Non-Negotiable: The Story of Happy State Bank and the Power of Accountability

  • by Sam Silverstein
    Robert McLain Review by Robert McLain, superintendent, Channing ISD
    Culture has become a keyword in our society. It is continually splashed across headlines and media with court cases, presidential opinions, and political agendas. Yet, in the corporate world, it means something very different. Investopedia says corporate culture “refers to the beliefs and behaviors that determine how a company’s employees and management interact and handle outside business transactions.”

    So, a corporate culture, as applies to schools, would be about how staff interacts with each other and with students, parents and the community. This has become much more important to public schools as we compete against home schools, private schools, and charter schools.

    Non-Negotiable: The Story of Happy State Bank and the Power of Accountability is an easy-reading book about the development and application of a company’s core beliefs, which permeate the entire organization. They have used this model to develop a culture in which the organization has been named to the “Best Companies to Work for in Texas” three years in a row.

    All school districts probably have a mission statement or vision, along with some stated beliefs, but most school districts spend very little time discussing culture with staff and checking to see whether or not these beliefs are being followed throughout a district. This lack of discussion creates a gap between the stated culture (mission) and the hidden culture (what is actually happening).

    This book gives a great example of a company whose beliefs have become “non-negotiables” throughout the organization, thus providing an immense sense of local accountability. Author Sam Silverstein writes: “Any time you are tempted to fixate on outside circumstances,rather than internal non-negotiables, as the determining element of your performance, you have lost control.” This statement alone shows how to develop local accountability, but it also addresses so much that has become wrong with education across the nation.

    When reading this book, I left a plethora of highlights and questions written in the margins, like: Where do we take a stand? How do we communicate this belief? Do all our people know exactly what we believe, and how do we know?

    This book has caused me to think about how much time the corporate world spends with new staff discussing, “This is us and this is not us,” and how little time and effort administrators spend discussing what should be the most important ideas about our organization. The first two chapters give a brief history of J. Pat Hickman and Happy State Bank, helping to set up the lessons in the remaining chapters.

    This book has helped me to take my beliefs and put them into brief statements that help keep me focused on what I am willing to take a stand. Our school district is using this book to help us develop a new mission statement and to develop some “non-negotiables” of our own — to help us “differentiate between what is vital and what is merely urgent, ”to quote American author Henry Cloud.

    This book is well worth the read for anyone, but especially for leaders who want to strengthen the culture of their organizations and identify core beliefs.