Jeff Judy

Jeff's Thoughts - November 29, 2017

The Culture Documents: Why Bother?

As I mentioned in the previous issue of Jeff's Thoughts, most banks and credit unions have mission statements. Along with that, it is pretty common to see a vision statement and a statement of values.

Together, these statements are supposed to describe the type of organization you want to be, how you'll approach your work with customers, with colleagues, and with other stakeholders. They define the basic culture that will shape all those individual interactions that take place at many levels within the institution.

If your enterprise has crafted one or more of these statements, I would like to ask you a simple question.


Over the years I have read countless mission statements, many of which are almost exactly the same. And I get the feeling that the main reason many institutions, and even many businesses and organizations, have mission statements it because everybody else does! We all know you are supposed to have a mission statement if you are serious about your business.

That's an honest answer, if one that is rarely admitted to, but not a satisfying one. A better answer to "Why bother with culture documents?" is that they are intended to influence behavior. There's no sense in creating a document if it doesn't have the potential to change how anyone does their job.

There are several implications of a "behavioral outcome" approach to defining the culture. First, you may have different guiding statements for different levels or functions. As I suggested last time, the broad, big-picture mission statement may help the leadership team identify key strategies, while a "mantra" might be better suited to guiding front line actions.

Second, if you insist on, say, a mission statement having an impact on everyone in your organization, get rid of the flowery language and worn-out cliches and say something everyone can understand. I can't tell you how many institutions state that their mission is "to be the premier provider of services" in their market. "Premier provider" doesn't help much when you are making countless daily decisions on how to conduct yourself with the customer. Why not say you want "to be the best bank in town?" That's something that makes sense in a real working environment.

Third, how do you link behavior to employment? If "teamwork" or "initiative" or "ethical behavior" make your list of values, how do you assess these qualities when you interview job applicants? How are these characteristics evaluated when it comes to performance appraisals?

If there are no firm links between the culture documents and employee behavior, those culture documents are just a distraction at best. They take a lot of time to create, and that investment of time can only produce a return through the behavior of your staff.

If you are going to create these kinds of culture documents, make them down to earth, easily remembered, practically applicable to daily work, and relevant to hiring and performance feedback. Meet those criteria, and you will have a clear advantage over your rivals who are still striving to be "premier providers".