Shaping Culture and Values
Commerce Bank is one of the fastest growing banks in the United States-but it's also one of the goofiest places of business you're likely to find. Commerce's two costumed mascots regularly visit branches and mingle with customers at special events. Mr. C, a jolly, oversized, red letter, serves as the bank's walking logo. On "Red Fridays," Mr. C joins the "Wow Patrol" visiting branches and taking photos of staffers and customers. The second mascot, Buzz, an exuberant giant bee, also gets in on the act, making sure employees are creating buzz within the branches. "It sounds juvenile, but people love getting their picture taken with Mr. C," says John Manning, vice president of the Wow Department. What Department? "Wow is more than a word around here," Manning emphasizes. "It's a feeling that you give and get." That's right-all this silliness has a very serious purpose. Leaders rely on this playful culture to create and maintain Commerce Bank's obsession with customer service. In Commerce lingo, that means its focus on "wowing" customers. Through the company's Kill a Stupid Rule program, any employee who identifies a rule that prevents Commerce from wowing customers wins $50. Eachweek, Dr.Wow (no one knows his or her real identity) reviews hundreds of letters and e-mails from employees and customers. Branches compete to out-wow one another and take home the coveted Hill Cup (named for president and CEO Vernon Hill). Whereas most banks try to steer customers from branches to ATMs and online banking, Commerce looks for ways to lure more customers in. Buildings are designed to attract visitors, with floor-to-ceiling windows and historic murals on the walls. Most are open from 7:30 A.M.to 8:00 P.M. seven days a week-and the company's 10-minute rule means that if you arrive at 7:20 A.M. or 8:10 P.M. you can still get service. Commerce Bank's approach is working.
Customers who are tired of being treated shabbily by other banks are enamored of Commerce's service and convenience orientation. "There's a different attitude around here, like we're all in this together," said one customer. As the organization grows, what tools does Commerce plan to use to keep its focus on superior service? President and CEO Vernon Hill gives one answer: "Culture, culture, culture." Without the wow, he says, Commerce would be just another bank.1 Commerce Bank has definite cultural values that make it unique in the banking industry. New managers and employees who attend sessions at Commerce University, the bank's training department inspired by McDonald's Hamburger University, learn that they've joined a service cult. A one-day course called Traditions-part game show, part training session, and part culture festival-begins socializing people into Commerce's unique way of doing things. Weekly activities such as Red Fridays and the care and attention of Dr. Wow help to keep the culture strong. In the previous chapter, we talked about creating a vision that inspires and motivates people to strive for a better future.
This will focus on how leaders align people with the vision by influencing organizational culture and shaping the environment that determines employee morale and performance. The nature of the culture is highly important because it impacts a company for better or worse. Southwest Airlines and Starbucks Coffee Company have often attributed their success to the cultures their leaders helped create louis V Gerstner's cultural overhaul of IBM revived the company's reputation and profitability leaders at other companies, including Kodak and Xerox, are trying to shift their cultural values to remain competitive in today's environment. In a Fortune magazine survey, CEOs cited organizational culture as their most important mechanism for attracting, motivating, and retaining talented employees, a capability that may be the single best predictor of overall organizational excellence. One long-term study discovered that organizations with strong cultures outperform organizations that have weak cultures two-to- one on several primary measures of financial performance. This chapter explores ideas about organizational culture and values, and the role of leaders in shaping them. The first section will describe the nature of corporate culture and its importance to organizations. Then we turn to a consideration of how shared organizational values can help the organization stay competitive and how leaders influence culture, leaders emphasize specific cultural values depending on the organization's situation. The final section of the chapter will briefly discuss ethical values in organizations and examine how values-based leadership shapes an ethical atmosphere.