The Ultimate Corporate Culture

Article excerpt

At this season of the year, I always reflect _ with a full head of nostalgia _ upon Liberty Bank's traditional Christmas breakfast.

Picture, if you will, at 7 a.m. on any Dec. 23 in the Skirvin Plaza ballroom, from 900 to 1,000 bankers being handed a crisp $20 bill as they enter that hall and begin moving through a scrumptious buffet line, with Christmas carols by Al Good at the organ . . . what a scene.

What a pleasant shock for those receiving the $20 for the first time, but only until someone else in line admonishes: "just wait 'til you are greeted at your seat by that single white piece of paper."

Each breakfast guest soon learns that either the paper _ on which their personal goals for the New Year are to be listed _ or the $20 must be turned in to their department head within 10 days. It would only insult my readers' intelligence to claim that the books ever balanced on exercise, but curiously enough, allowing for illnesses and other legitimate absences, almost no one failed to comply.

Indeed, numerous long-term Liberty staffers have confirmed over and over that management's annual request for their objectives for the coming year _ either professional or personal or both _ had literally transformed their attitude toward their jobs, as well as their sense of importance in the bank's family of productive role models.

Moreover, only twice in all those years did a director ask if I thought the Christmas Breakfast was worth $18,000 plus catering. Each time the anecdotal evidence I was able to share provided a more-than-convincing response. In case after case, an unlikely employee had been literally transformed into an effective achiever for the bank, as a result of the self-induced goals.

Over and over we learned that: "People don't do things for our reasons _ yet, if it's for their reasons, we can't prevent them."

I must freely admit that it wasn't always that way at Liberty.

Indeed, I've been asked more than a few times: "How did Liberty move from a poor fourth position among Oklahoma banks at the end of 1967 to a strong first position only three and a half years later?"

Of course, something of that magnitude can hardly be attributed to any one cause. But _ strange as it may seem _ I can truthfully attest that Liberty's "ultimate corporate culture" _ the basic philosophy that made it all come together for us, including the Christmas Breakfast _ was a thing we called "growth sharing."

I can still recall the very moment it was born in mid-February 1968.

I call it the "crusty ol' Harold Madigan story," who then was our credit department head. He has heard me tell the story numerous times and insists that I do refer to him in just that manner.

Here's the story:

Back in February 1968, it seemed like a good idea to me _ having joined Liberty only eight weeks earlier _ to invite to a luncheon all those who had become officers during the previous year. …