Jeff Judy

Jeff's Thoughts -September 16, 2009

Idle Hands are an Angel's Tools?

"We really want to implement X, and we will, when things quiet down a notch so that we can put some of our best people on it."

"Our procedures (products, systems, models, etc.) are out of date and just aren't doing the job anymore, we really have to make some time to overhaul them."

"It's important that everyone in our organization be on the same page, but everyone is so busy that it is hard to find time to sit down together and share our vision."

How many times have you heard, or even said, those kinds of things? Before the economy tanked, many organizations had every employee scrambling to take advantage of good conditions. They knew there were things they should do to enhance their chances of success in the long term, but they couldn't find the will to pull themselves away from the daily madness to invest in developing people, processes, and systems for the future.

And now, many banks tell me, they've cut back on staff and they are scrambling just as ferociously to survive these difficult times.

All of which begs the question: if you can't develop what you need for long-time success when times are good, and you can't develop them when times are bad, what are your chances of success over the long haul?

Some banks have an answer, in that their leadership does have the will to set aside time for crucial development of strategies, tactics, people and tools to embrace future opportunities and avoid future problems. These organizations keep an eye on where they're going, and on key strategies for getting there, in good times and bad.

But, realistically, that's not true of every institution. Perhaps yours is one that spent years caught up in the mad dash to chase opportunities afforded by a good economy, and you have now hunkered down to wait out tough times.

And just perhaps, there may be a small silver lining to the decline in business activity. There may be some things that used to take a lot of employee time that now take less, simply because the business isn't out there at the moment, or because you can't offer or deliver what you used to.

In many banks, the reaction is to do what they used to do, only more so. Make more sales calls, push harder, ratchet up the effort.

Let me suggest, however, that if there is a little slack in your business right now, maybe you could set aside a small portion of that available time for dealing with all those things you said you would do, "someday." This may be your opportunity to change from a culture that never has time for developing responses to future challenges and opportunities, to one where consistent effort is devoted to long term success, no matter how busy you are.

Truly idle hands may be the devil's tools, as the proverb says. But if you look closely at your current situation, you may discover, not idle hands, but hands that are underutilized, or that are working in ways, and on projects, that will contribute relatively little to your future success.

Look for slack in the demand on employees' attention and effort that you can divert to an angel's tasks. And if you can't find it, create it. The recession is a powerful reminder of the need to look, and act, ahead. There's no better time to build a commitment to developing capabilities before they are needed, and embedding that commitment in your company culture, than right now.