By Jim Bearden
The following article ran as a feature in the May/June edition of The Texas Independent
The Ultimate Classroom
After a relatively short ride from the airport, the bus
pulled up to our destination. As it rolled to a stop, two men boarded...one
through the front and the other through the rear doors. In tones that could
only be described as LOUD, and using language that was colorful
(understatement), they told us to get off the bus and to line up using yellow
footprints painted on the pavement as our guides for where to stand. It was 16
September, 1966, and I had just received my welcome to the Marine Corps Recruit
Beginning that evening and continuing for the ensuing ten
weeks of boot camp, followed by twelve weeks of Officer Candidate School and
thirteen months as a Marine infantry officer in Vietnam, I learned, and was
given plenty of opportunities to adapt and apply war-fighting skills. I was
also able to witness, firsthand, the power of organizational cultures and the
role leaders play in creating them.
What Sounds Good
Many organizational leaders take a very passive
(unconscious) approach to creating culture. They develop and occasionally
update foundational documents, things like mission statements, core values and
guiding principles. These documents find their way into new employee
orientation materials and may even be prominently displayed in lobbies and
other common areas.
One thing that such documents have in common is they all
sound good. Unfortunately, most of them share another characteristic: little
effort is made to convert the nice-sounding words and phrases into behavior.
And since the true measure of an organization's culture is the behavior of the
people working in that organization, the real culture may bear little
resemblance to all those nice-sounding words and phrases.
A Short List Long on Meaning
Like many other organizations, the Marine Corps has a set of
core values. They are: Courage, Honor & Commitment. The list is short, and
the words are certainly not flowery; but for Marines, it isn't about the words,
it's all about the behavior. The rich history of the Marine Corps, the epic
battles fought and won, are evidence of the Marine Culture. And that culture
has been created and sustained by leaders who know that unless they're brought
to life, foundational documents, even ones containing words like courage, honor
and commitment, have no real power.
With that as our background, here are six things
effective leaders do to bring words and phrases to life, to consciously
create cultures that reinforce and support behavior essential to organizational
Ensure that your employees understand what you expect
from them. There are three possible explanations for why people fail
to meet your expectations:
They know what you expect, but they're unable to
meet your expectations.
They know what you expect, but they're unwilling
to meet your expectations.
They don't know what you expect.
While the first and second explanations are sometimes
accurate, the third is more accurate more often. That being the case, I want
you to identify 3-5 situations in which employee behavior is especially important
to your bank's success. Next I want you to define the specific behaviors you
expect in each of those situations and then tell employees what you expect.
Before your employees can possibly meet your expectations, they must know what
those expectations are.
Model that behavior for them. As leaders you
have two primary tools for influencing the choices others make: your words and
your actions. Your words are obviously important...they're the tools you use to
inform your employees about the behavior you expect. Your actions are even more
important. If telling people the behavior you expect is how you inform them, showing
them what that behavior looks like is how you lead them.
Measure their performance using your expectations as the
standard. Here's something most of us have heard, and based on my
experiences, it is the truth: "What gets measured gets done." After defining
and describing the behavior you expect and modeling that behavior for
employees, you must reinforce the importance you place on their meeting your
expectations. One of the best ways to do that is by observing their performance
and providing them with feedback based on what you've seen. In the absence of
follow-up, some employees will conclude that meeting your expectations is
Honor efforts and progress made toward meeting your
expectations. The operative words here are "efforts" and "progress."
If you expect employees to do things they haven't done before, or to do things
differently than they're accustomed to doing them, then their early
performances will probably reflect their inexperience. What you should be
looking for here are good-faith efforts and any signs of progress; and when you
detect those, you should acknowledge them. Here's a caution: "Don't blow
smoke." Don't tell employees that they're doing "a good job" when they're not.
Simply acknowledge and honor (praise) their effort. If the quality of their
performance is shaky, they know it. If you tell them that they're doing a good
job when they know they're not, your credibility takes a hit.
Confront unwillingness/bad faith. In the
previous step you responded favorably to good-faith efforts. In this step you
must respond appropriately to the alternative - people who are unwilling to try
and meet your expectations. Here are some points to remember about this
uncomfortable, but absolutely essential step in consciously creating culture:
Most people will make good-faith effort to meet your reasonable expectations;
some won't. You do a disservice to those who will by tolerating those who
won't; so don't.
Regardless of the words and phrases found in your
foundational documents, your bank's real culture is revealed by the behavior of
the people working in your bank. The words and phrases may sound good, but it's
the behavior that really matters. Effective leaders consciously create
cultures that reinforce & support behavior essential to their
organizational success. The six steps I've listed are things you can do to
close the gaps between what sounds good and what gets done.
Jim Bearden, CSP, facilitates
Leadership Development Seminars, conducts Sales Training Programs and delivers
customized keynote presentations on personal and professional
development. For more of Jim's thoughts on leadership visit his web site
View the article as it appeared in The Texas Independent Banker magazine.