Keys to Performance: Culture and Brand

By Maria Fusca Gendelman and Siya Vansia

Who are we, and what are we looking to accomplish?

It’s a simple question, yet one so broad that for many organizations, it can seem daunting. But today, leading companies in various industries are taking the time to engage in this type of organizational self-discovery. Creating and refining a corporate identity—rooted in the values, vision, and purpose of your organization—is critical to attract and engage employees, customers and clients.

What it all boils down to? Culture and brandtwo things that banks today can no longer overlook. Our panel at the 2016 ABA Bank Marketing Conference, “Keys to Performance: Culture & Brand,” delved into why that is.

How do we know?

As the chief culture and experience officer and the vice president of marketing at ConnectOne Bank, a leading community bank in New Jersey, we work every day to ensure that who we are translates into everything we do. Our company has grown aggressively since its founding in 2005, hitting milestones that include a successful IPO and merger.

We know firsthand how difficult it can be for banks to differentiate and market themselves while navigating the challenging landscape of our industry. Our panel addressed the need for banks today to invest in and prioritize company culture and brand initiatives, even among these challenges.

So what is culture really—and how is it different from brand?

There’s a permeating myth that company culture is about having a cool colored couch and a pool table in the office. But the physical things do not actually define your culture—they merely complement it. Truly investing in corporate culture goes much deeper than installing a cappuccino maker in the break room. More than just buzzwords, culture and brand are vital aspects of any business, banks included.

Every company starts with a mission: why you open your doors every day. Culture is the how—the aligned actions of the people and organization based on that mission. And brand is the what—the sensory aspects of the business that bring your vision, beliefs and values to life. These don’t operate in a vacuum; with the right team and support in place, they work together like a well-oiled machine, fueling and sustaining one another.

Where do we start?

In an industry not necessarily known for its focus on culture and brand, it can be tough to know how to dive in. How do you identify who you are, and how do you implement the right team, infrastructure, and ideas to make that identity real? Drawing on our personal experience, our panel provided a roadmap for defining your brand and building culture, demonstrating importance in terms of both industry competitiveness and ROI, and dispelling some of the myths and misconceptions that can hinder progress.

Keep in mind that culture isn’t a process you can implement and check off your list or an investment you can suggest and cash in on. It’s a journey that will shift direction during your organization’s natural lifecycle as your employees and priorities change.

Here are a few of the steps that will start you on that journey:

  • Define who you are and what your core values encompass. You need clarity on what you’re trying to accomplish.
  • Determine whether you have the right people. Some 41% of companies surveyed say that a bad hire in the last year has cost them at least $25,000. And 25% say that a bad hire in the last year in the last year has cost them at least $50,000.
  • Invest in your “diamonds in the rough.”
  • Give your people the tools to succeed.

Banking is the ultimate commodity industry—the $100 ConnectOne gives you is no different than the $100 you can get from the bank down the street. We can’t sell a superior product, but we can sell the intangibles: who we are, what we stand for and what we offer. For us, it’s about Growth, Opportunity and Empowerment. For your organization, the focus may be entirely different. What matters is that it’s authentically and demonstrably yours.

The path ahead.

Traditionally, banks have rested on their laurels a bit, relying on name or reputation to get talent and customers in the door. Today, that’s no longer enough—and there’s a cost associated with not investing. When it comes to culture and brand, it’s time to collectively pivot our thinking from “nice to have” to “need to have.”

We hope today’s bankers will become motivated to think critically about the investment they are making—or could be making—in their organization, their people, and themselves. Whether or not you attended the panel discussion, we invite you to join the dialogue and stay tuned in to the ever-evolving culture conversation.

Maria Fusca Gendelman is SVP and chief culture and experience officer at ConnectOne Bank. Email: mgendelman@cnob.com.

Siya Vansia is vice president of marketing at ConnectOne Bank. Email: svansia@cnob.com.

Maria and Siya spoke about building a performance culture at the ABA Bank Marketing Conference, which took place this week in Nashville.

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