Robert Fisher: Creating strong culture

Robert Fisher, Chairman ICBA

Photo by Heather Esposito

Culture is more than just how bank staff interact with one another; it’s about how we convey who we are to our customers.

When it comes to the impact of culture on an organization, business visionary Peter Drucker sums it up best: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

Culture sets the tone for everything in an organization, and research backs this up. Studies point to the correlation between positive culture and performance: Companies with strong cultures are more likely to report high revenue growth and retain employees, among countless other benefits.

But what constitutes strong culture? As leaders, we need to instill a common sense of purpose for our staff—not just at the 30,000-foot level, but in day-to-day operations, too. It ensures we are all rowing in the same direction. For example, my community bank holds a weekly all-staff huddle where we run through upcoming activities and spotlight an area of the organization. It helps us clarify our tactical focus around our mission for that week.

My Top Three

No matter how strong your culture, it can always improve. With that in mind, here are my top three workplace culture reads:

  1. Good to Great by Jim Collins
  2. The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle
  3. Start with Why by Simon Sinek

That type of open information exchange creates an environment where innovation flourishes. We encourage our staff to offer ideas and suggestions to improve processes—many of which are put into practice.

For instance, one of our core values is “care for our community.” A member of our team pointed out that to truly live that value, we should offer employees time off to volunteer. Now we provide a full day of volunteer time, in addition to paid time off, to support our staff and reinforce our core values as an organization.

But culture is more than just how bank staff interact with one another; it’s about how we convey who we are to our customers. Everything we do rounds back to supporting our customers and community, but to do that well, we must have teams that buy into our mission. If you treat your employees like you want your customers to be treated, everyone wins.

While these points set the tone for a strong culture, every bank is different, and we can learn from one another’s successes. So, as we read this month’s issue on the best-performing community banks, let’s take a minute to look beyond the metrics and consider the drivers behind them. How are these banks creating environments where their teams look forward to coming to work? How can we leverage their stories to strengthen our banks’ cultures and better serve our communities?

Because at the end of the day, we are all relationship bankers, and our bank cultures serve as our foundation. Let’s do the work to make sure they reflect who we are and where we want to go.


Robert Fisher Chairman, ICBA
Robert Fisher is president, CEO and chairman of Tioga State Bank in Spencer, N.Y.
Connect with Robert @RobertMFisher

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