six months to understand how we are progressing internally as it relates to our culture, and specifically our six Culture Compounds. We communicate the results and take measures to reinforce areas where we perform well with respect to our culture. More importantly, we identify tangible actions to improve in the areas of our culture where we don’t perform as well. The result: identifying areas to continuously scale and improve our culture.

While the above is a small sampling of some of the things we do to activate and sustain our culture at Alkami, what is most important to remember is practice makes progress. Culture is like exercising a muscle—you must exercise it, or it will atrophy. And, a conscious and meaningful culture is what engages employees and connects with customers to create a sustainable competitive differentiation.

There is considerably more we could discuss beyond this blog. But, I hope this has inspired some ideas or additional motivation to invest in your culture to create a remarkably competitive differentiation.

I would be happy to connect with you to share practices to continue to progress your culture. We love to share knowledge and to learn incessantly, as this is part of Trusted-Accountability for us. Reach out to me at [email protected] to exchange ideas.

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