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Bankers say success lies in building culture

Banking & Finance
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Culture’s rate of return is better than prime, according to a couple of bankers who participated in a recent panel discussion organized by the Risk Management Association.

Lynn Harton and Terry Turner talked about what appeared to be different approaches to success in business management, but they agreed that culture is more important than the tactics used to reach success.

Harton is president and CEO for United Community Bank Inc. Turner has served as president and CEO of Pinnacle Financial Partners since its founding in 2000. The two were part of a panel that included attorney Neil Grayson of Nelson, Mullins Riley & Scarborough and moderated by Allen Gillespie, president and managing partner of investments for FinTrust Investment Advisors.

“Culture is what each of your organizations do consistently — what you think and do every day,” Harton said. “It leads directly to what kind of results you get, so it is the most important piece of running an organization. What I try to do is make sure the culture fits the kind of results I want to get.”

Harton said he has worked at United Community Bank to build a staff of professionals who can deliver the kind of expertise and service that customers will appreciate and support, but he said that team wouldn’t come together if the individual members don’t like their jobs.

“The final piece is we want to be a great place to work and I believe that with great people, what they want is to be trusted,” Harton said. “They want to be believed. What I try to do is make sure those things are aligned — people, compensation practices — because there’s nothing that breaks a company more than having leaders who say one thing and do another.”

Harton said his company has done three all-employee surveys, and though the first was a bit painful, each group of results has empowered the managers to work toward a more positive environment for staff.

“We really try to create connections,” he said. “If people feel connected, if they feel part of the team then they’re going to stay. We’ve come from a lot of change over the last six years. We have done three surveys and the first one was kind of harsh but addressing the results and sharing them has built some trust. Of all the things we worry about, building the culture is the most important.”

Turner said he once walked away from a deal — a big deal — not because of business concerns but because he thought the two organizations would have a culture clash, even though it was a deal that made sense on paper.

“I walked away from the singular most attractive financial transaction that I’ve ever personally evaluated,” he said. “I walked away after two days because it just felt like a project to me. I thought, ‘I don’t think we’re going to get on the same track here.’ So, forget what the algebra says. If you can’t make the cultures work, you won’t get the algebra.”

In a room full of bankers who represented a variety of institutions, from locally owned banks to national and regional brands, Turner said there is room for an array of approaches to serving customers, so long as the culture of the workplace can support the strategy.

“Peter Drucker was famous for saying culture eats strategy for lunch,” he said. “And so, I think the message is you can win with a whole bunch of different strategies — but the way you win is you get the culture lined up so it accomplishes what you’re trying to do. When you get misalignment, you drive down the odds of success.”

Reach Ross Norton at 864-720-1222.

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