This week we sit down with Russ Hill, Co-Founder of Lone Rock Consulting.  We talk about the3 essential qualities of a great leader, the importance of clarity, alignment, and movement as you lead your community bank.

Check out Lead In 30 here:

The views, information, or opinions expressed during this show are solely those of the participants involved and do not necessarily represent those of SouthState Bank and its employees. 

SouthState Bank, N.A. – Member FDIC

Intro: Helping community bankers grow themselves, their team, and their profits. This is the Community Bank Podcast.

Caleb Stevens: Well, Hey everybody. And welcome back to the community bank podcast I’m Caleb Stevens. And today I am speaking with Russ Hill, the co-founder of Lone Rock Consulting. They work with some of the biggest companies in the country, and Russ is a leadership expert. This is a great discussion on how to engage your team, how to cast vision, how to create clarity, and also how to make sure that your vision gets throughout the entire organization. It’s one thing for the CEO to talk about the vision or to have the vision on the website, but it’s another to have every major leader within the organization, living it out and sharing it with their team and making sure that it sticks throughout the whole company. And so hope you enjoy this discussion with Mr. Russ Hill.

Well, Russ, thanks for hopping on the podcast today, it’s great to be talking with you. I followed you for a couple of years and it’s great to finally put a face with the name. So how are things out in Phoenix?

Russ Hill: Hot. At the time we’re recording this, this isn’t the place you want to be in January, February is the time to be in Phoenix, but things are going well at Caleb it’s great to meet you and I appreciate the opportunity to share some of the things that we’ve learned that I’ve learned working in this space over the years.

Caleb Stevens: Give us a quick snapshot of your career. How did you get into the leadership consulting space? What do you do at Lone Rock Consulting? Give us the quick 30,000-foot flyover.

Russ Hill: Yes. It’s not the most exciting story and it’s not that predictable, but I never viewed myself. I don’t think you, maybe some people grow up. No, I’m going to work as a consultant with senior executive teams of corporations I’m a teacher about leadership. I certainly didn’t grow up thinking that I wanted to be in the media I wanted to be a TV reporter, I wanted to travel the world and cover news events and so that’s what I did. That’s what I did for almost 20 years of my career and on the air in different, primarily radio stations and news and sports did that for a lot of years. And then worked my way into management, and started overseeing properties that our media company was acquiring. And that’s when I got interested in leadership because the teams I was leading did not like me and I thought they did. But then our company, the national broadcast company I was working for at the time started to do these things called employee engagement surveys. And the scores came back, I can laugh about it now, Caleb, but it was painful at the time. I have the distinct honor of being in the company that I worked for and have been rated the lowest leader in the company. In other words, the most toxic culture, the leader whose team disliked them the most man, that’s painful when you get that. And I was in my early twenties at the time and I had a choice to make at that time either lose my job because my team would all quit or change and so that’s when I became obsessed with culture.

That’s when I became obsessed with how you lead in a way that not only delivers results but that’s what you’re paid to deliver as a leader. But how do I do it in a way where my people like working for me, they like what we’re doing they feel a sense of purpose? We retain our best talent. How do I do that? It was a painful process and I read every book possible, I paid a lot of money out of my pocket to be developed I had leaders that mentored me and sent me to different things from universities to Gallup, to this, to that. And then long story short after a long time in the media career and no longer being the lowest rated leader growing and improving as a leader, I left the media world and went to join a consulting firm that had recruited me that specialized in the space of culture management.

Caleb Stevens: So, making an assumption here, but I would guess, before you saying that survey, I’m guessing you’d probably read a leadership book or two, in the past, and then it sounds like it’s probably one thing maybe to know about leadership from a head knowledge perspective, but then to live it and to be accountable to it and to see real results in the workplace. Did you see a disconnect there? Had you read leadership books before and now what sort of a wake-up call? What was that like?

Russ Hill: Yes, I had. And I wanted to be a good leader and so whether it was listening to at the time audiobooks write CDs at the time, now you can download them on audible or whatever, but or going to the Barnes and Noble back in the day and buying a book, I was doing that I was a student of leadership. So, that was part of my leadership development but I think the more pronounced or the part that affected me more was watching other leaders, and in my experience now working with leaders and as an executive coach and working as a consultant with leadership teams, what I’ve learned over the years is other leaders do exactly what I did, which is what are the traits in the leaders I hate that I don’t want to be around. That I just despise working for, or that man, there just don’t seem like pleasant people, or maybe they’re pleasant, but they just create an environment to where it, it doesn’t feel like we’re accomplishing things or my ideas don’t feel heard, or we’re not going anywhere as an organization. So, you look at those leaders and you go, okay, don’t do that, don’t be that and then you look at the leaders like, man, that person is amazing and what are they doing? And how do I become more like them? I think that’s probably where most of us have learned or what we’ve studied. And a lot of its unconscious we don’t even realize we’re doing it, but a lot of our leadership development in what I’ve seen is in watching and then modeling or repeating or cloning the behavior of other leaders.

Caleb Stevens: Well, I can hear the broadcasting voice now that we’re talking. Any lessons from a communication standpoint that broadcasting and media taught you?

Russ Hill: Yes, ton. I feel like I’m so blessed. I feel like there was this journey that I couldn’t see, yet my life was needing to go where it was the combination of these two worlds. And yes, if you think about it, most effective leaders, most good leaders, not all of them, but most of them are good communicators. And so I studied communications in college, not only because it was the easiest degree I could find that required the least amount of time in a classroom, but because I wanted to go into the media business. And so, effective leaders communicate and a lot of that starts with, and this is tied to Caleb. It’s tied to culture too, which we’ll get into, but a lot of it is effectively describing the vision, the destination you think about like Google maps. I would pay so much money if they charged me for that app on my phone. It’s so valuable to me, especially somebody who travels for a large part of what I do with clients and so you drop into a city and you just type in the destination, but you think about that app without the destination entered in, it’s kind of cool to look at the roads around you and whatever else, but it’s not that valuable. That app becomes valuable after you type in the destination and then it’s helping you. Hey, look out for this, that route’s closed. Don’t go there. You need to know this area’s under construction. This is the speed, this is where you’re likely to get there. Just like an effective communicator as a leader, we’re able to get up in a virtual meeting in an email in an in-person meeting and describe effectively this is not the only part of communications that has ties to the leadership, but it’s one part and it directly affects your culture.

Russ Hill: There’s no question about it, which is, can I effectively describe the destination? I’m trying to take my team too because you think about the word leader. It implies we don’t think about this a lot, but I’m leading you, I’m leading our team somewhere. And so if I were to ask your team, where is Russ? Where is Caleb leading you? How would they answer that? Do they know what the destination is? What success have we defined success in a way? Or is it just being busy and kind of doing my job? And that’s not enough you think about the organizations that have a great culture and that are, you think about super effective leaders, they have a vision they’re taking the team somewhere.

Caleb Stevens: Yes. Well, to hire you all, I would think that requires on your client’s part, a great deal of self-awareness to even know, hey, we need to invest and improve our leadership. And yet it seems like so many folks who are not the best leaders that’s one of the main issues is they don’t have the self-awareness to even know, Hey, we need to hire a guy like Russ, how do you sort of, think that through, because I would think you see a lot of opportunities to help leaders, but yet if they don’t have the self-awareness to know, we need to invest in ourselves, they’re never going to give you a call.

Russ Hill: Yes. It’s a great point and our business or our interaction with leaders is driven a lot by two different categories. It is the self-aware leader and it’s the leader who may be or, isn’t thinking about how I need to change to be more effective. We never get a call or we hardly ever get a call from somebody saying, help me be a better leader. We usually don’t get that call. What we get is a direct message on LinkedIn that says we need help with our results. And so either we’re not retaining the people that we want to retain, or we’re in this incredibly competitive environment and how do we attract better talent or our people aren’t engaged. I was on the phone with a Fortune 10 company that’s a client of our healthcare company. And they got their most recent poll survey from employees. They went, man, we went down again, and we’ve been going down every year since this pandemic started a few years ago.

And so, that that’s driving their need to get some help so it’s driven usually by results, and sometimes it’s a leader calling saying, or direct messaging us and saying, Hey, can you help us with this? And by the way, it’s not always a burning platform like Amazon’s a client of ours and Amazon didn’t have any problem with it, they’re people that hate Amazon, but most of us have boxes from them that are piling up on the front porch. And so what caused them to want to dig into this topic was we want to grow even faster and they have this hunger to be absolutely the best at every single thing that they do. So you have that group Caleb, and then you have another group that typically drives our interaction and maybe it’s the board. I could tell you plenty of stories where it’s a board of directors that goes, yes, our team needs help. Or it’s an executive saying, not calling for themselves, but saying, we’ve got this business unit or these locations or this team, can you help us with them?

Caleb Stevens: Yes, well, I saw Gallup’s recent state of the workforce survey from, I think it was 2021 and it was something like 34% of US workers are engaged around 49 or 50% are disengaged, and then about 15 or so are actively disengaged. And I’ve been sort of thinking through, what’s the driver here? Is it leadership? Is it culture? Is it not connecting the vision of the company to the everyday experiences of the team members? I think that’s sort of putting your thumb on kind of hits on that. What’s your take on those engagement surveys? What’s sort of the root cause? Is it leadership from the top?

Russ Hill: Yes. And it’s interesting because the year of that data, the year that you cite doesn’t matter, it’s the same in 2022, 2021, 2020, 2015, and 2010, there has been no movement. You can Google this, and do the research. We wrote the book, The Great Resignation a year and a half or so ago. And so we hired this team of data scientists to dig in and look at all the research because we had our theories based on working. We feel like we work in a leadership lab with, leaders of all these different organizations from manufacturing to financial, the world that you all live in retail, to restaurants, to healthcare, to whatever it might be. So we feel like, we had some real theories on what was causing all the movement in the workforce. And then we started looking at the data and one of the things that data uncovered was there’s been no movement in employee engagement in over 20 years. None. But there has been a change in the outcome or the effect of that. So, if you think about five years ago, if I’m disengaged, back to those numbers, you just said. If I’m disengaged from working at a bank or a Credit Union, and I’m not happy or I’m not satisfied. What do I do? Typically what I do is I keep showing up and I start poisoning the people around me. We call it the excuse trap. I’m blaming everyone and everything for why I’m dissatisfied. It’s that policy, it’s that leader it’s that other team it’s whatever it is that I’m justified in, in my frustration at work.

Russ Hill: And a lot of it by the way is justifiable, but then you just go to this negative, vicious, poisonous place and I’m obsessed with everything I can’t control. Everything bad about this job, this company, this location, this branch, whatever it has nothing to do with me and everything to do with everyone else, so you externalize it. So five years ago, if I’m in that situation, I become poisonous and I do that. Now after the pandemic and the current environment that we work in. And by the way, the data suggests that it’s not guessing what the pandemic didn’t start this change it just accelerated it. And the fact that we’re hopefully continuing to come out of the pandemic, it’s not going to change it either that’s our theory. And we think we’re being proven right by the data we’ll see in the next, 6, 12, 18, and 36 months. But now what happens? I come into the branch I come into work, I’m frustrated I still poison everybody, and then I just don’t show up and I don’t stay, I leave because I have so many different options. So what’s driving your question? What’s driving that disengagement?

So much of it is leadership it’s all tied to leadership and yet you have leaders that go. “No, it’s the market. It’s the customer it’s the whatever, it’s all these different things. No, we just have to be honest. It’s just like me when I got those scores, two decades, three decades ago of Russ, you suck as a leader, your team doesn’t like you, they’re not engaged that’s what my team was not engaged. And what changed the level of engagement on that team Caleb was me as I started to change as a leader, there were other things, but once I took ownership of that and went, okay, what’s the culture I’m creating? What are the beliefs that my team holds? What experiences am I creating? What’s the mindset? What’s the narrative on this team? What are the stories that are being told once I started taking ownership of that and defining it, then I could shift it?

Caleb Stevens: Well, I think that’s a good segue into one of the things that you preach is that there are two essential qualities of leadership. And of course, there’s been hundreds of books written on the subject, thousands of books, probably you could define in several ways you could come up with 30 great qualities of a leader, but there’s two that I’ve seen that you preach, that you hammer home. Would you mind kind of unpacking those for us?

Russ Hill: Yes. And in fact, I’m going to expand it to three. So you’ve probably seen me talk about two, which means I need to do a better job of talking about all three. And the ones that we focus on the most with leaders and you’re right there’s a lot of different content that you can go into. For instance, you might have seen me posting on social media about transactional versus transformational leaders might be what you’re referring to. And so a transactional leader as I come in and my job is just too kind of maintain, just to run the place. My job is just to, kind of make sure, and don’t screw it up. Right. And then a transformational leader, somebody that comes in and says, okay, where are we headed? What’s the potential here? What’s possible back to my Google maps analogy, where could we be in two or three years?

And they’re looking for movement and by the way, every employee wants to work for a transformational leader. Well, I’m going to say, not every employee, there are a few that are very happy not having any movement or growth, but there is this human need in most of us, a few people have suppressed it, but there’s a human need to grow, to create, to become something better than ourselves. And so we want to work for leaders that do that. So, that’s one distinction we make as we work with leaders transactional versus transformational and or transformative leaders. The other thing that I would talk about is just, that when it comes to culture, what great leaders do is focus on three areas and we call it the third leader.

Russ Hill: And, let me walk you through this just real quickly, it’ll take me a minute or two. So the first leader, so I’m just going to define different leadership profiles. This is helpful in our experience because often we aren’t putting the mirror on ourselves and thinking about, okay, well, what kind of leader am I? I might think about what kind of leader I am, but I’m defining it by 50 million things let’s narrow it down. So, the first leader is somebody who’s got no vision, they haven’t defined anything. It’s not that their team’s not doing anything in fact, their team feels super busy. Tons are going on, but they feel like they’re on a treadmill, sweaty, exhausted, just they’re busy all day long, but we’re not going anywhere. We can’t point to any progress we’ve made as an organization or a team over the last, six, 12, or 36 months, whatever it might be.

So there’s no vision, the first leader, loves discussion, they hesitate to make decisions so they love meetings. There’s just endless discussion you log into their meetings, you walk into their meetings, just tons of dialogue and it’s because the first leader leans into consensus. So, what they care about more than anything else is I don’t want to create conflict that doesn’t want to make decisions because I just want consensus and there are all kinds of costs that an organization pays because of that. The second leader views themselves as an upgrade, they’re an evolution of the first leader, and they used to be the first leader now they’re not. And the second leader, they’ve got a vision the problem is it reads like a Broadway playbill they’re 150 priorities, 20 pages long and so everything’s a priority.

So, they think they’ve created a vision, but in fact, it’s way too complicated, nobody knows what to do with it. The second leader micromanages they’ve had your job and they can’t wait to tell you how to do it more effectively. And so they pride themselves on making decisions unlike the first leader, the second leader making decisions on a moment’s notice, they don’t have anybody coming along with them or taking ownership of it because they had no involvement in that decision. So, the second leader doesn’t seek to create conflict, but, by nature of the way they lead, they create tons of conflict, they create silos, okay. The third leader is what we advocate going into and the third leader does these three things, these are the three categories I was talking about.

The third leader creates clarity in its three to four key results, these are the most important things for our financial institution to deliver this year. And it might be a revenue number it might a profit number, it might be several new clients might be employee engagement whatever it is. These are the three things it’s not more than three or four because people can’t remember more than three or four. We want them top of mind and so, the third leader creates clarity. The second thing that they do is build alignment they understand that there’s a fundamental difference between my team being aware of things and that that’s what most leaders do they make their team aware of it. Here’s the new policy, here’s the plan for the next year, and here’s the new project. They create awareness and then wonder why they don’t have alignment. And alignment happens out loud it’s messy and so, the third leader not only creates clarity, but they build alignment around their vision the team’s not just aware of it. They are aligned to it and alignment’s different than an agreement by the way. And then the third thing that the third leader does is generate movement and this is where culture management comes in they define the mindset of the team.

So, whether you look at Chick-fil-A you look at Amazon, you look at Apple, just go down the list of companies that you think of as culture, as a competitive advantage, they have defined the culture they’re looking for. Well, how do you define culture? It’s not a bunch of old static, stale values that are sitting on a frame, somewhere gathering dust. It’s a living, breathing timely set of statements that can be three or four, and it shouldn’t be more than that. That defines how we need to be thinking and acting. So for instance, Amazon, I’ll hesitate it so I give you a chance to work it out Caleb, but you can tell I’m passionate about this, can’t you? So like Amazon, they call them leadership principles is biased for action we are hiring people who are this way. They are biased to take action they’re not biased toward discussion. They’re not biased for analysis. They’re biased toward action. You can Google Amazon biased for action you’ll see it’s one of their leadership principles. There’s a large defense contractor we worked with we’ve consulted their senior team for a lot of years. They just rewrote their set of culture, principles, whatever you want to call them leadership principles.

And one of them is accelerating change. They’re way too stuck in the status quo, they need more people innovating, speaking up challenging the way we’ve always done it. If they’re going to compete for talent and clients and so accelerate change defines the narrative that they’re looking for. In other organizations, it’s the customer first, the patient first, or it’s one team. So you look at if I’m the leader of a financial institution, whether it’s just one location or a bunch of them, I’m looking at what’s the narrative. How do I want people to describe how we think and act here? Do we accelerate change? Are we one team? Customer-first, biased fraction. What are those few statements that define the way we need people to think and act? And you define the culture and you start managing it.

Caleb Stevens: So clarity, alignment, and movements. So let’s say you’re working with a large company and let’s say the executive team says, yes, Russ, I get it, we’re all about that. There’s clarity on the executive team there’s alignment. They’re committed to making change happen. But, my gosh, when you get 5, 6, or 7 layers down into the organization, how do you cast vision and create clarity in such a way that it spreads in scales to the whole organization? I heard you say one thing, the bias fraction, that’s a short, frequently repeated sticky, portable phrase that can probably be disseminated throughout the whole company. But how do leaders who are trying to create movement and clarity and alignment with 5, 6,000 folks? How do they do that effectively?

Russ Hill: Okay. So it’s a great question. And there’s a lot to that, but I’ll give you the 30,000-foot kind of, a thumbnail version of this. So the first thing is if I were to call all of your direct reports, whatever financial institution, whatever team you’re leading. So, I’m going to call your direct reports we’re going to do a quick zoom meeting I’m going to ask them what the three things that define success are. Would they all answer the same way? And in our experience of asking that question for over 15 years, in all kinds of industries, in all kinds of locations around the world, it is over 95% of the teams we interview do not answer the same. They don’t have clarity, you think they do? Yes, we’re clear. But you’ve shown them the plan for the year it’s got 50 million things in it and, or they’re aware of it, but they’re not aligned to it. So, they know you’re saying this is important, but they’re overworking on that and so how do you get it throughout the organization? You start with, you have to drill in on the leadership team with this. Do we have clarity? So, what are the three most important things? And we would tell you, and again, we teach all this in this thing called Leadin 30. People can find out about it at It’s like, think about it like a 30-day fitness challenge, but it’s a 30-day leadership challenge anybody can sign up for it we offer it for free. We just require that people bring two leaders, other leaders from their company with them because then it gets traction and impact and that helps our organization.

So, and we start week one is all about clarity, we call them RPM Key results, repeatable, purposeful, measurable. Are they repeatable, a large pharmaceutical company we consult it’s 5, 1, 85 those are their key results? Everybody in the whole organization, tens of thousands of people knows 5, 1, 85 and those numbers 5 1 85 represent three different metrics that are incredibly important. The general motor is a client of our three zeros. If you look up Google GM, we could talk about this I can mention their name because it’s public. But general motors, six years ago, we were in the room when they wrote the three zeros that are the vision for general motors. How do you get, how do you get tens of thousands of people aligned? You start with clarity at the top. So we’re going to discuss what is clarity, what are RPM repeatable, purposeful, measurable, and key results we’re going to discuss and then we’re going to look for alignment. How aligned are we as a team?

And alignment means, I feel heard I feel involved doesn’t mean I have to agree with you, but I feel like I had a chance to weigh in before you decided on anything. And teams don’t make decisions, leaders make decisions, but teams inform leaders to make the best decision. So, many organizations have that backward they think teams make decisions. No, your job as a leader of that leadership team is not to get them to help you make a decision, they help you make the decision, but you make the decision or you delegate one of the decisions to them and they’re the decision maker. So you create alignment there and then you start to define at the executive level, Caleb, how do we need people thinking and acting? Then you go, we just did this with a large manufacturing company, 425 directors VPS along with the ELT, they have 35,000 people underneath them. They’re at multiple warehouses around the US and the world. And so, we have them in leadin30 virtual set of meetings, 30 days long, one meeting a week. And so 425 top leaders going in to create clarity, alignment movement at that level because if we’ve spent months student the leadership team, the ELT level.

Now they’re rolling it out and they’re recruiting into the conversation, these 425 directors and VPs and by the way, we just wrapped up that session with them last Friday, at the time we’re recording this and they came out of it going, my gosh, the directors are going. I’ve never had access to the ELT like that. Never been able to interact, they didn’t say it this way, but you could tell, I don’t feel like my voice was heard the way it has been the last four weeks. So now you’re moving down the org chart. Guess what the next step is the next layer. So, that’s an extreme example of a very large organization, but you take a company of 300 or a company of 3000 and it’s the same principle.

Caleb Stevens: Yes. And it reminds me of the phrase people support our world that they help create they may not make the final decision, but if they feel like their voice is heard and they have some level of input that creates buy-in long term. And I would guess too, when you talk about transactional versus a transformational leader, you need transformational leaders at the middle management level to bring the vision to life across the whole company because it’s just status quo if it’s transformational at the top, but status quo in the middle, how much change are you going to make.

Russ Hill: A hundred percent? And the phrase that we so often hear our clients referred to, especially our fortune 100 companies that we work with, the frozen middle, you might have heard that those leaders in the middle, we call it the clay layer, the roots go down from the ELT end of the next level. And then they kind of hit this clay and we can’t get the roots to go deeper in the organization. And how do we get that to change? Well, a lot of it’s recruiting them into the conversation and there are a lot of things that sucked were horrible about this pandemic, but one of the benefits of it is the change in the way we work in multiple ways where we can do this virtually you don’t have to fly everybody in. For me we just did it with this manufacturing company got 450 liters nobody got on a plane, and nobody came off the factory floor. All they did was log into a virtual meeting one hour a week and then went and consumed some content in their own time in between the meetings and we’re having these kinds of conversations. So, we can work our way through the organization and impact the culture and get buy-in at a lower level of the organization. More efficiently, more effectively than we ever, leaders, 10 years ago, would’ve been dying to have the ability to reach deeper in the organization the way we can now with the tools we have virtually.

Caleb Stevens: That’s a good segue into something I wanted to ask you about COVID. How have you seen the best leaders navigate COVID because you talk about clarity? I mean, my goodness, how hard has it been for leaders to offer clarity to their team over the past three years? And what I’ve sort of landed on is you can’t offer everybody certainty, but you can’t offer them the clarity that you do have. How have you seen the best leaders navigate? I can’t offer certainty, but I can’t offer the clarity that I do have, but even that takes intention.

Russ Hill: Yes. And what you’re speaking to is transparency and so nobody likes driving and fog. When we get behind the wheel, what we want is visibility. Please show me the road ahead. Because if I’ve got fog or I’ve got a limited field of vision, I’ve got to dramatically reduce the speed and I’m tense and I’ve got all these concerns about the danger because whenever I join an organization or I log into a meeting for the first time, the first human behavior I’m most concerned about is threat detection. Is it safe for me to be here? Am I in the right place? Am I looking stupid? Can I speak up? How’s that going to go? And so, I want visibility, I want to feel safe I want comfort. As sometimes as a leader, we can’t provide that. And the example you’re using Caleb of you think about those first few weeks or months after the pandemic began, who the crud had clarity, right? None of us did. It’s a great point and some things happen in our companies as senior leader leaves all of a sudden. We got a text yesterday from an executive we thought was in line to be CEO eventually of a Fortune 50 company.

And all of a sudden the executive team was shocked yesterday when he announced his departure, I’m leaving, whoa, what we thought you were a lifetime person here. And so that creates uncertainty so it’s not just a pandemic or a global event there are things in our industry. Think about real estate right now, how much certainty is there in the real estate market? Like very little. And so when the field of vision is reduced, what I do as a leader is two things. I increase my visibility and I increase my transparency. In other words, my team wants to see me, they want visibility of me because they’re wondering what I’m thinking. Am I okay? Where’s the leadership team at? And so I increased my visibility and transparency to sound like this team. We know you’re concerned about this we know that you aren’t sure about this, whatever it is, you’re validating the emotion you know they’re feeling. You’re not pretending, there is nothing to see here, nothing’s wrong with the market, or just put your head down and go execute and everything’s going to be alright. I was talking to somebody that’s a developer and, and builds a bunch of homes in the west the other day.

And he was talking about his sales team and he’s a friend, a great person, but this is a terrible leadership tactic. And he was talking about, yes, we met with our sales team I just told him again, real estate. He’s like, just put your head down like, so it’s never been this good, it’s awesome. And I’m thinking, that’s not what your team wants to hear. What they want to hear is man, things have changed it’s not as good as it was three weeks ago, three months ago. And they want you to hear, that we’re not sure where this is headed, but here’s what we do know, and here’s what we are working on. So, whatever level of transparency I can offer and then visibility so they know that they’re seeing me because a lot of leaders when something hits pandemic or a downward spiral or a downward turn in the market, whatever it is, they tend to go into hiding. And it’s not intentional necessarily they’re super busy and they don’t have certainty, but it just causes that organization like a driver and fog to slow down or even completely stop moving.

Caleb Stevens: Yes. That’s good. Well, as we wrap up here, I’d love to get your take on culture and we talked a little bit about it earlier in the show, you know we’re bankers, Russ. So, we tend to think of culture as, the soft stuff, how do you quantify culture? Is that just the bean bags in the break room and PTO we’re all kind to each other and it’s a fuzzy place to work? Culture, can you put a number on that? We care about the P&L and balance sheet. How do you define culture? Because when you say results, I think that gets our attention as bankers well man, I want to get results. So where’s the connection there?

Russ Hill: Right. That’s where the conversation about culture has to start and you’re right Caleb people think of it, there is a good number that you mentioned that where culture and people are like, I need to hit the pause button on the podcast now we’re getting into the soft stuff. No, think at Chick-fil-A they’re going, yes, cultures the soft stuff. We’ll get to it when we can get to it. You think at Southwest airlines are going yes, culture, if you guys have time to deal with culture, you might dig into it. No, it’s their competitive advantage it’s everything to them. And so, when you think about culture, the first place that you start is with the results. I’ve got two levers to pull as a leader to affect the results. One is a strategy and by the way, one of these without the other is not very valuable. So I’ve got a strategy, I got to build the business plan I got to come up with, what are we going to do? What’s the plan for the next 12, 24, or 36 months? Where are we headed? So that strategy, the other one is culture. How do I need our people to think and act? I’ll give you an example, just too kind of illustrate this. So the gym that I go to is just a few miles from my house been going there, and our family’s been going for years.

So you used to go and walk in and, and your check-in, you scan your phone or your gym membership card. If you go into the gym and you scan that and you go in and you do whatever you’re going to do, get on a machine and do some cardio, or you’re doing some strength training, you’re going to go, lifts some weights, whatever it is. So you walk in and there’s nothing notable about our gym it’s just like, whatever okay, nothing meaningful about it. Then one day I’m walking in and there’s somebody at the counter and they’re like, “Hey, how’s it going? Welcome in.” Like super friendly the moment I open the door and they’re at the desk right there at the front entrance. And I’m thinking, that’s nice, they hired somebody super friendly. Then I scan my phone and they’re like, “Hey Russ. How is it? How’s your day going? What are you doing today? What are you working on?” I said, “Well, I’m here, I’m going to do some strength training, chest day, whatever it is. Like, “Okay, great workout. If you need anything, let us know”. So as I’m going to the bench, what am I thinking Caleb about that employee?

Caleb Stevens: You’re thinking, huh? Where did he come from?

Russ Hill: Right. They hired someone super friendly or he’s in a good mood, they promoted somebody, and he’s super excited about his job. So then it happens the next day and it’s somebody else. Then it happens the next day and it’s somebody else then on my way out, they’re “Hey, have a great afternoon. Thanks so much for coming in. How was your workout?” So something shifted what happened in that location by the way and it’s been like two and a half years since that happened. Same experience and in a gym membership, if you know anything about that industry, it’s like restaurants and retail, massive turnover. The same people aren’t working at the gym, 50% turnover, in however many months. And so the people have changed yet the culture is staying the same. Why is that? Guess what I bet one of their metrics is. What do you think one of their key metrics Caleb at that gym is?

Caleb Stevens: That’s a good point…

Russ Hill: Tied to my experience. What do you think they’re measuring that’s affecting that?

Caleb Stevens: Probably something related to customer engagement. I would think too or…

Russ Hill: Yes, satisfaction.

Caleb Stevens: Yes.

Russ Hill: Yes. So, when you join our organization, you work at that gym. I don’t know this, I’m telling you this. This is my theory based on how I know this works inside organizations. But the gyms, not client, and this is a chain out in the Western US so they’re all over a bunch of states and it’s the same place I’ve gone into multiple locations when I travel same experience. So, what happens is they, you join the team and they say, Hey, by the way, here are the most important things. One of our most important metrics at this gym is member satisfaction. So to affect the culture I start with, what I define. So at Chick-fil-A, what’s one of the most important metrics, customer satisfaction, so McDonald’s tracking customer satisfaction I don’t think so. Maybe they are I don’t know, but have work to do, but Chick-fil-A that is it. Same thing you think united airlines is tracking customer satisfaction, not the way that Delta or Southwest is. And so, you start with the metric, Hey team, you’re joining the team, this is one of our most important that’s clarity, most important things. Then you need to help them get aligned to it back to my clarity, and alignment movements. So, alignment is, do you understand how you affect it? The way you affect it is in the drive-through, we need you to ask people their first name, and we need you to tell them, it’s my pleasure. At the gym when they walk through the door, we need you to be friendly you affect, your job is not to check people in. Your job is to deliver 90% customer satisfaction.

Russ Hill: You see in the switch here Caleb?

Caleb Stevens: Yes.

Russ Hill: So, your job is not just to help people with, get their withdrawals or deposits in the bank. Your job is customer satisfaction and here’s the metric how do you think you affect it? Because the most effective way to have that conversation is to ask them the new team member or the long-time team member, how do you affect it? “Well, I do this.” “Great.” And then I’m getting into movement, which is okay. So, how do we need people to think? Let’s define that when we hire them let’s interview them for that way of thinking. When we promote them let’s promote them based on the fact that they lean into that. So, that’s culture and in my experience, it’s not the soft side, it’s not optional, it is a competitive advantage. The reason most leaders are not most what the data shows is a lot of leaders will say culture is, a soft skill, and the reason they say that is they don’t know how to define it and they don’t know how to manage it. And so, what I’ve given you here is some high-level, how do you define it? And then we haven’t gotten into, but we talk about this in leading 30, then you have to start, well, how do I manage that on a day-to-day basis? How do I manage culture in my one-on-ones or our weekly meetings or those sorts of things, you have to continually manage it as well.

Caleb Stevens: Yes. Well, that’s a great segue if folks want to find out more about what you offer for leaders. If the community bankers listening are saying, wow, Russ, I need more of this. Where do I find it? How can they engage with you leadin 30? What are all the resources you offer and how can they get in touch?

Russ Hill: Yes. is the best way we just had Utah in the state of Utah, the whole Utah bankers association sent a bunch of leaders from various financial institutions through, as I said, we don’t charge anything. And so if you go to, you’ll see that there is, I think the list price on its 497, $497 per participant now. But if you direct message me on LinkedIn and we’re making some changes to that sheet, we’ll get you in for free and we do it every six weeks, we kick off leadin 30, every six weeks. So, we had a credit union in the Seattle area that put 40 leaders through it. So, whether you go through it or not, doesn’t matter there are a lot of principles that you can see, you can see videos of leaders that have been through it. You can see everyone I’ve been mentioning Chick-fil-A DN Turner. Who’s a longtime C H R O head of human resources at Chick-fil-A.?

Caleb Stevens: Yes, we had her on the show probably a year ago.

Russ Hill: Did you? Yes. She’s awesome. So, DN Turners in there as well as Francis Fry, she’s a Harvard Business School Professor. She went on a sabbatical when Uber called and said they were desperate several years ago and said, can you help us turn around our culture? So we got interviews with a bunch of executives like that, that are in leadin 30, as well as our team so that’s the best way. And then LinkedIn, Caleb, just search Russ Hill and leadin 30. You’ll find me and I’d love to connect with anybody who wants to.

Caleb Stevens: Well, I think we could go for another hour if you let me, but want to respect your time, Russ. Thanks for joining us. We’ll link to leading 30 in the show notes and we appreciate you being here.

Russ Hill: Hey Caleb, you’re a great host man. I’ve been on a lot of podcasts I appreciate the questions, and I appreciate your efficiency and asking them and giving me a chance to kind of share what I’ve learned some observations, and working in this space for a few years. So thanks again, I’m honored by the invitation to speak with you.


Recent Episodes


The Future Of Core Processing With Nymbus CEO Jeffery Kendall

Today Chris Nichols, our Director of Capital Markets, sits down with Nymbus CEO Jeffery Kendall. Chris and Jeffery talk about the future of core processing, payments, how banks should be thinking about their relationship with their core provider, and the new opportunities emerging for banks to offer more innovative products and solutions to their customers….

Listen Now about The Future Of Core Processing With Nymbus CEO Jeffery Kendall

The Future of Fintech & Community Banking with Scott Mills

Today we’ll be speaking with Scott Mills, president of the William Mills agency based in Atlanta. They specialize in helping fintechs connect with banks, and they work with a number of major bank technology providers. Scott talks about the future of fintech, where fintech partnerships often go wrong for community banks, and how to properly evaluate a…

Listen Now about The Future of Fintech & Community Banking with Scott Mills

The Biggest Challenges Facing Community Banks with Karl Nelson

Today we bring back Karl Nelson from KPN Consulting. Karl recaps the previous year in banking and discusses the biggest challenges facing community banks today. GET YOUR FREE ARC STEP-UP PLAYBOOK HERE The views, information, or opinions expressed during this show are solely those of the participants involved and do not necessarily represent those of…

Listen Now about The Biggest Challenges Facing Community Banks with Karl Nelson

Growing Your Leadership and Your Bank with Alex Judd

Today we bring back Alex Judd, Founder of Path for Growth, to discuss healthy leadership, growth, culture, and more. GET YOUR FREE ARC STEP-UP PLAYBOOK HERE The views, information, or opinions expressed during this show are solely those of the participants involved and do not necessarily represent those of SouthState Bank and its employees SouthState…

Listen Now about Growing Your Leadership and Your Bank with Alex Judd

The State of the Banking Industry with Nathan Stovall

Today we’re joined by Nathan Stovall, Director of Financial Institutions Research at S&P Global.  We discuss deposit trends, the outlook for commercial credit, and outlook for interest rates. GET YOUR FREE ARC STEP-UP PLAYBOOK HERE The views, information, or opinions expressed during this show are solely those of the participants involved and do not necessarily…

Listen Now about The State of the Banking Industry with Nathan Stovall

Why Community Banking Matters with Dan Robb, CEO of Jonesburg State Bank & Former ABA Chairman

Today we sit down with Dan Robb, CEO of Jonesburg State Bank and former chairman of the ABA.  We talk about Dan’s passion for the industry and the challenges and opportunities facing community banks today. GET YOUR FREE ARC STEP-UP PLAYBOOK HERE The views, information, or opinions expressed during this show are solely those of the…

Listen Now about Why Community Banking Matters with Dan Robb, CEO of Jonesburg State Bank & Former ABA Chairman