Jeff For Banks

Five Ideas to Build an Accountability Culture at Your Bank

I recently spoke at the ABA CFO Exchange in Nashville on building an accountability culture. Talking banker accountability to a room full of CFOs is like a politician telling senior citizens that Social Security benefits should remain untouched. It was a friendly audience.
I tried to be provocative. For example, it has been my experience that when discussing accountability, CFOs sometimes fall into the trap of talking about other departments. What about the Finance Department? How does it stack up to benchmarks, and are they realizing economies of scale, using less resources as the bank grows? They didn’t flog me.
So how do you go about building a strong accountability culture at your bank? Accountability suffers a bad wrap. Most think of out-of-reach goals, difficult meetings with the boss, and recriminations for under-achievement. Does this sound like an enviable corporate culture?
Part of my coaching school curriculum for being a US Lacrosse certified coach was the Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA). This portion of the certification was not lacrosse specific. Rather, it taught how to be a coach. And by the title of the course, it was not the coach that I knew. It has adherents like Joe Ehrmann and Phil Jackson. 
The PCA discussion on “filling the emotional tank” for players has direct applicability to creating a positive culture that leads to better adjusted and happier employees, and results. If this culture interests you, I have five ideas on how you can build an accountability culture without cracking the whip and taking names.
1. Make accountabilities measurable and transparent. When I was a branch manager in the mid 90’s, our sales incentive system was called RAISE (Realizing Achievement in Sales Excellence). I could calculate my quarterly bonus to the penny. I ran a spreadsheet before spreadsheets were cool. Me and another branch manager used to bet a beer each quarter on the size of our bonus. It worked. The best performers got the highest bonus.
2. Link to your strategy. Precious few banks state as their strategy to do large commercial real estate loans at very tight pricing to get deals done. Yet they continue to measure lender success by dollar production and portfolio size, incenting them to do just that. Instead, look to your strategy when building incentive systems.
3. Have a little friendly competition. As previously mentioned, my branch manager friend and me created our own internal competition that ended in a beer at the end of every quarter. It was fun, and motivated us to excel. I didn’t want to show up for that meeting getting my butt kicked by my friend. Who would? Why not create ranking reports that include multiple measures, such as lender ROE, branch profitability (both ratio and dollars), or best trends in support center productivity.
4. Include support centers. Everyone thinks if only those branches would shape up, all would be well. So we prune the branch network, and branch staffing, etc. But how about all of those people in Compliance or Audit? How are they performing? It is understandably more difficult to do because we are not measuring their P&L, but we can use trends and benchmarks to highlight highly productive support centers and reward them appropriately.
5. Have an awards ceremony. When in Nashville, my wife and I bumped into a bunch of country music celebrities because it was the week of the CMA Awards. Entertainers tend to award themselves a lot. So why can’t bankers? Imagine having a ceremony that celebrates your “Most Improved Branch”, or “Top ROE Lender”, or “Most Productive Support Unit”. Imagine your own awards ceremony that creates the positive environment that promotes friendly internal competition and peer recognition for a job well done.
How do you create a positive accountability culture?
~ Jeff