Jeff Judy

Jeff's Thoughts - November 11,2009

Note: My guest columnist for this issue is Will Kenny. Will is one of my Associates, as well as principal of Best Training Practices. We have worked together to develop training for financial institutions for more than twenty years, so I have asked Will to share his thinking on what we need to do to make sure the hard lessons learned during the recession don't go to waste. More on Will below.

Building On Recession Lessons

The gains you have made as an organization during the recession, the benefits of the economic downturn, will fade away if you don't take steps to consolidate and apply the lessons learned in hard times.

Gains? Benefits? Not words that immediately come to mind when you think about the last year or two.

But just about every business, including your bank, has learned to do things more efficiently, identified better priorities, and produced results with less resources these past couple of years. And most of that has happened because you have changed the way you work . . . meaning, you have changed the way your front line employees do their jobs.

Not only that, there's a fair chance that you have a more uniform vision of what is important across all levels of your institution that you had when times were good. And you have probably discovered that you can make changes in what people do, and how they do it, more quickly than you ever imagined.

Samuel Johnson is supposed to have said, "When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully." Similar, the severity of the financial crisis, while producing a good deal of stress, also made your employees unusually aware of the need to listen to management, to implement mandated strategies, to perform their work as instructed, even if those instructions had to change rapidly during the course of the recession. The need to tune in to the vision held by bank leadership, to embrace a common culture across all levels of the bank, was never more keenly felt, with difficult conditions adding an impact to internal communications that may be hard to reproduce when times improve.

That's why you'll want to look for ways to formalize the lessons the recession has taught you and your staff. We are all creatures of habit, and respond to familiar stimuli. When better economic conditions arrive, your employees will naturally drift back into the habits -- the workstyles -- they exhibited in the past. The efficiencies, the commitment to a common vision, the diligent execution of the bank's strategies, will all fade away. The culture will erode until once again you will see the same actions performed in a variety of ways by different staff, the same standards interpreted quite differently at different locations.

Explicit training is one tool that can help prevent that return to old ways. Identify key practices, borne of the recession, and reinforce them in formal sessions. Training on the new practices can be streamlined, certainly, but it shouldn't be omitted, as it can do a great deal to signal to employees that some new practices must become permanent.

Maintaining frequent communication with employees is another invaluable tool in consolidating gains from the recession. Many institutions improved the flow of information out of necessity in very tough times, keeping their front lines "in the loop" more effectively. Once again, as the business environment becomes less desperate, bank management is likely to drift back to old communication habits.

Your goal is to drive employees to grasp how practices designed to ensure survival can now be applied, not simply to survive, but to thrive, to beat the competition, as business improves. Stronger cultures, more rapid development and implementation of better practices, and better internal communication can give you a head start over rivals who are simply trying to get back to what they did before as quickly as possible.

As the hints of recovery become more common, too many banks, and definitely too many bank employees, are dreaming about "when this is all over." The point is, you don't want all of it to be over.

Take some explicit measures, through training and employee communication, to strengthen the elements of your recession experience that can boost your success in good times as well as bad.


About Will Kenny

Through his company, Best Training Practices, Will develops training and communication tools for companies large and small, in a wide range of industries. He is particularly experienced at producing training materials to be delivered by in-house staff or external consultants, wrapping your ideas in activities and formats that you can use to spread the word. He also shares his training philosophy in his own e-zine, The Training Tipsheet. Visit www.BestTrainingPractices.com for more about Will, and while you're there, sign up for the Tipsheet.