Rock Then Roll: The Secrets of Culture Driven Leadership

Your financial institution's internal culture is the 'secret sauce' needed to bring out the best in everyone and build your brand.

Much of business is focused on the strategy and development of new technology, new products, and new services, with the goal of improving the quality of life for the consumer — and hopefully society. Our ancestors have been acting this way for generations. Innovation and making things better is in our DNA. We wake up every morning thinking what can we do to make the world a better place. Sometimes the motivation is profit and recognition other times true altruistic behavior governs the multitude of things we all think need to be done to create a better world — our world.

Generations before us have set the example that business is the avenue to get things done that consumers and society need. The economy is driven by demand and supply; the oil to make it run is money. Rock the market, then make it roll. Change breaks up the old status quo and brings in the new innovation and improvements. Just like the seasons of the year it is a constant cycle of renewal.

So how can this be done in a way to optimize output, improve quality and increase value? In any business there are multiple components that contribute to the end product, but the most challenging to calibrate correctly is the human equation — the individuals that share the journey – that make it all happen.

“We asked for workers and human beings showed up!”

This quote succinctly captures the very heart of the problem. Every enterprise needs people to make it work. We would love to make it simple, but human beings are not simple and the development of a culture within which they want to give their best every day is equally complex.

Every business wants to be productive with good human resources to create consistent results. Every financial institution wants to build a brand to tell the world what it stands for to be recognized for it values. How do we redefine the way people work when automation, technology and even robotics are forcing changes that we have not yet figured out? How do we improve performance and impact results in these unchartered waters?

Culture gets created in every bank or credit union directly or indirectly. It has a set of norms, principles and values that are sometimes written down, but more often posted near the water cooler or simply just understood. “That’s the way things are done around here” probably brings a smile to most of us! A positive inspiring culture becomes a catalyst for a lot of good things to happen. Recruiting is easier, workers enjoy their days reducing turnover, and organizational performance improves.

Beware, however, as the reverse is also true. Once a culture is set with a body of actively engaged employees, it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to change. People work more for other people than for an organization. So, leadership is critical. It is the leader who must set the culture through example and engagement and both create and communicate repeatedly the direction and strategy. It all starts at the top (and it ends there too).

Once leadership is grounded in a specific culture it becomes mutually reinforcing. At all levels inside a business the leader’s example will mold the behavior of department leaders and reinforce the values and culture. No one needs to stop and tell anyone what has to get done or more importantly how to do it. In the Army, no one questions how things are done. Why? We understand the culture.

Every company may not be as well defined as the Army, but every company has a culture and it is always powerful — either for the positive or negative.

Start with culture. Make certain the leadership team is all cut from the same cloth of cultural understanding as the leader, and execute from there. Humans need to connect. They want meaning in life and in work. They want to be inspired and believe their days are meaningful. They want to know that what they do each day makes a difference. Because we too are humans, we all have these desires and needs and so understand it intuitively. The disconnect comes with taking the risk in business and executing consistently. Culture driven leadership is the “secret sauce” that financial institutions need to bring out the best in everyone.

Arkadi Kuhlmann has created the “secret sauce” for several companies including ING Direct in both Canada and the US and more recently Zenbanx. Arkadi is currently the founder and President of Zenbanx, a fintech company for those who works, lives, or travels internationally.

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