Bank X Series – The One with the Flip-Flop Banker

We’re sitting in a painfully bare conference room. A few of us and two of the banking Superheroes at the very top. He’s IT. She’s HR. They want so badly to see change happen, it’s both hopeful and cringeworthy to watch. We’ve known the bank and its fabric years but we’ve been talking for a few weeks intently and have a plan on what the levers are to see lasting change that preps them for all the promise of Open Banking and new customers paradigms starting with an organisation redesign around Agile. Today’s conversation is rehashing it and ensuring alignment. Just as we’re about to wrap up she says:

“But wait. What do we do about the other main priority?”

“Huh?”

“You know, the one saying we have trouble finding the right talent.”

Our hearts sink.

“It’s all connected, remember? You won’t be able to attract real talent -never mind keep them- if we don’t change the fundamentals of this culture that’s fearful, stifled and toxic.”

“Yeah…”

“This is why we have to quickly better the people you already have and give them the foundations to fall in love with this place and the consumer all over again.”

“Yeah no, of course, but it’s just that yesterday we lost our COO and there was an email right after reminding us of the recruitment objective…”

“Yup, we’re not ignoring that, just preparing for it. If we don’t do this ground work even if we find them they won’t stay any longer than the COO. Otherwise, and you said this yourself last week, it’s like inviting guests over without cleaning the house.”

“Yes, no, sure, just wondering if we can put a program in motion to review our current recruitment policies and show we’re working on that OKR, my P&L review is coming up soon…”

I’d be lying if I said this was surprising or singular.

cognitive-dissonance

When you fight for significant, meaningful change in our industry it becomes the norm for bankers to alternate between incommensurably excited and heartbreakingly despondent on an hourly basis. The concepts that link it all at a strategic level are nebulous because even at the top of banks, helicopter view and an understanding of the whole organism, is neither required nor encouraged.

This is at the heart of what creates the insidious silos. It’s tempting to think they are just an organisational issue. That, if we magically did away with hierarchies, departments, teams and P&Ls as we know them, then the segregation of thought and purpose would cease. It wouldn’t. The tendency to not see further than one’s own KPIs is now so deeply seated into the banks’ leaders, that these silos live within them.

In our practice we constantly wonder no only what we can do best to see deep change, but most efficiently, fastest. We’re likely a lot more aware of the time imperative of the transformation than the bankers themselves, and while we found it frustrating at first, we now know that a lack of understanding of urgency, along with the lack of comprehension about the overall picture, are nothing but defence mechanisms bankers employ.

Last year in “The Banker and the Sour Grapes” I spoke about this cognitive dissonance that I have observed in bankers.

” [..] the banker may think “I believe I am a good at my job, surrounded by good people and knowledgeable enough about FinTech that I accept fast changes need to occur in our digital proposition so I am working hard to ensure we make them fast enough to keep our customers happy.” BUT they also say to themselves “I know that I am part of a nearly paralysed monolithic structure that is slow to come up with newness and implement it, and that all the agile new challengers will bypass us on the race to the consumer no matter what I do.

In this instance the discrepancy between cerebral and emotional and between hopeful and desperate that I was witnessing, was centred around the customer-facing proposition, but it’s no different when it comes to the banking leaders’ views about their organisation.

They both “get it” and “don’t”. They both dearly want progress and crave the status quo. They are simultaneously (if sequentially) courageous and utterly stuck – frozen not only by the organisation but their own thought patterns.

This dissociation is necessary for survival. Constantly keeping their eye on the ball and understanding the soul of the problem in a place that’s as slow as banking is, would be too painful so it’s no surprise bankers eschew it.

If we consider the enormity of the task at hand – “Understand and employ technology, while you simultaneously understand and better your people to create amazing experiences for the consumer and do it NOW” in an environment that is not only ingrate but possibly punitive when anything threatens the de facto status quo, it’s no surprise few put their hands up to do it. It’s even less surprising that when they do, they need constant reminding of the bigger picture, cheerleading and reassurance.

Personally, I have learned so many lessons on this quest for banking better.

I’ve learned that just because something is common sense it doesn’t mean it counts as self-evident and doable.

I’ve discovered that just because we all get intensely excited about the same fundamental truths about the organisation or the consumer, it doesn’t immediately follow we’re equally willing to do something about either.

Frustratingly, nay painfully, I now know that just because someone is the brave warrior type, it doesn’t mean they won’t have moments when the spark in their eyes vanishes and leaves way to the glazed look of “I only have 2 more years in this role, how many hours till 5pm?”.

Most importantly, my “festina lente” lesson – I’ve learned to replace my “Oh FFS!!!” exasperated eye-rolls with a half-patient “Right, let’s look at this again” then go back to helping them shake the dissonance.

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