How To Create A High Performing Bank With An Employee Handbook

Let’s be honest. Your bank employee handbook is probably a snooze-fest. If you are like most banks, your employee handbook was likely cobbled together from a template given to you by a third-party human resources firm or a revision of another bank’s handbook. Chances are your handbook is about as inspiring as refrigerator instructions. If you fall into this category, then read on because this blog post may just prompt you to revise your current employee handbook and create a dynamic document that will not only better attract Millennial workers, but will inspire all employees to take the bank to greater heights.

The Problem

Don’t tell our CEO or our HR Department but there is a group of us here that have never read our employee handbook. We of course breezed through it, but the legal-eze, state law references and “cover-your-assets” approach sent a message that it was more of a reference guide than a cultural document. We know we are not alone, but we point out that banks that don’t invest in their employee handbook miss a monumental opportunity to influence their culture.

If you are looking to build a top-performing bank, one very common path is to start with a strong culture. It is likely that your bank believes “your people” and your culture are two of your most valuable assets. If true, it follows that you want to make sure that every new employee understands the basis of this culture. If you map all your employee touch points, an employee handbook is probably one of your most important tools to influence culture. New employees are more open to change and pre-programmed to adopt a new culture.

Besides, if you poll your employees, you will most likely find that they aren’t even using it as a reference manual.

How It Can Look Different

Of course, it doesn’t have to be like this. Having a dull employee handbook is an opportunity for innovation and to quickly change, or at least support, a vibrant bank culture.

We have reviewed a dozen of the best bank employee handbooks and a dozen more of the best corporate handbooks and can tell you  that the best have a distinct editorial tone, are engaging and serves to not only influence culture, but catapults the bank’s brand by infusing every employee with a sense of pride and values.

Not only does a good employee handbook accomplish the above goals, but it is a handbook that employees actually want to read. Heck, we couldn’t put them down and we are not even employees of these companies.

The Best Five Employee Handbooks That We Know Of

Unfortunately, our favorite employee handbooks don’t come from banks. However, that doesn’t mean that a bank can’t use these as the basis and revise their own.

Netflix & Zappos: We have already gushed and broken down the lessons of Netflix seminal employee cultural document and have espoused on Zappos culture. The Netflix Handbook is one of our favorites and has already motivated many banks to work on their culture. Understanding how the Talent Density Function can promote growth at your bank is alone worth the read let alone the practice that some banks have adopted where they pay their employees to leave.  Both these ideas came from these groundbreaking companies, and their handbooks contain these and many other nuggets of counterintuitive knowledge.


Nordstrom: This one is proof that your handbook does not have to be long. In fact, this ultra-short handbook of a company that is known for their customer service sends a powerful message in its brevity. While the company has a more formal document that is similar to many banks, the one that gets all the buzz is the one below (printed in its entirety).

Zingerman’s Deli: Inc. magazine called this the “world’s best employee manual.” We are not ready to go that far, but in terms of accomplishing the basic functions of communicating vision, culture, and expectations in an engaging format, this handbook nails it. Delis are more common than banks, yet this Ann Arbor, MI sandwich shop now has a worldwide following because of its culture and its dedication to personal service. If your bank is based on community involvement and service, Zingerman’s story can serve as a template to how to really turn culture into a competitive advantage. You can purchase their handbook and customer service guide (we did) and/or see more details HERE.


Valve: The first sentence of this handbook pretty much sums it up – “A fearless adventure in knowing what to do when no one’s there telling you what to do.” This handbook was recently leaked and has been making the rounds even among banks. We will do a recap of these lessons Thursday as some could have profound implications on banking, but the handbook should be reviewed as the design is one of the best we have seen.

Putting It Into Action

Hopefully, these examples will fuel your bank to consider revising your employee handbook. If you are over $700mm in total assets, it is clearly worth it to even pay an outside creative team to assist humorous copy and comic book illustrations. It is easy to have a small bank with a strong culture, but as you grow, many a bank has found it difficult to maintain that unique culture. To correct this weakness, we believe it is worth every effort to make an investment in communication and cultural education.

If you are uncomfortable watering down the legal aspects of your employee handbook, then creating a companion cultural document accomplishes the objective. No matter which way you go, creating a document along these lines will not only result in more fanatical employees (and hence customers), but will serve as a potent recruiting tool.

It is no coincidence that the companies with superior employee handbooks are the ones that are top performers in their respective industries. While a witty and informative employee handbook doesn’t guarantee superior results, it certainly can’t hurt. We believe that culture is the single most important strategic initiative to make sure your bank thrives over the next decade.

As an aside, if your bank has an employee handbook or cultural document that we missed, we would love to see it so please be sure to send it our way so that we may learn from you and maybe inspire other community banks. 

Tags: Published: 03/22/20 by Chris Nichols