Jeff Judy

Jeff's Thoughts - September 10, 2014

The Value of Values

In this issue of Jeff's Thoughts, my associate Nan Gesche shares some tips for turning values into daily practice. More about Nan below.

At a recent Graduate School of Banking in Madison, a participant shared a story that struck a chord with me. He said that during weekly loan discussions at his bank, not having an explanation for why a loan is 7 days past due and what is being done to address the issue can be a "career limiting move." Notice he said 7 days past due, not 30, not 60, and clearly not 120 days. 7!

Employees don't just rely on policy and procedures for clues about how to behave. They look to each other. They look around to see what management is doing or not doing, and how those actions reflect organizational values.

These values are the building blocks in all major decisions and processes within your financial institution. Developing them is actually the easy part. The hard part is implementing them consistently. The trick is closing the chasm between your stated and your lived values.

Clear culture and consistent practices revolve around your values - the core beliefs that your financial institution adheres to. As a rule of thumb, a value is something you are not willing to compromise. Values are at the heart of your success. Not living your values could be the difference between a healthy business and going out of business.

Here are some tips:

  1. If you have stated values, your front line will clearly be able to tell you if your institution is "walking the talk" and really living your stated values. These staff are critical in helping you identify the holes/gaps in the consistent alignment of these values. This process will require engaging all levels of the institution, board to backroom as well as customer.
  2. KISS! (Keep It Simple, Stupid) Keep them short and sweet if you want people to remember them. You probably shouldn't have more than five. If you can't remember them, you can't do them.
  3. Spell out the actions that are consistent with your values in very clear black and white terms. Ambiguous policies and procedures leave room for misinterpretation, or worse yet, manipulation of expectations. What does it mean to say you embrace "strong credit quality"? What does this mean in terms of collateral requirements? Management of past due loans? If you don't explain what this means, every one of your employees can make up their own definition. And if they can't explain what something means, how do you know they are doing what you want them to do?
  4. Accountability isn't about what you say, it is about what you do. What are the rewards for living your values (expectations)? What happens when expectations are not met? I don't know how many times a manager has flat out asked me, "How do we hold people accountable?" Part of me wants to walk them over to a mirror and say, "Take a long, hard look." Accountability starts with what you do every day to reward and recognize people's behavior based on organizational values. And if you don't have the clearly spelled out expectations of point #3, it is almost impossible to hold people accountable.

How organizations evaluate their employees tells me more about their values than anything they have written on paper. Do employees have clear goals, benchmarks, and objective measures? Are the items on the performance appraisal aligned with the stated values of the organization, or does the one seem irrelevant to the other?

Great organizations create consistency based on shared values. If your values align with how you do things, peers are as likely to hold each other accountable as are supervisors. Customers will get the same experience no matter what location or team member they encounter.

How would an outsider determine your values? If the only way they could figure them out would be to look at a "Statement of Values" document, if they could not deduce your values from your actions, your document may be a waste of paper and ink.

More About Nan Gesche

Nan Gesche helps bank staff play well together. She has seen banking from almost every possible perspective, from leading the training function for a bank holding company to her post as a bank examiner to her current consulting activities in the areas of communication, change, and organizational effectiveness. If you need coaching or facilitation to translate your values into action, contact Nan at You can learn more about Nan at the Associates page on my web site, or at Nan's own site at