How happy employees can drive success

It’s not quite rocket science, but experts say one reason why some organizations are successful is clear: They have highly satisfied employees. Measuring staff satisfaction is one strategy many community banks are using to drive perks and benefits, improve customer experiences and, ultimately, become more successful.

By Mary Yerkes


Employee perks like annual bonuses and workplace events are a good way to boost workplace morale, but how much of a lift do they provide? Just as a community bank reports on quarterly sales and other financial targets, they can measure and report on employee satisfaction. But why should they? Because there is an undeniable link between employee experience and organizational success.

“Research has shown your customer experience will never be greater than your employee experience,” says Diana Kander, an entrepreneur, innovation consultant and bestselling author. “Improving employee engagement is the number one thing you can do to improve the customer experience.”

Employee engagement, a vital component of employee experience, is an often overlooked predictor of organizational success. Companies that invest in employee experience are four times more profitable than those that don’t, according to 2017 research from author Jacob Morgan.

Here, we look at how four community banks are tracking employee satisfaction and boosting organizational success.

Growing employees from within

Amanda Young, senior vice president and chief human resources officer at $5 billion-asset Bankers Trust in Des Moines, Iowa, uses engagement surveys conducted by an outside vendor to elicit feedback and measure employee experience.

“I don’t think Bankers Trust is unique in the fact that we conduct an engagement survey. That’s never enough,” Young says. “But where I think we’re unique and different is how we communicate and act on those results.”

In response to feedback received through its engagement surveys, Bankers Trust launched the Bankers Trust Leadership Academy. The community bank brings in speakers and subject matter experts to work with leaders moving into management positions or specific areas of interest. Bankers Trust has a 40% higher internal promotion rate for employees who have gone through the training.

Another initiative created in response to employee feedback is Bankers Trust’s “You Spoke. We Listened.” campaign, the goal of which is to acknowledge and celebrate how the community bank responded to employee concerns. For example, the bank encouraged employees to post examples of how Bankers Trust honored their concerns. One employee posted that Bankers Trust was listening by increasing its match to their 401(k). For another employee, it was all about Bankers Trust’s willingness to provide flexible work arrangements.

Bankers Trust also relies on internal and external coaching, a process by which employees can assess and understand their strengths and accelerate their professional and personal growth.

The community bank has been able to maintain a high level of employee engagement over the years, which correlates to consistent financial performance and growth, even in times of economic downturn.

Happy employees make happy customers

In Fargo, N.D., $8 billion-asset Bell Bank views the connection between employee experience and organizational success through yet a different lens. The community bank’s tagline is actually its mission statement: Happy Employees! Happy Customers!

As part of its mission, executive vice president and chief culture officer Julie Peterson Klein ensures employees carry out in the bank’s values: family atmosphere, unequaled personal service and paying it forward to the community.


Bell bank employees having a conversation

Julie Peterson Klein says Bell Bank’s focus on cultural values has resulted in low turnover.


Bell Bank’s Pay It Forward program, which kicked off in 2008, gives full-time employees $1,000 and part-time employees $500 to donate to a cause important to them. This year, to assist those in need due to the COVID-19 crisis, Bell Bank gave employees an additional $1,000 to “pay it forward” and an additional $1000 bonus to each employee.

Like Bankers Trust, Bell Bank uses engagement surveys to measure employee satisfaction. The community bank also distributes manager feedback surveys and asks employees to rate their managers on how well they embody the company’s values.

“We don’t do normal annual review processes,” Klein says. “We use real-time conversations and huddles with employees. We’re talking to people weekly, monthly and quarterly.” The bank has a strategic playbook, department game plans and goal setting for each division, department and individual. Metrics and scorecards for each of these areas highlight where individuals and groups are performing well and where there is room for improvement.

“Our turnover is low, and our retention is high,” Klein says. “Happy employees are more engaged. We’ve created a place where people want to come to work.”

Taking care of one another

Courtney Spencer, chief administrative officer at $5.3 billion-asset Live Oak Bank in Wilmington, N.C., says the community bank demonstrates its commitment to employees through the perks it offers.

“If we can make life a little easier as an employer, then our folks are in a better mental space to engage and contribute,” she says. “Live Oak is a family, and families take care of one another.”

The long list of perks the bank offers includes an onsite fitness facility with full-time trainers and wellness curriculums, a medical clinic and dry cleaning service, and two on-site restaurants, to name a few.

Live Oak Bank also participates in an annual engagement survey. Last year, it found that 98% of employees trust what the bank tells them; 99% believe the bank treats them as a person, not a number; 98% understand the importance of their role to the success of the organization; and 99% are willing to give extra effort to help the bank succeed.

“When people are engaged, the customer experience is going to be enhanced,” Spencer says. “Internally, a thriving and engaged family of employees results in lower turnover, less absenteeism, greater efficiency, folks being truly present when working and the associated cost savings.”

Celebrate community bank values

Like many community banks, $490-million asset Lead Bank in Kansas City, Mo., keeps its core values front and center: compassion, openness, imaginativeness and nimbleness.

“Our values stem from the reality of the work we do,” CEO Joshua Rowland says. “As community bankers, our job is to take people, real people, as they come and enable them to achieve success, whether it’s to take their business to another level, buy a home or purchase a car. These real people start with our staff.”

“If employees feel empowered with good values, they’re going to make good decisions for the rest of the team.”
—Joshua Rowland, Lead Bank

Lead Bank lives its values in many ways. For example, the community asks employees to identify other employees who have done something extraordinary or notable that aligns with the bank’s values. These notes might say, “I saw you behave in a compassionate way to the delivery person, offering them bottled water on a hot day.” In response, Lead Bank sends out thousands of cards every year, congratulating employees for their commitment to bank values.

Employees also meet monthly with their supervisors to discuss their goals, including personal development goals. Supervisors routinely ask employees if they would like more training or exposure to another department within the community bank.

“People here feel valued, empowered, and encouraged to be Lead bankers,” Rowland says. “If employees feel empowered with good values, they’re going to make good decisions for the rest of the team. If people are staying here and investing in doing their best work, that pays off in the bottom line.”

Goodness in business

Author and executive coach Paul Batz, founder and CEO of Good Leadership Enterprises in Edina, Minn., believes success in business is all about leading with goodness. He defines goodness in business as people thriving together in a culture of encouragement, accountability and positive teamwork.

To prove what he intuitively knew to be true, Batz engaged SMS Research Advisors in Minneapolis to clarify what goodness means in leadership and business and to demonstrate a correlation between goodness and profitability. According to the research, goodness pays financially when leaders focus on five elements: a compelling business plan, a belief that profits are healthy for all, a team-based culture, timely and transparent decision-making, and magnetic ethics.

The research also revealed that leading with goodness generates positive results. Specifically, goodness in business produces positive financial results, stronger relationships with the people important to an organization’s success and a stronger sense of purpose for individuals and organizations.


Mary Yerkes is a writer in North Carolina.

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