Jeff Judy

Jeff's Thoughts - November 6, 2013

Great Plan, Good People: Where are the Results?

In this week's Jeff's Thoughts, I have asked my associate Nan Gesche to help us understand why good strategies and plans sometimes produce lackluster results. Nan's exceptionally broad experience in banking, along with her professional skills in promoting change and communication, give her a unique perspective on this challenge. More about Nan below.

Everyone wants to figure out the best strategy or the right plan to move their business ahead of the competition. We work hard to hire the best and the brightest. Then we send them off to additional training to help them stay ahead of the curve. But with all those good intentions and hard work, we are still disappointed with the results.

I was reminded of all this at the most recent Graduate School of Banking in Madison. As an instructor and participant, I met many outstanding individuals eager to find ways to combine the right plans with the right people to gain competitive advantage.

One panel featured three experienced bankers: one from a successful start up bank, one from a failed bank, and one from a bank that was able to turn back from the brink of failing. What was striking is what they had in common: all three speakers kept coming back to the importance of culture and communications.

As one speaker said, "if credit is king then culture is clearly queen!" Each banker told stories of accountability and compliance (or lack there-of), of the value of a culture that reinforces the strategic plan.

It takes more than just creating a plan to get the results you want. What do you allow once the plan is put into place? In the language of Apple, "who is the DRI, the directly responsible individual?" Do people really know what outcome they are responsible for, and are they fiercely held to that standard? Once you let anyone slip from a standard, plan, or process without clear justification, you allow a shift in accountability and compliance, and ultimately in your culture.

Effective communication is crucial: you must be clear about the strategy and plans, and thorough about reaching every member of the organization. But it isn't all top down. All of the bankers on that panel talked about encouraging independent thinking. Communication also means encouraging dialogue and listening

Arne Duncan, the US Secretary of Education, believes that his listening improves when he has strong, tough people around him who challenge his thinking and question his reasoning. In meetings, he makes sure that everyone speaks, and he doesn't accept silence or complacency from anyone. Arne says that as a leader, he tries to make it clear to his colleagues that they are not trying to reach a common viewpoint. The goal is common action, not common thinking, and he expects the people on his team to stand up to him whenever they disagree with his ideas.

Many executives struggle as listeners because they never learn to relax their assumptions and open themselves to the possibilities that can arise from conversations with others. Entering conversations with respect for your discussion partner boosts the odds of productive dialogue. We need to undergo a deeper mindset shift--to embrace ambiguity to uncover "what we both need to get from this interaction so that we can come out smarter."

Creating that mindset makes it a lot easier to have the tough conversations necessary to hold people accountable.

Do you find yourself asking:

It might be time to take a tough look at your culture and your communications. Even if you have a clear vision of the desired culture, you may have to adapt your communication practices to make that culture real.


More About Nan Gesche

Nan Gesche has seen banking from almost every possible perspective. From leading the training function for a bank holding company to her post as a bank examiner to her current consulting activities in the areas of communication, change, and organizational effectiveness, Nan has years of experience in finding out where things go wrong, and in helping them to go right. You can learn more about Nan at the Associates page on my web site, or at Nan's own site at www.nangesche.com .