The One with the Courage KPIs

Today’s episode is not about a done deal but a series of works in progress. Of the banks we work with, my most favourite sort are the ones that are willing to throw the kitchen sink at doing all they can to instil more Courage in their people. A banking Superhero has to have it by the gallons.


While the other two sine qua non conditions of making Superhero-ism magic, Passion and Knowledge, are hard to kick-start they have the advantage of being self maintaining once they’ve been initiated, while bravery is not. In the banks where we have done the “Build-a-Voice” and the “Keep it Real” or even the “Everyone is a Designer” programs, we see they acted as a spark, they ignite deep industry curiosity and intense care and once they’ve done so, and the habits and processes are in place to maintain the fire, it burns – slowly and independently.

This is great news for banks – it means they get away with simply building an authentic brand that’s easy to fall in love with and then communicating to their people that it’s safe and desirable to fall in love with it and then serve it by investing in it emotionally as well as by continuously learning. Simples, eh?:)

Building and maintaining courage take a lot more work though.

In fairness, it’s the least used of the three in a professional or even personal context. While insufficiently cultivated, bank employees are seasoned professionals who are at times required to be passionate and knowledgeable about their domain of expertise whereas they are almost never expected to be brave.

By virtue of both the size and the mechanics of the organisation, it is never desirable for bankers to exibxit a willingness to take risks and experiment, and this makes up the kernel of why banks have such a tough time innovating and developing software and experiences.

Over the past few years, every new type of technology that made its way into development and every accompanying new way of work, have been created with one goal in mind: obtaining new innovative (and hopefully better) things, faster. Some of these methods and tools are nothing but pure magic and those who know me, know I have a genuine Agile-fetish myself but the reality is that none of them works in the absence of courage.

To really embrace these and make them into the silver bullets they can be, bankers -and really employees everywhere- need to reframe their entire view of a workplace that has been risk adverse and cultivating a culture of diffuse responsibility sprinkled with mediocre expectations of results and recognise that the very opposite is being asked of them now.

Where they were asked to be meek, sheep like executioners before, they are to be courageous, entrepreneur-like owners of products (or projects, programs or even opinions) that embrace the unknown, can withstand uncertainty and acknowledge full personal responsibility. Quite the leap, isn’t it?

This dramatic shift in what’s expected is why it’s so hard for banks to even recognise they need to demand and encourage Courage. Once they understand the need, the ride to obtain it from their people is far from an easy one and once they have obtained it, as said before, unlike Passion and Knowledge, it isn’t a self-sustaining resources but it has to be replenished and its flames stoked with great care.

What does that mean in concrete, non-people-development-mambo-jumbo-terms you ask? Well, in short it means that to innovate by delighting their end consumer with WOW experiences, banks needed to get faster at making good software and to do so, they have rightfully turned to agile methods of work. Which self-respecting banks can you quote that hasn’t done something about introducing it to their IT departments or at the very least promised to do so soon? The problem with that, is that in the absence of the ground work to reframe their employees minds towards courage and making it part of their DNA, these remain empty re-org exercises that are painful to implement and yield none of the velocity of good results that is expected.

Our methods allow them to retrofit a foundation of Courage, Passion and Knowledge to realise on the initial promise and as mentioned above, we find in more and more banks that Bravery is the one that needs most work. We start by ensuring everyone who is working in these new ways understands the core of their intention and genuinely falls in love with the motivation behind these methods and philosophies. Often times, this is a job for HR and Internal Communications departments and it’s fairly heavy lifting. Having people truly internalise the principles as opposed to mindlessly nod or space out as they have been accustomed to, is not easy.


With the right effort and intelligently constructed campaigns that communicate the honesty behind the bank’s newly discovered need of their employees becoming Superheroes, people start believing it and with the right “a-ha!” moments in place be them hackathons, internal ideas competitions or bank specific events, banker start awakening their appetite for risk. What we’ve learned though, is that this is not where the work stops, but instead, in some cases, this is where it truly begins because to maintain the initial spark, banks need not only to keep their Intrapreneur-star-search going by constantly thinking of new stimulating ways to engage creativity and encourage innovation, but, maybe more importantly, their top management needs to invite HR to the boardroom strategy big boys table and together get their thinking hats on and reimagine the way they quantify results and measure people’s performance.

I spoke about Courage KPIs before, in some cases it’s as easy as recognising bravery in  its many forms as part of the usual appraisals elements to keep it going. Ideally, existing P&L-based measurements should be completely abolished leaving room for ways to constantly ensure a steady supply of passion, knowledge and courage but this remains a distant desiderata so introducing Courage as one of the usual KPIs bolted on -but prioritised- on the existent employee lifecycle performance programs is, is a good first step.

An HR Banking Superhero who found themselves working with us to retrofit Bravery on a fully rolled out Agile reorg effort that didn’t have much to show for itself, asked me an ace question a few weeks ago and it’s sparked an interesting piece of investigation in our practice: “Do these Courage KPIs have to be clearly expressed or can we keep them a secret?“.

At first I was up in arms, immediately defensive presuming this question to be part of the ongoing semi-subconscious resistance to introducing these uncomfortable values and re-engineer them in the bank’s DNA. Then I realised their question wasn’t trying to minimise the importance of courage but rather wonder about recognising it where it occurs naturally without the overt KPI being the driver that makes people pretend to be courageous for the sake of it, instead of actually embody it in their actions.

We’re in the midst of researching with this bank if the answer is not perchance, a combination of overt and covert measurements when it comes to Courage. Some we communicate clearly and expect and some we reward when they naturally occur because that employee was Superhero-y enough in ways we haven’t even anticipated.

So answers on a postcard please- if you were Mega-Bank-CEO and decided to change your bank’s DNA to be built upon encouraging heart, curiosity, honesty, expertise and above all bravery, would you always tell your employees what you are looking out for, or ask to see the one who had the impromptu initiative to change something/didn’t ask for approval/stood up to their boss/disagreed with a senior colleague/made a prototype/put together a work team/started a side-company/inflated a backlog/helped another team/etc/etc/etc, and give them a raise telling the they smashed their secret courage KPI?

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