The Real Reason Wells Fargo Fails the Noble Purpose Test

When the CEO said, “Cross-selling is the centerpiece of our strategy,” I knew they were doomed to fail.

Wells Fargo is back in the news, and no one should be surprised.

When then CEO John Stumpf told the sales team cross-selling was the number one goal, he opened the door for fraud. He may not have told his people to create phony accounts, but he provided them with the language and motivation to do it.

Stumpf made a classic, and all too common leadership mistake: he dehumanized customers.

When the customers become nothing more than a number to your team, it’s only a matter of time before unethical behavior begins. Wells Fargo may be today’s poster child for the problem, but they’re hardly alone. How many other leaders talk about customers as nothing more than sales targets?

In my experience, there are three predictors of unethical behavior:

1. Customer viewed as targets instead of human beings

The words of the leader matter, it tells the team what’s important. A leader with no empathy or passion for customers creates a team with no empathy or passion for customers.

2. Making profit the North Star

Instead of telling his team, the true and noble purpose of our business is to provide value for our customers, Stumpf (in effect) told his team, the sole purpose of our business is to make money. Is anyone surprised the rank and file create fraudulent systems to achieve their goals?

3. Quarterly capitalism

Leaders, who focus on short-term revenue, aren’t real leaders. They’re coin-operated carpetbaggers. Treating the business like a cash register doesn’t create value, it erodes value.

How many more times do we have to see this play out before we acknowledge reality? A culture that puts profit before purpose will never be anything more than an every man for himself rat race.

My father was a banker, and I’m a sales consultant. It breaks my heart to see both our professions so maligned. It’s time for us to reclaim the nobility of banking. And it’s time for us to reclaim the nobility of sales.

The noble purpose of banking is to help people lead better lives. The same is true of sales.

Cross-selling is not a strategy; it’s a short-term sales tactic. When your true and noble purpose is to help customers, there’s nothing wrong with cross-selling or up-selling.  They’re the natural result of a value-based relationship that strives to improve your customers’ condition.

When leaders dehumanize customers it’s only a matter of time before the market figures you out. Wells Fargo is paying a heavy price for their failures.

There are thousands of ethical people at Wells Fargo who are agonizing over this scandal. If we could reach into their hearts and tell them one thing, it’s this:  You have the power to reframe this situation. People want an honest banker, if fact, we’re desperate for one. You can decide today, that person is going to be you.