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How do you behave when no-one is watching?

During my trip around the Middle East, I met a lot of banks
looking at a lot of new ventures with lots of dialogue about new business
models, new products and services, new organisational structures and new ways
to communicate with staff, customers and stakeholders.

One of the key questions was how to maximise human resources.

OK, now you could debate whether humans are resources or
assets or whatever, but the core of this answer was that humans need to be
valued and have values.

We concurred that the clearest way to convince people of
their role is to give them a very memorable understanding of what the company
is about and then let them get on with it.

A kind of values or principles based organisational model.

Now I’ve seen this model in practice in many firms and they
are often the best in their field.

These firms have vision, mission and values statements, but
their statements rock and roll, are passionate and are lived by everyone in the
company, not just the CEO.

Let’s take an example of the difference between a firm with
passion and one without.

Here are two banks.

The first has a statement of vision, mission and values as

Our Vision:

To take our place as the most powerful, most profitable and most
admired bank.

Our Mission:

Having regard to ethical values, to meet our customers’
financial needs in the fastest and most appropriate way; to continue innovative
works in order to achieve; and to have human resource with superior qualities,
supported by the best technological infrastructure and service packages.

Our Values:

  1. To exceed customer expectations in service quality.
  2. To be a pioneer in the implementation of technologies that create great experiences for our customers, employees and shareholders.
  3. To keep our reliability at the utmost level through the contribution of a strong capital structure and liquid assets.
  4. To make a positive contribution to the community
  5. To respect meritocracy during hiring processes, improving knowledge and
    skills of its employees, creating the most preferred work environment.

These are laudable statements, but they fail.

The reason they fail is that no-one can remember them.

Turn away from the screen now, and tell me what this bank’s
third value is.

You can’t remember, can you?

Even if you went to this screen every single day and read
these statements, I doubt that over the weekend with your family you could tell
them what your company’s vision, mission and values are.

You may think it’s because you don’t work for this bank that
you cannot remember them, but even if the bank rolled this out with dry mist
and bass beats of One Direction blaring out through the conference hall, give it
a week and I bet these statements are forgotten.

This is because most companies create such vision, mission
and values from formulaic workbooks and workshops, using facilitating
consultants who lack passion.

Believe me, I’ve been there and done the workshops, got the
t-shirt and wear the badge.

Now let’s try a different bank.

Here’s their vision, values and mission.

Vision: to be the
FIRST choice bank.

Mission: to have
our customers always vote us FIRST choice.


  • Friendly
  • Informed
  • Responsive
  • Service-Oriented
  • Trustworthy

It’s very similar to the previous set of visions, values and
mission, but it’s simplified, targeted and memorable.

What is this bank’s third value?

I bet you remember now, as the acronym FIRST makes it easy to remember.

But it’s not just a veneer over the top of the organisation,
but a layered approach with detail behind each value about how it is measured
and managed.

This is why every person from the CEO to the Janitor knew
how friendly, informed, responsive, service-oriented and trustworthy was
measured and rewarded.

Everyone remembered the program.

They knew that Friendly
meant don’t read from scripts.

Informed means
that you must know how to describe the firm’s products and services in a way
that is easy to understand for the customer.

Responsive means
dealing with customer’s questions fast.

means being clear about what the customer needs and how to deliver.

Trustworthy means
only sell what the customer needs and not what they don’t.

No PPI mis-selling or subprime mortgages at this bank.

I could take this dialogue much further and into more depth,
but the difference between the former and latter banks is that values are
something that should live and breathe in a bank, or any other firm for that

They are not a plaque on the wall or a paper on the desk,
but the way in which the bank thinks, acts and behaves.

They are shared from the CEO to the Janitor and
are so memorable that all of the company can articulate what these values mean
for the bank and for them as an individual.

In other words, it becomes the bank’s culture.

It’s heart and soul.

It’s culture.

It’s core.

It’s the guiding light by which people behave when no one is

This last piece is Bob Diamond’s statement from his BBC 2011
:  “For me, the evidence of culture is how people
behave when no-one is watching”.

How do people know how to behave when no-one is watching?

How do they know right and wrong?

Because the bank’s shared their values with them and made it
quite clear: “our value is to be trustworthy by selling the customer the right
things, treat them as the centre of your focus and view the customer as being
King or Queen.”

Alternatively: “our values are to be rich by selling the
customer whatever they will buy, treat them as punters and view the customer as
a muppet.”

Yep, values, visions and missions are simple.

It’s about culture and about the way the bank behaves from
the top-down, not when no-one is watching.



About Chris M Skinner

Chris M Skinner
Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, the Finanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal’s Financial News. To learn more click here...

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  • First class comment Chris and thanks – it could not have been more timely for me. I’m much involved just now on the matters of organisational values and giving them real life in the everyday ‘how we do things here’. Whilst your take is primarily on the private sector, my current focus is on third sector organisations. Growing numbers of such organisation in the UK are opting for the social enterprise route. I, however, judge that a proportion of them are/will suffer from inadequate attention to the impact this has on their hitherto non-profit culture and on the staff and (voluntary) board members. These staff and members most likely did not join the organisation motivated by notions and practices of entrepreneurial and commercial behaviour. A move over to the entrepreneurial stance will, however, either have an impact on existing values, or the nature of that move will be governed by the existing values. I’m now scoping out the potential usefulness of this whole theme being approached on a cross-sector basis. Thanks again.

  • Mark Mixter

    Diamond’s statement from his BBC 2011 Lecture: “For me, the evidence of culture is how people behave when no-one is watching”.
    Nope. It’s the demonstration of character. Which can be reinforced by culture to be sure. But behavior always reflects character