Simple, But Not Easy: The Story of GTE Financial’s Winning Culture

Listen in this week as Randy and Carmen discuss how  GTE Financial is creating a great culture and producing outstanding results. If you want to try to change the culture of your organization, you have to change the language of your organization at all levels. GTE Financial was able to do it, and so can you.

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Podcast Transcript

  • Carmen:  Welcome to Ask The Authors. I’m Carmen Voilleque.
  • Randy:    I’m Randy Harrington
  • Carmen:  I am sitting here looking right now at what seems to be a business year book.
  • Randy:  [laugh]
  • Carmen:  That’s the best way I would describe it. It’s got happy people, lots of quotes.
  • Randy:  Yes.
  • Carmen:  This is actually called the Culture Book 2012 for an organization …
  • Randy:  … called GTE Financial.
  • Carmen:  Wow.
  • Randy:  I know. Isn’t it amazing, it’s like literally an amazing book. The story of this is this is a culture book. It’s an idea that was directly ripped off from Zappos, the online retailer.
  • Carmen:  Yes, oh yes.
  • Randy:  Zappos is the one that really started this culture book idea. I understand you can purchase Zappos culture books from Amazon, which is, and they’re selling. I mean so people are buying the culture books …
  • Carmen:  … the culture books for another company, yeah.
  • Randy:  … for another company which is just crazy. And what you have, if you open up this book from GTE financial, is you have every employee is represented in the book, and every employee writes about what the culture means to them, and they don’t edit it; it just gets printed.
  • Carmen:  There are just a whole bunch of HR folks across the nation, just bunched up a little bit.
  • Randy:  [laugh] It’s … I just came from doing an engagement with GTE Financial. I got to say they knocked my socks off. The shop is run by a guy named Joe Brancucci who is fairly famous slightly maybe even infamous individual in the world of Credit Union Leadership and Management.
  • Carmen:  An absolutely an evolutionary, one of our favorite evolutionaries.
  • Randy:  Yeah very much an evolutionary leader. He is more than willing to just look at all the rules and go “Ah, let’s do it the different way.” Certainly what we see down at GTE Financial is this fundamental turnaround in that multibillion dollar financial institution.
  • Carmen:  Right.
  • Randy:  It has been amazing. I mean they are actually achieving numbers in loans, in new member acquisition, and so forth, that other institutions, community banks [00:02:00] and credit unions are going. It’s impossible; there’s no way. They are doing the impossible on a regular basis and if you ask them it’s because of the culture.
  • Carmen:  Everybody says that. This is one of those moments where you wrote a blog recently for people who read our blogs called Simple But Not Easy, and magnificent culture creating a really fabulous culture that ends in this sort of high performing organizations is a simple concept. Everybody talks about it. We meet hundreds of CEOs; every CEO will tell you it’s about the people. It’s all my people …
  • Randy:  It’s all about the people.
  • Carmen:  …the people, the people, the people.
  • Randy:  We need the…It’s leadership and team.
  • Carmen:  Simple but not easy.
  • Randy:  Yeah.
  • Carmen:  Had anybody does this one?
  • Randy:  They know … everybody can sort of talk to talk, but when you…it comes down to walking the walk, it’s totally different. That’s what I saw when I went down to Tampa and visited with this team. Let me tell you the story. This just blows my mind. So they’re having a team day, a culture day, which a lot of organizations do –that’s coming up in October. It’s going to be a big deal and they’re putting a lot of resources into it and it’s going to be very cool.
  • The day I worked was a day with their managers and VPs, there was like 60 or 70 people in the room, okay. Our whole conversation for a day was how do we coach leading up to this meeting? How do we coach following the meeting? What are the messages that we really want to be pulling through here? What are the consistent ideas that we think are the most critical and important?
  • They were heads up, game on, working on that level of engagement all day long; it was amazing.
  • Carmen:  You know one of my favorite stories that you tell is that people tend to think about culture. They think of it as this big thing …
  • Randy:  Yeah right.
  • Carmen:  … that’s really tough to move or shape or doing, so you get overwhelmed and you throw your hands up and go ‘Oh, culture it’s just too hard.’
  • Randy:  Right.
  • Carmen:  And that really culture is just the thousands of little conversations that take place in an organization in the break room, in the bathroom by …
  • Randy:  That’s it.
  • Carmen:  … the water cooler. If we really [00:04:00] want to formulate a culture or change a culture, what we have to do is change the way we talk. I’m bringing this up, because I understand that at GTE they get the power of language.
  • Randy:  It was an amazing thing. Mr. Brancucci asks the group, “How many of you work in a branch?” and nobody raised their hand.
  • Carmen:  This is a financial institution.  They don’t have branches.
  • Randy:  They have like I don’t know dozens of them, I don’t know.
  • Carmen:  Yeah.
  • Randy:  Right?
  • Carmen:  Yeah.
  • Randy:  Nobody raises their hand; that’s because if you ask Brancucci, he’ll say a branch is a part of a tree. It’s kind of the little end part that hangs out there. What they have are Community Financial Centers.
  • Carmen:  CFC.
  • Randy:  CFC is a community financial … what’s the first word in that –community, that’s really what their whole job is –is to be a part of that community; that’s the first part of it.
  • What’s the second thing? Financial –they’re going to be there to really bring all the products and services; and the word center even, that this is the center of their member’s world of finan– …
  • Carmen:  So if the people who are listening to you tell the story right now or rolling their eyes, well it turns out these folks kind of rolled their eyes at first as well?
  • Randy:  Yeah, Brancucci comes in there; he’s making all his changes, and he’s like we’re not going to use the word “branch” anymore. We’re going to put the word “member” in front of just about everything. This is a –you’re a member service provider or a member this or a member that.
  • Everybody like, “You’re kidding me.” They would wag their finger, “Oh, you said branch, oh you said branch.” Now, a year and a half or two years later everything has changed. They wouldn’t dream of working at a branch, right, because they know the difference between a branch and a Community Financial Center. You know that’s a big deal.
  • Carmen:  Right.
  • Randy:  The language actually means something, and this isn’t pie in the sky stuff. This stuff goes back a long way, it’s substantially academically supported.
  • Carmen:  Yeah. If you’re really interested, you can read the chapter on Communication and Evolutionaries. We talk about all of this, where it came from.
  • Randy:  That’s right, the SapirWhorf hypothesis and all of that kind of stuff that’s there. Language, when you change language, you change culture; it’s as simple as that. Brancucci [00:06:00] knew it; that’s what they’ve done. They’ve changed their language and their culture is thriving.
  • Carmen:  Simple but not easy.
  • Randy:  It’s simple but not easy. They’re working on it 24/7, 365.
  • Carmen:  You can do it too; that’s our message today.
  • Randy:  Absolutely, yeah. I mean it really is. Something that just requires that focus and discipline. Hat’s off to the team at GTE Financial. It was a delight working with them.
  • It’s one of those things when you go work with the group and you learn as much as you gave.
  • Carmen:  Yeah.
  • Randy:  It’s amazing. I mean every single one of the employees that I visited there with was just so on it, so awake and engaged. A lot of those things, we started at eight in the morning, and I said we’re going to go to five, and then I said, “Well, what time we really going to go to, 4 or 4:15? Because you know they all start sort of flaking out …
  • Carmen:  Yeah.
  • Randy:  … after about 2:30, 3:00 –we ended at 5:30. People don’t want to leave. The energy was just so contagious in the room. We do this little table discussions and you couldn’t shut people up.
  • Carmen:  That’s perfect because as you said it’s the prep for going into their big culture day and going out of it and you need to have that sort of energy so it sounds like it worked.
  • Randy:  What are we going to do? We’re going to ask our listeners, hey go check out the Zappos culture book on Amazon. We think that’s just a really cool idea, think about building your own culture book. I’m sure if you pinged the good people at GTE they’d probably let you take a peek at theirs because I think they did a super job.
  • Carmen:  Yeah.
  • Randy:  They’re going to release one of this every year, like a year book.
  • Carmen:  I love it.
  • Randy:  I think it’s a great idea.
  • Carmen:  Another good idea.
  • Randy:  Evolutionary leaders at work my friends. Hey, thank you very much for listening. We will see you next time …
  • Carmen:  … on Ask The Authors.

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