Culture and Talent

Investors Bank’s Dennis Budinich on kindness in the workplace: ‘This is stuff banks don’t even talk about’

  • Investors Bank took an educational approach to career development.
  • Employees became kinder and more empowered in their lives.

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Investors Bank’s Dennis Budinich on kindness in the workplace: ‘This is stuff banks don’t even talk about’

I really enjoyed the recording of today’s episode. It’s different than what you’ve heard before. On today’s show we have Dennis Budinich, chief culture officer at $20 plus billion Investors Bank with 160 branches and nearly 2000 employees. Joining us is Patrick Brigger, co-founder and chairman of getAbstract, an educational platform that provides summaries of non-fiction books.

What I liked so much about this conversation was that we talked about people — real people with real needs in the workplace. We frequently talk about financial services employees as numbers, as cogs in a massive wheel. But of course, they have desires, fears, and needs. They have a desire to connect to their co-workers and their organizations and feel wanted, like they’re contributing.

Dennis and Patrick describe the magic that can go on inside an organization if you empower people to learn, to strive to be better, to improve themselves and their colleagues. In essence, free them up to be human and to bring their best to work.

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The following excerpts were edited for clarity.

Impacting cultural change in banking

I was a consultant and Investors was one of my clients. What I did was go into financial organizations and conduct 15 and 20 week positive psychology programs — similar to a Dale Carnegie course but built around the specifics of their businesses.

After 2.5 years, the CEO invited me to join the company as chief culture officer. This opportunity was an opening for me to go into a company and experiment with the ideas that these books were writing about. I wanted to personally experience the challenge of executing on it. I felt it would make me a better teacher.

One thing I’ve learned about creating culture and changing mindset is that it’s nowhere as easy as the books make it seem to be but it also wasn’t as hard as people make it out to be. I found myself somewhere in the middle.

Why learning is core to change

I tie it into habits. We hire people that have a set of habits that they’ve acquired throughout their career. Finance is a new industry. We have new competition and sharper insight into our communities and client bases. Things are becoming harder and more difficult to be successful. My opinion was that we needed to change our beliefs and habits to be more competitive.

I focus on the individual. If I can get individuals to develop into a better version of themselves or develop certain skills, create more hope in their lives — it’s important for organizations to pay attention to how people think. Because how people think, that’s their program. As things become harder, people need to get better at what they do. That’s not an easy shift for people in the industry for decades. Our biggest challenge is ourselves.

The research says it begins with a new way of seeing things. It sounds simple but it’s a whole process of learning how to think and see the world.

getAbstract helps with changing mindset

I think what Dennis is saying is super important for companies in the financial industry. Learning and development solutions have often focused on creating workplace skills. Today, employees need a broader perspective, solutions that help them develop themselves more holistically. They want knowledge to extend beyond their own working boundaries.

Part of what companies need to do is foster an urge toward curiosity and to be able to satisfy that urge. Remember how Apple, a tech company, was able to overthrow a telecom company, Nokia, when Nokia had 90 percent of the mobile phone market. Apple introduced a phone without a keypad. That’s only a feat you can accomplish with employees who think beyond existing structures and process. What Dennis says totally resonates with me — you start thinking out of the boundaries of your job description.

Changing culture and mindset

It’s a long process that starts with re-education of leaders in the company. My first step at Investors was to sit with board members and the top 12 leaders at the company to get them to see the world differently. There’s a combination of skills and willpower — very little depends on product knowledge and skills. It’s really about managing the world — emotions, lack of confidence, fear, and anxiety.

There’s a belief that if you teach someone about a product, they’ll go out an sell it. I laugh at that and ask them, “how’s that working for you?” It’s the emotional challenge of communicating and connecting with another person to get them to see the world as you do. For me to sell the organization, I needed to get executives to believe this in their own lives. It worked for me — I got the CEO to start reading all the books and abstracts. Leaders were saying the stuff was great. It was improving their personal lives. Once you get leaders to taste it, they told me to go out and get as many people as I could to feel the way I feel.

Trickle-down cultural change

We started with 10 week personal development programs. Then, I moved it to 15 weeks. We put every employee — right down to the teller line — through the program. I just got all the executives — 200 of them from the chairman on down — in a 10 week program on kindness and principle-based love in the workplace, on being a servant leader. This is stuff companies don’t even talk about.

The program resonated with them because it feels good and it’s right. I’m teaching our leaders to do the right thing from the heart and people will give you more than you ask for. People want to feel important and significant. That’s a hard concept to sell and I would say about 50 percent of our leadership bought into this. We have people doing book clubs and taking their teams out bowling. I have people taking their employees out to farms in New Jersey and they harvest food for the poor. I’ll get 90 people out there, sweating, getting dirty to deliver corn to soup kitchens around New York State and New Jersey

I’m trying to make our business a personal community. The way you do that is by introducing concepts of human nature. They are starting to like each other and appreciate each other and when you do that, you get better ideas. getAbstract was a major resource for us in giving our people the tools they need. I’ll pull an abstract out and we’ll start reading and discussing things in a way we hadn’t thought of before.

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