Annually, Gallup completes a global study of the workplace and workforce attributes by surveying and collecting data from thousands of employees across all business sectors. The results of their work is alarming and disappointing as it continues to identify workforce problems that all businesses are facing.

This report, “State of the American Workplace,” indicates that approximately 33 percent of workers across all business lines in the United States are engaged at work. That is, they love their jobs and make their organizations better every day. On the opposite end, approximately 16 percent of employees are actively disengaged. These disengaged employees are miserable in the workplace and destroy what others create. They are resentful that their needs are not being met and are acting out their unhappiness. This can be seen in gossiping, sarcasm, being overly critical, always having to have the last word, or always being right as they work to undermine everyone else’s efforts. When speaking with bankers, I often ask what they would do if they caught someone stealing from them. As expected, their answer is they would fire them. Well, maybe we need to rethink our definition of stealing. The remaining 51 percent of employees are psychologically unattached to their work and the organization. They are just putting in their time, but not the energy and passion. More alarming is that according to this research only one in five employees say that their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work.

Today, bankers are facing increasing uncertainty, growing ambiguity, and increased complexity as they compete in their respective markets. Additionally, past success can often be the recipe for failure in the future if we embrace an, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” mentality. As such, leaders unknowingly may have a lack of focus, loose tactics and a limited vision, and may find that they are mistakenly trying to be all things to all people. This lack of clarity and focus within the organization creates hidden agendas as employees do not understand their roles and how they contribute to the day-to-day operations of the bank. This lack of clarity and action is reinforced in the Gallup report where they report that only 22 percent of employees strongly agree that the leadership of their organization has a clear direction for the organization.

Leadership isn’t easy; it takes a lot of dedication and hard work. The best leaders are those who continue to learn, adapt and realize they don’t have all of the answers. Bankers make it a priority to understand and implement regulations into their daily operations; it’s an ongoing endeavor. Leadership development and talent management should be treated no differently. A strong, vibrant, and developed leadership team will serve the community bank well into the future regardless of the shareholders’ decision to sell, buy, or remain present in their markets.
Have you ever wondered why banks in similar asset size, balance sheets and markets will sell for a different multiple of book value? While there are many factors, one of them is the value that current leadership and the bank’s employees bring to the table. Does the bank demonstrate a commitment to talent management at all levels?  The following are specific strategies that can help reinforce and improve the bank’s leadership and employee engagement, as well as the overall value of the bank.

Strategic Focus

Over the past 17 years of teaching the Organizational Culture class at GSBC, I have always asked how many of the students know their bank’s mission, vision, and values. I am no longer surprised to learn that the vast majority of the class does not know them, nor in many cases have they even seen these important documents. If one questions the importance of these documents as well as leadership’s responsibility to model these, look no further than the collapse of values at one of our largest national banking institutions and the continued fall-out they are experiencing. It is critical to consistently review these documents to ensure they correctly represent who you are (mission), what you want to achieve in the future (vision), and how you will go about accomplishing your mission and vision (values). This is especially important for our younger generations, as they are very keen to look for companies that align with their vision and values. Attention to the mission, vision, and values is essential in not only keeping employees engaged, but in attracting new talent.


The Gallup report indicates that approximately 13 percent of employees strongly agree that the leadership of their organization communicates effectively. That means that 87 percent of the leaders today are not communicating well. Following up on that thought, have you ever had an employee come up to you and say, ‘You know, I appreciate all of this communication, explanation, email, etc., but quite frankly, I receive too much communication from the management team?’ Leadership’s transparency in communicating and modeling the organization’s strategic focus is critical in promoting employee engagement, as well as removing the hidden agendas that develop with lack of communication. By the way, no, your employees can’t read your mind either. If they could read minds, they would not be working there. Communication needs to be frequent and transparent at all levels of the organization.

 Talent Management

Strong talent management to include management succession and employee growth is critical in not only ensuring that the bank is prepared for the future, but also to add value to the bottom line. Often times, I find that many think management succession is for the president or other key officers. That is true, but it does not stop there, as it includes the development of talent in all key positions within the bank. Not only is it good to be prepared for future events, but also having multiple people prepared throughout the bank adds to improved efficiency and effectiveness.

Executive Coaching

Executive coaching is an excellent way to provide one-on-one leadership development. Often, many leaders have a mindset that if they have an executive coach it must mean something is wrong or broken. It’s just the contrary—an executive coach can help leaders to understand how to maximize their strengths and develop in the areas of social and emotional intelligence that need strengthened. Again, strong leadership is what creates the ability to influence others to move and engage in the direction you desire.

Leadership Development Training

Banks should consider investing in on-site leadership training to include: effective communication, team building, decision-making, accountability and performance management to mention a few. These types of courses taken over a period of time go a long way to build team trust as well as improve the effectiveness and efficiency at which the leadership team operates. The value of intact team development is that they grow together and learn to be vulnerable with each other. By the way, the ability for teams and leaders to be vulnerable is the first key step in creating trust. The ability for one to admit that he or she might not have all of the answers can be humbling.

In summary, when we look at the current availability of talent in today’s workforce coupled with the issues raised regarding engagement, communication and performance management, isn’t it time to start looking inside our leadership teams and making a commitment to creating a strategy for adding value through leadership and our people? These are just a few of the areas you can address as you look internally to add value through leadership. I can tell you from personal experience that banks that do not place a priority on leadership and internal development suffer and do not perform to their fullest.

How long can you afford to take the risk and not address these growing concerns?


by David Nowling, President, Dunamikos Group